10 Scenic Train Rides In California

scenic train rides in california
Antonia
Antonia
Updated

The Golden State, California, is one of the most prominent regions of the USA, home to cities such as San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and more. Due to the size of the state - it’s America’s third-largest behind Alaska and Texas. It has a huge variety of sights to see, from seashores to mountain valleys and from big cities to the open countryside. California is a great state for a road trip, but there’s one drawback to that: if you’re driving, you’re sure to be missing something worth looking at, and where’s the fun in that? The solution, obviously, is to let the train take the strain, and enjoy the chance to look out the window onto the wonders of the Californian landscape. You’ll be glad you did. Scroll down to check out our list of scenic train rides in California, USA.

1. Fillmore & Western Railway Co

FWRY Engines
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Yellowute

It makes sense, in the state that holds Los Angeles, that one of the most noted railway lines should be dedicated to the movie industry - and that’s the mission statement of the Fillmore & Western Railway Company. Various routes through Ventura County are available, but what is special about these three- to four-hour rides is that each has a theme - there are Murder Mystery tours, Steam Train rides and, on weekends, special scenic tours that take in such delights as the historic town of Santa Paula, or into the countryside through citrus groves - stopping off at an authentic honey farm on the way.

Fillmore & Western Railway Co.

Website: Fillmore & Western Railway Co.

2. Sacramento RiverTrain

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

The delights of Sacramento can be forgotten when you list the things to see and do in California, but this scenic train ride is an excellent way to remember them. A local, family-run train line, the journey takes you on a 14-mile (22.5km) jaunt from West Sacramento to Woodland. It may sound like a short ride, but the train won’t go above 15mph (24kph) at any point, so you have all the time in the world to enjoy a fine dinner, accompanied by quality beer and wine, before disembarking; themed trips include Wild West and Zombie shows.

Sacramento RiverTrain

Website: Sacramento RiverTrain

3. Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad 42
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user NearEMPTiness used under CC BY-SA 4.0

A one-hour train ride through the environs of Yosemite National Park will be a thrill for any tourist, with the majestic scenery of the Sierra Mountains as your backdrop. This is Gold Rush country, and as well as the stunning sights from the train, you can enjoy the additional treats such as a chance to try your hand at panning for gold, or the Moonlight Special ride, which ends with a delicious barbecue under the stars. The narrow gauge trains are an opportunity to travel through time in the most relaxing way imaginable.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Website: Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

4. Poway-Midland Railroad

Poway Midland Railroad
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Visitor7 used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Running around the grounds of Old Poway Park, this vintage railroad - with equally vintage cars and equipment - is a simple, leisurely trip where the trains themselves are the main attraction. The park itself is pretty, fringed around with trees and filled with greenery, but there is certainly something about the boxcars you’ll spend time on in these hour-long rides - a pleasing gentility that makes for a relaxing ride.

Poway-Midland Railroad

Website: Poway-Midland Railroad

5. Skunk Train

Skunk Train
Source: Photo by Flickr user Prayitno / Thank ... used under CC BY 2.0

You really couldn’t wish for a more scenic train ride than this one - the route, which traverses Mendocino County, could have been hand-designed for its picturesque touches. Through groves filled with Giant Redwoods, over pretty bridges, towards the spellbinding estuary of the Noyo River. In case you’re wondering, the name “Skunk Train” comes from the gasoline-powered engines that once kept vehicles moving - which were not sweet-smelling, as you would imagine. Nowadays, it’s a more pleasant experience!

Skunk Train

Website: Skunk Train

6. Placerville Sacramento Valley Railroad (Hampton Station)

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

Offering a choice of rides - from Hampton to El Dorado, or perhaps to Latrobe if you’d prefer, the Placerville Sacramento Valley Railroad takes you through the heart of Gold country at a leisurely pace. Shorter rides clock in at 45 minutes and offer jaw-dropping panoramas of the Sacramento Valley, while longer trips go over the superb Deer Creek Bridge. There is a broad selection of themed rides, with some including picnics and others offering an onboard beer tasting - there is no better way to see California!

Placerville Sacramento Valley Railroad

Website: Placerville Sacramento Valley Railroad

7. Niles Canyon Railroad

Niles Canyon Railway - 20180916015206
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Julio Cesar Alvar... used under CC BY-SA 4.0

This charming vintage railroad rides around - not unreasonably, you’ll surely agree - the Niles Canyon, a region in the San Francisco Bay Area. Trips run between some of the area’s most historic cities and offer a look at the stunning, preserved architecture that lines the route. While on board, you can take advantage of the leisurely pace to enjoy some of the themed events that are a stalwart aspect of the attraction; these include tea, wine and beer tastings as well as regular charity events.

Niles Canyon Railroad

Website: Niles Canyon Railroad

8. California State Railroad Museum

California State Railroad Museum
Source: Photo by Flickr user Joe Ross used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Not only does the California State Railroad Museum offer you a glimpse at the history of the Californian railways - it allows you to live that history by way of a series of interesting interactive rides. Excursions take you through the Sacramento Valley to see the historic railroad that still works, while on your return to the depot, you can check out the exhibits, such as an event commemorating 150 years of the Transcontinental Railroad. An educational and entertaining way to spend a few hours, this is certainly one you should have on your itinerary.

California State Railroad Museum

Website: California State Railroad Museum

9. Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

California33 Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
Source: Photo by Flickr user A Yee used under CC BY 2.0

Between April and September, trips from the historic attraction of Railtown 1897 will offer you the chance to step back more than a century and see the way the railroads used to work. The installation includes a still-working old-style roundhouse with a turntable, as used to turn trains around at the end of a journey. Trips from the Park go through Gold Country and the Sierra Mountains, offering stunning views through sweeping countryside over the course of a 45-minute round trip.

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

Website: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

10. Western Pacific Railroad Museum

UP DD40X 6946 at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum, Portola, CA in July 1985 B14 (32618865506)
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Marty Bernard

Any railroad attraction can allow you to ride a train - and a welcome opportunity it is, too. However, what is unique about the Western Pacific Railroad Museum is that it allows you, under supervision, to drive one too. A short ride in the scenic grounds of the museum takes you through the lush countryside of Northern California aboard a traditional caboose; an actual driver will take over for the full ride, but the chance to be in their seat for a moment is one that’s hard to resist!

Western Pacific Railroad Museum

Website: Western Pacific Railroad Museum

Let the train take the strain as you take in the joys of California

UP 9214 19910510 CA Cajon
Source: Photo by user Slambo used under CC BY-SA 2.0

The countryside of California is epic and awe-inspiring - and on some of the longer rides, you’ll have the chance to see it in all of its glory, from verdant forests to more arid landscapes. What’s truly remarkable is seeing it from a train, appreciating a moving and panoramic view over the best that the Golden State has to offer. There’s nothing quite like a scenic train ride, and California has no shortage of wonderful reminders of this. Why not take the chance to enjoy one?

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Antonia Kelly is a freelance writer based in Leicester, UK and she enjoys European travel as well as road trips closer to home. Her favourite domestic destinations include Snowdonia and the Brecon...Read more

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