Yosemite train rides are some of the most popular sightseeing excursions in California, right up there with scenic drives. The Yosemite Sugar Pine Mountain Railroad operates out of the Sierra National Forest, located south of Yosemite National Park. Four exciting miles of Yosemite railroad takes passengers on a historical railroad journey once executed by hefty locomotives hauling monstrous logging cars through the inspiring Sierra Mountains. The narrow gauge railway spans three feet and features two well-maintained steam locomotives that fulfill the ride beginning at Yosemite’s south gate.
Since 1961, a railroad track saturated in history was looked upon as an ideal opportunity to create a tourist line running through some of California’s most rugged and beautiful attractions. The route was once used by the twentieth-century Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company, hauling massive logs, harvested by lumberjacks up in the mountains, down to the valley below for processing. The company’s old sawmill is still located in Sugar Pine, California, an area sitting in a southerly direction from the modern-day Yosemite Sugar Pine Mountain Railroad.
The current Yosemite train is fully restored to transcend the old Madera Sugar Pine narrow gauge railroad. Parts of the old rail bed have been restored using identical techniques used during the nineteenth century. Two shay steam trains, both vintage and reminiscent of twentieth-century technology, were donated and renovated, offering an authentic mode of power for the cars. One car was built back in 1912 and totals more than 55 tons. The second, built in 1927, weighs over 80 tons and is the heaviest and largest of all the Shay, narrow gauge locomotives that have survived the years.
Visitors can hop onto a Yosemite train at the Yosemite Mountain Station, which is well equipped with amenities and fun things to do. There is shopping available for souvenirs and gifts. Train riders can get a bite to eat at the onsite Station Sandwich Shop and take their food onboard with them. At the Sugar Pine Trading Company, there are also many books relating to the Yosemite railroad offered at the gift shop. The adjacent Gold Rush City Miners Camp offers a chance for visitors to try panning for gold while the Thornberry Museum, inside a 145-year-old log cabin, takes a deep look into turn-of-the-century lifestyles.
Logging trucks have been transformed into comfortable passenger cars operating daily in the summer. Several Model A train cars, also called Jenny’s, can carry more than a dozen passengers at once. It’s these cars that are put to use during the off season. There is a schedule for the Jenny Cars (narrated, 30-minute trips) and a separate one for the Logger Steam Train (a narrated, one-hour journey). With daily rides from March to October, and limited journey’s in January and February, visitors can catch a ride at any time of year.
Several special events aboard the Yosemite Sugar Pine Mountain railroad are big California attractions. Running for almost forty years, the Moonlight Special kicks off with a BBQ and live music and then takes everyone aboard the Logger Steam Train for a moonlit ride, stopping in a canyon for a fun campfire. The Melodrama Evening is similar except instead of a campfire, an outdoor play takes place. Educational trips and group excursions are also available along the Yosemite railroad.