It had been 30+ years since we last visited the redwoods with our young kids and figured a return trip was long overdue. After all it’s hard to beat a trip featuring hiking, giant trees, hills, wildlife, beaches and crashing ocean waves all in one place.
In planning our trip to Northern California and the Redwoods we selected the small coastal town of Trinidad to be our home base. It’s just a little over an hour south of Crescent City and reasonably close to some of the nearby state and national parks. Since our travel day was slated to begin with a 7 hours travel in route to Oakland Intl Airport (via Southwest Airlines Rewards and their prized Companion Pass) we decided to split the drive from Oakland up to Trinidad into two days.
After scouring the web for some unique experiences along the way we came upon this rail bike tour offered by Skunk Train in Fort Bragg.
On the way up to Fort Bragg on Highway 101 we stopped in wine country for some lunch. Some friends had recommended a tapas style restaurant in Healdsburg called Bravas which turned out to be a wonderful choice. We arrived between the lunch and dinner crowds and had a table on the back patio. Always up for something different one of the dishes we chose was the octopus which apparently is one of their specialties. As creepy as that may sound to some folks it ended up being a great choice and meal. If you are in the vicinity we suggest giving it a try. We could actually spend a few days in Healdsburg as a destination.
The break in Healdsburg was convenient to cutting over to the Pacific Coast Highway via California 128. On the way to Fort Bragg we stopped for a snack at Russian Gulch State Park. It’s a beautiful park situated on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. The park has a number of trails including one featuring a 36 foot waterfall at the end surrounded by redwoods, and ferns.
Rail Bike Tours
The rail bike tour is a seven mile round trip ride along the Pudding Creek Estuary. It’s a wonderful way to peacefully experience the natural beauty of the forest. Since our visit they’ve added an alternate 25 mile excursion along the Noyo River.
We purchased our tickets in advance from the Skunk Train website. The bikes are two-seaters with only 6 or 7 bikes available for each tour so we advise early planning especially if you have a small group. We scheduled our tour for the first run on a Sunday morning before it warmed up in the afternoon. This allowed us to grab an early lunch at Princess Seafood following our ride before hitting the road.
After checking in at the Skunk Train Station you can either drive or walk over to the rail bike starting point. The tour guides we had were friendly and helpful providing instructions on working the brakes and power assist if necessary. Each bike is equipped with a battery power assist which comes in handy on some uphill grades.
The tour is an out and back with a short break to stretch your legs where you can listen to a talk near an old mine while the bikes are turned around. If you go on a weekend you may want to schedule one of the first three bike runs of the day as the batteries for the power assist may deplete depending on how often previous riders may have used it which would make for a bit more of a workout than you might have planned for. Oh… and don’t be that person in front that drops your phone while taking pictures causing the bikers behind you to stop and wait while you hunt for your phone.
Keep your eyes peeled for osprey, blue heron and other wildlife along the way. We spotted a pair of deer right along the side of the tracks during our ride, they just stood there and stared at us as we pedaled by.
The cost for our 2 person Rail Bike excursion was $79 when we visited, when we checked the price for 2021 it had increased to $250 per bike for the same excursion. Looks like the popularity has increased! If you’re good with the price and looking for a truly fun and unique experience then you should consider one of the rail biking experiences through the redwoods!
Continuing north on our way out of Fort Bragg we had planned to visit the enchanted Candelabra Redwood Grove at Shady Dell. The Peter Douglas Trail extends the Lost Coast Trail to the south by 2.3 miles making it possible to explore this beautiful and unique area. As luck would have it though our timing proved to be unfortunate due to a fire which closed the trail during our visit. Fortunately the grove was spared fire damage. If you are up for hike to this unique grove you can visit Save The Redwoods for more information.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Emerald Dolphin Inn conveniently located on the outskirts of Fort Bragg. We received a warm greeting at the front desk and a quick check-in. Our room was nice and clean located on the 2nd floor facing the highway but far enough that you could sleep with the window open with little to no noise. The hotel is just a short stroll to the bluff to watch the sun go down and we couldn’t pass up a free round of mini golf! Checkout was smooth and we enjoyed a continental breakfast. Would gladly stay there again.
Why We Chose Trinidad CA For Our Home Base
For more information on the rest of our trip exploring some of the beaches and redwood parks in Northern California visit our post on Why We Thought Trinidad CA was the perfect location for our Home Base.