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Skunk Train

Taking the Skunk Train

By

Skunk Train

Skunk Train Logo

© Betsy Malloy Photography 2007
  • Hours: Daily in summer
  • Reservations: Required
  • Cost: Cost varies by length of trip
  • Location: The Skunk Train Depots are in downtown Fort Bragg and Willits, see directions below
  • How Long: Four hour train trip, but allow an extra hour for getting there, checking in and getting on board
  • Best Time to Visit: Any time is fine, but summer evening barbecues are especially fun
Started in the late 1885 as a logging railroad, the Skunk Train began carrying passengers a few years later, but it didn't gain its nickname until 1925. In that year, small, self-powered trains started traveling the tracks. The combined fumes from their gas engines and the coal stoves that kept passengers warm were so pungent that locals often commented: "You can smell 'em before you can see 'em." It wasn't until recent years that the name was changed officially from the California Western Railroad to Skunk Train.

Today, the Skunk Train runs from downtown Fort Bragg and from Willits, carrying tourists while it continues to serve the few hardy folks who live or vacation in the redwood forests it travels through. It passes through privately-owned land where few people can enroach, and wildlife sightings are common.

The Skunk Train appeals to railroad buffs, history buffs, nature lovers and anyone else who would enjoy a ride through a beautiful forest.

What to Expect on the Skunk Train

The Skunk Train crosses 30 bridges and trestles and passes through two deep mountain tunnels between Fort Bragg and Willits, California. Travelers can depart from either town, traveling to Northspur, where their train turns around and goes back to where it started from.
  • The typical day trip on the Skunk Train from Fort Bragg to Northspur is a four-hour excursion.

     

  • In mid-summer, food and drinks are available at Northspur, but the rest of the year, you should bring your own.

     

  • The Skunk Train uses a Motorcar (the only one of its kind still working), a diesel locomotive or the "Old 45" steam train on a rotating basis.

     

  • Trains depart to Northspur most days of the week. In the summer, a second, afternoon train goes to Northspur for a barbecue dinner.

     

  • Occasionally, the Skunk Train runs a special steam train ride, a trip all the way to Willits and other events. Check their website for the schedule from Fort Bragg or Willits.

What You Should Know About the Skunk Train

These tips will help you avoid surprises.
  • When it's time to board, people jump into line in nanoseconds. I normally try to avoid such rushes, but in this case, it's worth the trouble to be sure you snag a good window seat or one of the few seats with a front-facing view.

     

  • When asked how many people have been left behind at Northspur, the train engineer answered "thousands." It's easy to get distracted and miss your train leaving Northspur, or get on the wrong one. If this happens, you'll probably eventually get back where you started, but hours after you expected to. Cellphones won't help you out of this mess, either. They don't work in the woods.

     

  • The Skunk Train offers little to entertain children or teenagers. Bring something to keep them amused.

     

  • Top speed is about 30 miles per hour. Side-to-side motion is not a problem for most people. However, if you suffer from motion sickness when watching things fly past side windows, you may need to bring your favorite remedy.

     

Skunk Train Review

We rate Skunk Train 4 out of 5. It's a great way to get a glimpse of the redwood forest, and the engineers provide an enlightening, fun commentary. We especially enjoyed the explanations about how things work, why the engineer was blowing the whistle and so on. Our only complaint was that the trip was a bit too long to hold our attention.

Others may disagree. You can see what other people just like you think about the Skunk Train, then bookmark this page and after you've been there, come back and tell us what you think.

What do you think of the Skunk Train as a tourist activity?

 

1 = So-So More fun than a night in jail, but you might enjoy a good nap more
2 = OK Some people find it interesting, but I didn't
3 = Good I really liked it, and I think you will, too
4 = Awesome! It's a must-see sight that I recommend to everyone

Getting to the Skunk Train

Skunk Train
Foot of Laurel Street, Fort Bragg, CA
299 East Commercial Street, Willits, CA
800-866-1690
Skunk Train website
The Fort Bragg Depot is just off Highway One between Pine and Laurel Streets. In Willits, it's three blocks east off Highway 101 on Commercial.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary trip on the Skunk train for the purpose of reviewing those services. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.

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