Driving on Highway 17 from the Bay Area to Santa Cruz makes me feel like I’m in a real-life Disney Soarin’ experience – I just have to roll down the windows and it smells exactly like the trees when you are Soarin’.
The roads twists and turns led us to Roaring Camp Railroad, a throwback attraction that is custom built for families, kids and those who like the easy way to see the sites.
The area is a just like a campground, full of wooden buildings and an old steam train that’s no longer in use. They had a spot for old-fashioned photos, a general store (complete with candy of course), a café and a large area for barbecues and picnics.
Boarding the train is similar to boarding a wagon ride. The carts are wide open with a bench on either side. We didn’t know ahead of time but the ride is furbaby friendly, too – a couple of the families had their dogs with them.
Setting off, the train chugged around the curve and into the woods that surround the camp. Soon enough, we were dwarfed by trees that stretched to the sky and beyond. As we wound up Bear Mountain, we were told of some of the history of the area, about the trees and the tracks.
The kids entertained themselves by trying to find the tallest and widest trees and spent some time trying to find wildlife in the vistas.
A few parts of the journey were slow and the kids grew slightly restless when the train had to stop on switchbacks and recouple to make it up the steep inclines. However, all was rewarded when we arrived at our destination to find the big man himself, Santa Claus, waiti
ng for us with hot cider. (At other points during the year, you can see other famous characters, including the Easter Bunny.) We stretched our legs, took some photos, walked through the line of decorated trees and then headed back to camp.
The grand finale came when we neared camp and the train had to let off its steam, creating an eerie mist through the trees.
- If you go, bring a jacket and maybe even a blanket for your legs when riding the train. The temperature in the trees is vastly different than nearby Santa Cruz or San Jose.
- Have fun . When we went before the holidays, we brought our santa hats and had a ton of compliments.
- Relax. It’s not a high stakes thrill ride or an amusement park, but it does get you in touch with nature and a view of our majestic country.