When you think of Santa Cruz, usually it’s followed by Beach Boardwalk and images of California’s coast and the Pacific Ocean. While much of Santa Cruz’s culture is centered on the beach, it is only one side of this California destination. The Santa Cruz Mountains are a short distance from downtown and filled with towering redwood trees. The Redwood is California’s state tree and they thrive off the hydrating marine layer. The trees also provide a lush ambiance and background to the campus of UC Santa Cruz.
Since I was a child I had taken trips to Santa Cruz but would stay by the ocean. I had always seen the train parked right behind the roller coaster or cruising down the street but had no idea where it went exactly, just somewhere in the mountains. Once I became paralyzed the steps up to the train’s car was a barrier I thought would always separate me from finding out where the train went.
I decided to take the train ride with a group through Shared Adventures. The non-profit’s founder, Foster, told me there was a lift to one of the open cars. I was excited to spend any time under redwood trees and the train made it possible to experience them in a new way.
Admission and Boarding
The ticket booth was located inside the train and was not accessible, so purchasing your ticket online is an easy way to go; otherwise, there are train attendants that can assist you. If traveling with Shared Adventures, a group discounted ticket will be purchased in advance by the non-profit which you then reimburse. My family and I were the first group to arrive and got on the train first.
The lift was manually operated by the engineer, which makes it less likely to have a technical malfunction. Only one wheelchair at a time could be lifted and included electric wheelchairs. Being the first person, I was a little sketched out by the lift but he was able to do several wheelchairs without slowing down. It was a warm day and even with the help of the machine, I bet the engineer got a good sweat from using the lift so many times. A piece of wood is set near the edge to smooth the transition. Once on the open car’s platform I was happy there was no roof. “Ooh, the trees will be right over our heads,” I playfully said to my sisters.
There was plenty of open space for wheelchairs and seats nearby as well. Since there were so many wheelchairs, people would park in the middle of the aisle to be next to the rest of his or her party. After everyone was on board the engineer blew the train whistle and we were off. Starting right on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the train crawled down the street. Pedestrians on the sidewalks waved to the train and it made me smile to watch how excited kids got. Vehicles were far less enchanted by the train that stopped traffic. Nevertheless, it continued on its way, under a bridge, through town a bit more, and then deep into the forest.
The smell of the forest and redwood trees hit me at the full speed of the train. The sun moved through the trees and then on and off me so fast, like nature’s own light show. It is beautiful all around and felt tucked into mother earth, swept away from material things, and brought back to my foundation. My late grandfather was in love with trains: photographed and wrote about them. He was all over my thoughts and could feel why he loved them so much. Lush forest landscapes could be seen on either side and as we got closer to our stop water features could be seen on the right side.
Roaring Camp Stop
The planned stop was at a place in the Santa Cruz Mountains called Roaring Camp. Once the train stopped everyone had 45 minutes to do whatever they wanted. Roaring Camp was more than I expect. It was a little town set up with an ice cream parlor, a general store, and a few other small stores. A large barbecue in the picnic area sent summer-time aromas up in the air, luring one to buy an overpriced item for sale. My family and I brought lunches which is another option if you come around mid-day-meal time.
The walkways and picnic area are made up of packed granite and adjacent is a large grass field also with tables. We enjoyed our lunches and the company but then had just enough time for a quick bathroom run before getting back on the train. The bathroom was a typical public one with a good-sized handicapped stall. Getting in and out of the car at the Roaring Camp station consisted of going up and down a ramp, versus a lift. On the way back to the Boardwalk station I sat on the opposite side for a different view.
The journey on the train is certainly the highlight of the whole adventure. It is such an accessible way to experience and see one of California’s most prized natural treasures, the redwood tree, so close to Santa Cruz Beach. I took a few deep breaths and soaked in the remaining moments under the canopy. Sunlight appeared as a window blind opening upon my face and body; we were out of the forest. As we edged through town the strength of the redwoods remained with me and then the ocean appeared and greeted me with a sun-kissed smile.
Access to Paved Trails
The ride was over but the experienced will never be forgotten. The whole thing took about three hours so it doesn’t take up the whole day and you can get back to the shore-front.* If you want to spend a little more time in that area, then there are two trails worth exploring at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park.
When just pulling into the Roaring Camp station you can see trails on the left-hand side. It’s called the Redwood Loop Interpretive Trail which runs about 0.7 miles and is the flattest and most accessible. It’s made up of packed granite. There were no inclines worth mentioning, just a little wear and tear that you should look out for as with any trail. On this trail, one in a manual or power chair can easily cruise along and enjoy the ambiance of the majestic trees. Some trees are special and marked with a number in front of it where you can read about their history on the guide map available at the visitors center. Usually, these trees are hundreds of years old and a couple are large and wide enough that a wheelchair could roll right through it. The one unfortunate aspect is that no dogs are allowed on this trail.
The River Trail, on the other hand, does allow dogs. Though this trail is paved, it’s not entirely accessible for a manual wheelchair. At one point the trail got too steep for even those with me to push me up. At the beginning of the trail is a moderate incline that can be conquered with a little muscle or push. Otherwise, the trail is pretty flat for a while except for a few small hills. This trail is paved with concrete and is a little more weathered than the Redwood Loop. Although the trail is not entirely accessible it’s still worth exploring if physically possible because the river that runs alongside it makes for a very lovely and tranquil environment.
* There is also a steam train that travels up Bear Mountain and back in one hour and fifteen minutes. It’s also run through Roaring Camp Railroads.