Although most long distance trains feature some type of wheelchair-access, that's not always the case with small excursion trains. Fortunately that's not the way things work at Roaring Camp Railroad (tel. 831/335-4484; www.roaringcamp.com) in Northern California. Quite the contrary, as this historic Santa Cruz County railway offers a nicely accessible day excursion -- appropriate for wheelchair-users and slow walkers alike -- through the majestic California redwoods.
Roaring Camp Depot
The railroad first began carrying tourists to the big trees back in 1875; prior to that they used their gigantic steam engines to haul huge redwood logs out of the mountains. The steam engines that pull today's Roaring Camp Railroad trains date back to 1890, and they're among the oldest and most authentically preserved narrow-gauge steam engines in the country.
The one-hour round-trip journey to Bear Mountain begins at Roaring Camp station, located in Felton, just six miles north of Santa Cruz. The whole depot area is a recreation of an 1880s logging camp, complete with a general store, an opera house, a one-room schoolhouse, and even a steam powered saw mill.
Access is good throughout the depot, with accessible parking available in the main lot, which is about a quarter mile from the depot. If you can't manage that distance, just tell the parking attendant and he will direct you to the closer employee lot. There are hard-packed dirt trails throughout most of the Roaring Camp Depot including the picnic area, general store, the covered bridge and the food caboose. Accessible restrooms are available at the depot, so plan ahead, as the open-air train doesn't have any restroom facilities.
The train itself features open-air seating and each car can accommodate two wheelchair-users. There is ramp access to the train; however the ramp cannot accommodate scooters or other three-wheeled vehicles. Once aboard, wheelchair-users can choose to stay in their own wheelchairs, or transfer to one of the bench seats.
Once everyone is on board, the train heads for Bear Mountain and travels over trestles, through towering redwood groves, and up a winding narrow-gauge grade before reaching the summit. Along the way the conductor offers a short but entertaining history of Roaring Camp, the railroad and the forest. There is a short stop at Cathedral Grove at Bear Mountain, but there's no ramp access, so if you can't walk a few steps you can't disembark. On the plus side, it's a very short stop and you can easily enjoy the giant redwoods from the open-air car.
Take a Hike
For a closer look at some massive redwoods, wander over to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park (tel. 831/335-4598; www.parks.ca.gov)
once you return to the Roaring Camp Depot. There's a short hard-packed dirt trail that runs from the depot, across the railroad tracks and over to the park. Although the park occupies over 4,000 acres, this is the most accessible area. It features a small nature center and the very accessible Redwood Loop Trail.
This hard-packed dirt trail is .8 mile long, 12-feet wide and very easy to negotiate in a wheelchair or scooter. There are plenty of benches along the way, and an interpretive guide is available at the nature center.
There is also a very small picnic area near the halfway point of the trail at the Fremont Grove. Although it's a very pleasant spot for lunch, there's only one table, so it's a good idea to have alternate plans if the table is occupied. If that's the case, then you can always pick up lunch back at the Roaring Camp Depot.
Candy Harrington is the editor of >Emerging Horizons and the author of 101 Accessible Vacations: Travel Ideas for Wheelers and Slow Walkers. She blogs regularly about accessible travel issues at www.barrierfreetravels.com.