Railroad buffs can find both steam and diesel locomotives pulling excursion trains in northern California. Your choices range from classy dinner trains through the Napa Valley Wine Country to relaxing trips through the California Redwoods. For extreme railroad fans, there are museums where you can rub elbows with huge locomotives and most every other kind of railroad equipment.
California State Railroad Museum
The California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.
Excursion trains run from April through September, when you can take a ride behind an authentic locomotive in Old Sacramento. The Museum's Sacramento Southern Railroad runs a six mile roundtrip along the levees of the Sacramento River. Locomotives can be either steam or diesel and the rolling stock consists of vintage passenger coaches and converted freight cars.
Excursion trains depart on the hour on Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Passengers board at the restored Central Pacific Freight Depot. Tickets are $10 adults, $5 children (ages 6-17). Kids 5 and under ride free. For more information, call (916) 445-6645.
Check the California State Railroad Museum Foundation website for information about special excursion trains, such as the Halloween Spookomotive Train Ride in October and The Polar Express in November and December.
111 "I" Street, Sacramento, CA 95814-2265
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas.
and New Year's Day.
Museum admission: Adults $9, youth (6-17) $4, 5 and under free.
Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is located in Jackson, in the heart of California's Gold Country. The park features a preserved roundhouse and locomotive repair shop, both of which are still functional and guided tours are available.
Many movies and TV shows have been filmed at "The Movie Railroad," including High Noon, Unforgiven, Death Valley Days, and Petticoat Junction.
Steam-powered excursion trains run every weekend from April to October. Trains depart the Railtown Depot on the hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a six mile run through the Sierra foothills. Special trains, such as Santa's Starlight Express, operate at other times during the year. Regular train tickets are $13 for adults, $6 for youth ages 6 to 17, and free for kids 5 and under. Prices for special trains vary.
18115 5th Ave., Jamestown, CA 95310 (3 miles south of Sonora).
Hours: April - October, daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. November - March, daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.
Park admission: Adults $5, $3 youth (6-17) $3, 5 and under free.
Western Pacific Railroad Museum
The Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola houses a large collection of locomotives, rolling stock, and a collection of items from the historic rail line. Among the collection is the UP 6946, the largest diesel locomotive ever built, and historic equipment from the famous California Zephyr. The Museum is a great "hands-on" place for kids, with touching and exploring encouraged.
Portola is an hour's drive from Reno on Highway 70.
Train rides are behind diesel locomotives (a steam engine is being restored and will be put into service when completed). Tickets are $4 per person or $10 for a family pass. Rides in the locomotive cab are $20 for adults, $10 for kids. There are also special seasonal trains, such as the Santa Train in December.
700 Western Pacific Way, Portola, CA 96122
Hours: May - October, Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Museum admission: Adults $8, children $4, family pass $20. Kids under 4 are free.
Sacramento River Train
The Sacramento River Train offers a number of options for 28 mile, 3 hour trips along the Sacramento River. Trains board in Woodland, just north of Sacramento. Depending on the trip you choose, this excursion train offers brunch, lunch, and dinner in two dining cars.
There are numerous special trains throughout the year - check the website for the calendar and trip details.
341 Industrial Way, Woodland, CA 95776
Ticket office open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
More Excursion Trains in Northern California
- Napa Valley Wine Train
- Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
- Sierra Railroad Dinner Train
- Fort Bragg Skunk Train
- Niles Canyon Railway
- Roaring Camp Railroads
- Redwood Valley Railway
Amtrak Trains in Reno
To ride a modern train that actually goes somewhere, check out Amtrak Trains in Reno. My article has information about the Amtrak route that runs through downtown Reno (the California Zephyr), including where you can go, schedules and fares, and how to get tickets.
The Amtrak station in Sacramento is within walking distance (about two blocks) of Old Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum. For a unique train riding experience, take the Amtrak rails over the Sierra Nevada from Reno, tour the Museum, and enjoy a steam train ride by the Sacramento River.
Ride the Rails in Nevada
Nevada is home to numerous tourist railroads. Check out my Train Rides in Nevada article for more information on these excursion rail lines.