Railbikes: Take a Pedal-Powered Tour Through California’s Ancient Redwood Forests
California’s redwood forests truly have to be seen to be believed. There’s nothing quite like finding yourself among such massive ancient trees, the tallest of which reach jaw-dropping heights of up to 380 feet, the size of a 37-story building. Most tours of the Northern California Coast Redwoods consist of either driving or hiking, but there’s a third option not many people know about. Skip the crowds at the most popular spots and take a refreshing railbike tour instead! Electric-powered and virtually silent, the Skunk Train Redwood Route Railbikes follow historic railroad tracks running through the forests outside Fort Bragg.
The Pudding Creek route takes riders on a seven-mile round trip experience in an area of the redwood forests that most tourists never see. Departing from Fort Bragg, a city on California’s Mendocino Coast, the tour zooms through the Noyo River Canyon. You’ll pass deep into the old-growth redwood groves, home to trees that are up to 2,000 years old, as well as Douglas firs, alders, berry bushes, lush ferns, wooden trestle bridges, and an abundance of other wildlife.
A certified guide leads the “train” of riders on the tour, and you can even pay extra to tow your dog friend behind you on a trailer. Passengers disembark at Glen Blair Junction for a 50-minute layover to have a picnic or take a walk along a loop trail dotted with wildflowers.
You don’t have to be a seasoned biking enthusiast or even in particularly good shape to enjoy this trip. Though you’ll be pedaling for most of the tour, the two-person, custom-built railbikes feature electric assist to carry you effortlessly through the forest. Since they follow the railroad tracks, you don’t even have to steer, which means you’re free to spend the entire tour gazing around at the scenery and taking photos if you like. Each railbike has four wheels and is made of lightweight upcycled materials.
The train tracks were originally laid by a 19th-century logging company that needed to get trees from the forest to sawmills and shipping facilities on the coast. The Fort Bragg Railroad grew to 40 miles by 1925, stretching inland to Willits. The less-than-pleasant fumes of the trains’ pot-bellied stoves and gas engines gave the route its “Skunk Train” nickname (now the name of the company operating the railbikes).
Within a few decades, the railroad was used more for passenger trains than lumber, and then landslides closed a 1,122-foot-long section. Skunk Train made use of these sections by offering two short train rides from either end, and of course, the Redwood Route Railbike tour.
The Pudding Creek Railbikes tour runs daily, and rates are $250 per bike for the two-hour ride. Children age 6 and older are allowed to ride. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, there’s now a harder and longer option available: a 25-mile trip along a remote stretch beyond the closed tunnel that takes about four hours. The Railbikes on the Noyo package costs $495 for a two-person bike, lunch included. Get details on the Skunk Train website, and check out lots of fun footage on the company’s Instagram.