While we were staying in Yosemite, we were told the 150th celebration of the Yosemite Grant, which designated Yosemite as the first protected natural space in the US, would be taking place on Sunday and things would get packed. This was quite interesting to learn about because when the Grant was signed by President Abraham Lincoln, he was also in the middle of the Civil War. Yellowstone keeps the acclaim of being the first National Park since Yosemite didn’t actually become a National Park until 1890 (Yellowstone was founded as a National Park in 1872 and it seems there might be a bit of a rivalry there!). Yosemite Rangers were suggesting if we didn’t like crowds, that we should leave the park for the day. We decided to heed their advice, and drove down Hwy 41 about 4 miles from Yosemite’s South Entrance to the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.
When we pulled in, we picked a parking spot and walked up the hill. The first thing we saw was a booth where you could learn how to pan for gold. We promised the kids we would check it out after the train ride. We then worked our way up the rest hill and went into the gift shop, where they sell the tickets for the train ride. Tickets are $21/adult and $10.50/child (3-10 years old). We got tickets for the 12:00p train which gave us time to sit at the picnic tables and have a snack lunch before the train was ready for us to load. The gift shop has all sorts of great things to buy and they also sell some food if you are interested it.
When the train came up, there were 2 cars with shade and 2 cars that looked like hollowed out logs. These trains were originally used in timber industry, to haul logs out of the forest and get them to the mills. It was a hot day and everyone tried for shaded cars, which I would recommend. There is some shade along the way, but you will be in the elements sitting in the open-air log cars.
The train ride lasts about an hour and takes you through a forest outside of Yosemite National Park. There is a fellow on the train that points out different trees and plants, as well as describing the history and working conditions of the loggers and the trains. The train runs on a narrow gauge track, which was picked up and moved as the loggers moved through the forest.
The train makes a stop half way through the tour to refill with water, as it is a steam engine. The area looks like an amphitheater area which I was told they use for their special train rides in the evenings (there are two, one with a steak dinner and another “train heist” themed ride). They allow you to get off the train and explore a bit when you are stopped. If you ask the engineers, they will allow folks to come up into the engine for a closer look.
The engines and cars were bought from the Westside Lumber Company by the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad and refurbished and retrofitted for passengers.
We were traveling with a 6 year old and a 9 year old. The 6 year old was happy with the whole experience until the 9 year old mentioned an expectation of the train going faster through the forest, and then we had two kids who thought it would have been more fun if it was faster. It might be good to set the expectation that the train does move on the slower side.
Upon our return, we had a quick look through their museum, which is a collection of lots of old tools and “things”. Then we made good on the promise and the kids got to learn how to pan for gold.
The prospector teaching them was very animated and great with the kids. They had a lot of fun.
It was $10 per kid and you come away with a couple of dollars of gold flake in a vial.
The novelty of it was worth the money and the kids seemed to really enjoy it, plus in kept with our theme of gold and trains. Who doesn’t love a theme?