One of the great things about California is that it is a state with rich pre-European history and post-European history. With respect to the latter, California has a number of state parks and monuments dedicated to the Gold Rush of the Nineteenth Century, along with a number of museums that do an excellent job of preserving the history of the state. While all of these locations are fantastic, most of these locations prefer that visitors do not touch or handle the relics of the past. However, California also has an area where visitors can experience what some of the amenities of the nineteenth century were like at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad (“YMSPRR”).
In 1874, shortly after the Yosemite Grant was signed by President Lincoln, the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Companybegan commercially logging the areas around the park. During the course of its operation, the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber company laid over one hundred and forty miles of railroad track to transport lumber, and had over seven locomotives. But, as a result of the Great Depression, the company, its logging operations, and its railroad closed in 1931. In 1961, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad opened on four miles of the former Madera Sugar Pine Lumber line, and has operated continuously through the present day. Today, the YMSPRR has two steam engines that traverse the four miles of narrow gauge railroad track, as well as a “Jenny” Railcar which is a converted Ford Model A automobile.
Directions/Fees: The YMSPRR is located 11.5 miles north of the town of Oakhurst, directly off of Highway 41; and is located eight miles from the south entrance of Yosemite National Park. As of 2016, it costs $24.00 for adults to ride the steam train, and $12.00 for children; and the ride is slightly longer than an hour.
Review/Tips: Even though I was not the biggest fan of trains when I was a child, my parents took me here on one of my first visits to Yosemite. To this day, it is one of my favorite memories of that trip, and one that always makes me smile. Simply put, there’s just something special about riding a steam train through a forest. Even though I did not return for many, many years, this year I returned with my family, and found the trip equally enjoyable. While the forest that has returned is not “old-growth”, there is still something magical about riding on a steam engine through the forest; watching the motes of sun pass through the leaves, and listening to the rail click by underneath the train. In addition to this, the staff of the YMSPRR are very personable and knowledgeable about the history of the trains and the region, and provide a great presentation during the train ride. If you’ve never been on the train, or to the region, I would say that this is a “must visit” experience, as it is a lot of fun. The main tip I have is that tickets should be purchased in advance, as the trains do not run year-round, and there is limited seating. Finally, visitors approaching the railroad from the southern entrance of Yosemite should use caution, as Highway 41 is a two-lane road with limited turn lanes and spaces.