The Skunk Train – Willits
MENDOCINO COUNTY'S HISTORIC SKUNK TRAIN
Come ride the Skunk in its natural habitat. Forty miles of railroad run through majestic redwood forests, scenic mountain meadows, and over 30 trestles bridging the pristine mountain waters of Northern California.
Departing from Willits and traveling to Northspur, your train will climb the Eastern slope of the Coastal Mountain Range and cut through it at Tunnel #2 (the Summit) before descending down into the redwood-thick Noyo River Canyon. This 4-hour, 40-mile roundtrip allows you to explore the wonderous forest where the world’s tallest trees take you back in time. Once you arrive at Northspur, the midpoint of the railroad, you will disembark for an opportunity to walk around, purchase lunch, and breathe the pristine mountain air.
Departing from Fort Bragg your train will travel along the Pudding Creek Estuary to Glen Blair Junction on this short and scenic 1-hour, 7-mile roundtrip. You will be traveling over some of the first tracks laid down by the California Western Railroad in 1885. Once the train stops it will immediately return to Fort Bragg.
This 4 to 4.5-hour round trip departs Willits and begins the steep ascent (3.5% grade) to the summit of our line at 1,740 feet. Traveling through Tunnel No. 2, the trip descends into the Noyo River Canyon. In one spot, you will travel 8.5 miles to cover a straight-line distance of less than one mile in a serpentine of switchbacks. From Willits we operate the vintage 1925 M-100 motorcar / railcruiser or a diesel locomotive pulling passneger coaches and an open air car.
pudding creek express
This one 1-hour, 7-mile roundtrip takes you over the first tracks laid down by the California Western Railroad, and along the beautiful Pudding Creek Estuary. The powerful diesel locomotives of the Skunk’s fleet will be pulling passenger cars and an open-air car. No one will be getting off the train during the duration of the trip. Common wildlife sightings include blue heron, egrets, osprey, ducks, and the occasional lounging turtle.
Sunset BBQ Excursion
All Aboard for our BBQ Dinner Excursion. Travel from Willits to Northspur round trip aboard the vintage 1925 or 1935 Motorcar. Running on Saturday evenings between Memorial Day and Labor Day, join us for this delicious BBQ feast in the forest.
camping on the noyo
Journey by rail to a historic logging camp in the rugged and scenic Noyo River Canyon. Accessible only by train, Camp Noyo is a world unto itself – with eight private campsites and a river view chalet, this is a well-equipped camping wonderland. The river offers opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and more.
magical christmas train
This holiday season, share your cookies with Santa Claus and his elves aboard our Magical Christmas Train. We deliver Santa right to your table, so you can skip the lines and experience Christmas through the imagination of a child.
Celebrate fall by climbing aboard our Pumpkin Express! Join us on this beautiful round trip to an autumnal wonderland at Northspur Station. Once there, kids will be able to choose their own pumpkin and enjoy delicious treats.
Located in Northern California’s Mendocino County there is a skunk running through the redwood forest, but this isn’t any skunk, it’s the world famous Skunk Train. The California redwoods, pristine coastline, and award winning vineyards are all a part of the landscape of what makes Mendocino County such an amazing place and home to this 131-year-old train.
Regardless of your departure point it’s the occasional whistles as your train chugs through tunnels, over bridges and past open meadows, the train follows the coastal “Redwood Route” as it has since 1885. It is the towering trees, a glimpse of a deer drinking from the Noyo River, an isolated fisherman’s cabin peeking from the forest, and the notion that you have left the rest of the world behind that draw people to the Skunk Train.
The Noyo River Canyon
Departing from Fort Bragg, the first few miles run alongside the Pudding Creek estuary, where common wildlife sightings include blue heron, egrets, osprey, ducks, and the occasional lounging turtle. After passing through Tunnel No. 1, the Skunk Train snakes its way along the Noyo River, zig-zagging through the redwood-thick Noyo River Canyon.
Coastal Range and Redwoods
Departing from Willits and traveling to Northspur, your train will climb the Eastern slope of the California Coast Range, cutting through it at Tunnel No. 2 (Summit) before descending into the Noyo River Canyon. This is the mountainous part of our railroad line, in which 8.5 miles of track cover a straight-line distance of less than one mile.
Built as a logging railroad in 1885 by Charles R. Johnson, the “Redwood Route™” was a logical vehicle for moving massive redwood logs to Mendocino coast sawmills from the rugged backcountry. The train played a vital role during this t ime in transporting families and workers who set up the various logging camps along the route and in doing so, became an entirely different type of line. It played an important part not only in the area’s industrial life, but also in its social and cultural activities. No other logging railroad in America has made the deep impression on American life that was created by the line from Fort Bragg – first by the natural beauty of its route and later, by the distinctiveness of its equipment. Skunk Train’s Motorcar M80 in the 1950s
“Smells like a skunk!”
The nickname “Skunk” originated in 1925, when motorcars were introduced (today sometimes referred to as railbuses or railcruisers). These single unit, self-propelled motorcars had gasoline-powered engines for power and pot-bellied stoves burning crude oil to keep the passengers warm. The combination of the fumes created a very pungent odor, and the old timers living along the line said these motorcars were like skunks, “You could smell them before you could see them.”
California Western Railroad was initially operated as a division of the Fort Bragg mill (Union Lumber Company, Boise-Cascade). In the mid-1960s, Arizona-based Kyle Railways began managing the railroad and purchased it in 1987. In August 1996, a group comprised entirely of local Mendocino Coast investors purchased California Western, marking the first time in its 111-year history that the line would be operated as an independent business. Today the Skunk Train is owned and operated by Mendocino Railway.
Why the name “Skunk Train”?
The nickname “Skunk” originated in 1925 when motorcars were introduced (today sometimes referred to as railbuses or railcruisers). These single-unit, self-propelled motorcars had gasoline-powered engines for power and a pot-bellied stove burning crude oil to keep the passengers warm. The combination of the fumes created a very pungent odor, and the old timers living along the line said these motorcars were like skunks, “You could smell them before you could see them.”
The railroad’s historic name is California Western Railroad.
Do we need a reservation?
While you can travel certain times of the year without having booked in advance, we always encourage a reservation.
Do you accept credit cards?
Yes, we take Visa, MasterCard, and Discover. For purchases made on the train or at Northspur, we accept cash only.
Are pets allowed on the train?
Dogs are the only pets permitted on board. We do ask that you be considerate of your canine though – they simply may not like trains. Please bring whatever they need to be comfortable (food, water, dishes, a leash, etc.). Starting in 2013, there will be a charge for canine passengers.
Is the train handicap accessible?
Yes – but there are limitations, given that our railcars were built in the very early 1900s. We strive to make every guest feel comfortable and will do our very best to accommodate your visit.
Can we bring food on the train?
All of our trains have a concession on board where you can purchase snacks and beverages. All morning departures (Christmas Trains excluded) make a stop at Northspur where you can purchase lunch, so we do discourage your bringing food on the train. The food is prepared and served by a concessionaire to the railroad. In the event someone in your party has dietary restrictions then by all means bring whatever is necessary. Of course, parents traveling with babies and children requiring special food and beverage items are also allowed.
If you are riding a BBQ Dinner train, dinner is served to you upon arrival at Northspur.
Can we bring alcohol on the train?
Absolutely not. We have a wonderful selection of wine from beautiful Mendocino County – which by the way is America’s Greenest Wine Growing Region – and local beers, including our very own Skunk Beer (bottled for us by Anderson Valley Brewing Company), plus a full bar on board the train.
Do your trains leave on time?
Without question we try to maintain our schedule. If you miss a train we will issue you a gift certificate for a future ride or book you on the next available departure. We will not, however, issue a refund because you’ve missed the scheduled departure.
How should we dress?
Comfortable and casual layered clothing is suggested to keep warm in the chilly months. If you plan on riding the Open Air Observation Car then we suggest dark clothing, because sometimes lighter clothing can get soot spots on it.