RVing the Rails – Excursion Trains in California 388

Many times camping trips involve exploring new territory and discovering enticing attractions along the way. Passenger tour trains have that magnetic appeal for many RVers, providing a novel way to see hidden countryside not normally viewed from the road. Railroad passengers learn about local history, culture and the many colorful characters from the communities visited. And Camping World wants to make sure you don’t miss the departing whistle, so we have created a series entitled RVing the Rails. You will find the most popular excursion trains to ride in each state, complete with any specialty trains they might offer.

Excursion Trains in California - Camping World

Today we will explore the most popular trains in California:

Napa Valley Wine Train

Excursion Trains in California - Camping World
Photo Credit: Jim G (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Built as transportation to the spa resort of Calistoga in 1864, the Napa Valley Wine Train has always had an air of distinction. Today’s journey leaves the town of Napa, traveling through some of the most acclaimed landscapes in the world as the train arrives in St. Helena. With half and full day winery tours, lunch and dinner trains, and specialty tours, the Wine Train offers a wide variety of ways to enjoy the stunning Napa Valley.

Railway and Locomotive Types

With diesel locomotives, the Wine Train runs on standard gauge rails. Its many first class coach cars were built by Pullman in 1915 and have gone through extensive renovations, with Honduran mahogany paneling, etched glass partitions and velveteen fabric armchairs. The results offer today’s passengers the same opulence and luxury that those of the early 20th century enjoyed.

Seating Options

The railroad offers traditional railway seating, with couples seated on the same side on four person tables. Parties of four will be seated together.

There are two classes available on most train tours:

  • First Class – Seating is assigned in coach cars and open gondolas.
  • Private Class – Private dining is exclusive to the Vista Dome car, where luxury dining is upstairs and a state-of-the-art kitchen is housed downstairs.

Riding Options

Excursion Trains in California - Camping World

The Napa Valley Wine Train has five different categories of train rides, each with different time limits, seating and opportunities:

  • Lunch Trains – Gourmet Express, including Vista Dome private lunches, are offered.
  • Dinner Trains – Gourmet Express and dining in the Vista Dome are also offered for dinner trains.
  • ½ Day Winery Tours – All ½ day tours include lunch. The tours offered are the Grgich Hills Estate Tour, Ambassador Winery Tour, Raymond Winery Tour and Castle Winery Tour.
  • Full Day Winery Tours – All full day tours include a multi-course gourmet meal. Tours include the Legacy Tour, Collective Tour and the Estate Tour.
  • Special Events (see Specialty Trains below)

Specialty Trains

Excursion Trains in California - Camping World
Photo Credit: Grendelkhan (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • Murder Mystery – Join in the intrigue of solving a murder on your three-hour train ride. Transformed into a vintage speakeasy, the Napa Valley Wine Train hosts mayhem and mystery along with a three course gourmet meal.
  • Romance on the Rails – Enjoy a romantic three-hour evening train ride in the two-story Vista Dome car, complete with a taste of sparkling wine, a multi-course gourmet meal and two glasses of private label wine.
  • Tequila Train – The wine train is taken over by its smooth sipping cousin on National Tequila Day, with a tequila cocktail, Mexican appetizers, tequila shots and entertainment on this two-hour journey.
  • Happy Hour Hop Train – Wine plays second fiddle to beer on a two-hour trip through the Napa Valley. Enjoy two pints of local craft beer, bar bites and entertainment in an open air train car.

Length of Season

The Napa Valley Wine Train runs year-round with half and full day wine tour trains, dinner trains and specialty events. Here is a schedule to plan your visit.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Excursion Trains in California - Camping World
Photo Credit: YMSPRR.com

Built in the Sierra Nevada Mountains as a means of transport for the lumber industry, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad runs on four miles of track just outside Yosemite National Park’s south gate. Used by the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company around the turn of the 20th century, the steam locomotives would haul felled trees to a sawmill, and today they continue their duty, taking passengers along a little piece of California’s history.

Railway and Locomotive Types

This narrow gauge train is pulled by one of two steam locomotives on site, built in 1913 and 1928. Passengers ride in open gondola cars on this narrated excursion through the forestland of the Sierra Nevada.

Seating Options

Excursion Trains in California - Camping World
Photo Credit: NearEMPTiness (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Open seating is available to all on the steam train and Jenny railcars. The passenger cars are covered open gondolas, and open rail cars with seats carved from logs are also available.

Riding Options

The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad offers two types of rides:

  • Logger Steam Train – The trip lasts one hour and the train holds up to 200 passengers.
  • Jenny Railcar – The trip in a Model A powered car lasts 30 minutes and holds 8 to 10 passengers.

The logger steam train runs from April through October, but the rails can also be enjoyed on a Jenny railcar ride during and after the steam train season ends.

Specialty Trains

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en
Photo Credit: Ian Gratton (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • Moonlight Special BBQ Train – Take the night train up to Lewis Creek Canyon to enjoy a tasty BBQ dinner and songs around the campfire.
  • Gold Panning – Although not a specialty train ride, visitors can try their hand at panning for gold outside the station while waiting for train departures.

Length of Season

The Sugar Pine Railroad runs its logger steam train from April 6 through the end of October. Jenny railcars may be accessible outside of the regular season, but contact the depot for specific dates. Here’s the train schedule.

Sacramento River Train

Excursion Trains in California - Camping World
Photo Credit: SierraNorthern.com

The 14 miles of track that the Sacramento River Train run on originated in 1911 as the Sacramento and Woodland Railroad, carrying freight and passengers until 1940 and World War II. Wartime required cargo to move quickly on the rails, but by 1960 the line began to break up and various spurs were retired.

Luckily the Yolo Shortline Railroad Company purchased the section that eventually became the River Train. Today customers enjoy elegant dining and train travel in the “Plantation Style,” with wood paneling, ceiling fans and rattan furniture in the luxuriously restored coach cars.

Railway and Locomotive Types

Diesel engines power the train on standard gauge tracks, with three open air cars and three enclosed air conditioned coaches. Enjoy a comfortable journey through open farmland along the Sacramento River and through the Yolo County Wildlife Refuge.

Seating Options

The Sacramento River Train has a variety of train specials, many on a monthly basis, and all have assigned seating in enclosed coach cars. Passengers can move about the train and enjoy the open cars, as well.

Riding Options

Excursion Trains in California - Camping World
Photo Credit: SacramentoRiverTrain.com

Although there are several unique train experiences, all tickets are round trip, leaving from the West Sacramento boarding station. The train travels along the Sacramento River with a stop at a park before returning to the station. There are no one-way tickets sold.

Specialty Trains

Excursion Trains in California - Camping World
Photo Credit: SacramentoRiverTrain.com
  • Old Vine Express – Sip from a selection of 15 California wines as the train takes you through open farm country. Entertainment and a commemorative wine glass are included, and a meal is optional. This train is offered once a month during the operating season.
  • Great Train Robbery – Experience an old western showdown as the train is derailed by bandits, then hit the chuckwagon for a BBQ lunch before heading back to the station.
  • Murder Mystery – Help solve a mystery aboard the train, as a cast of quirky characters accuse each other of a dastardly deed. Period costumes are encouraged!
  • Pumpkin Train – Travel through Autumn colors to arrive at a pumpkin patch, where all passengers can select the perfect jack-o-lantern to carve for Halloween.
  • Easter Egg Express – Join the Easter Bunny for a train trip to his hunting grounds, where children can enjoy games and collecting Easter eggs before a return trip to the train station.

Length of Season

 

The Sacramento River Train runs from April through September with a wide range of meal trains, specialty events and seasonal railroad excursions. Check out their schedule to find the perfect trip!


Join the thousands of RVers that have a love affair with trains and ride the rails on your next camping trip. Check out the other excursion trains available on a state-by-state basis in our series, RVing the Rails. Another article will go up every Friday.

RVing the rails - excursion trains in California

Shelley Dennis Contributor
Shelley Dennis is a travel photographer and writer who threw caution to the wind and gave up most of her belongings to travel the country in an RV. Her trusty sidekick for this lifetime adventure is her Golden Retriever, Sully. You can find them both at www.PhotoTrippingAmerica.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.