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Northwest trains

Old-time rail trips are great getaway fun

By CARY ORDWAY

Each summer, thousands of Northwest residents and visitors board a variety of old-time steam trains for a trip into the past - a nostalgic journey that may be as short as a few minutes or as long as a few hours, and always sure to offer a big dose of Washington scenery.

For most train operators, it's a labor of love. These engines and cars are lovingly restored and maintained often by volunteers who just enjoy being around this turn-of-the-century equipment and paraphernalia.

Fares, therefore, are generally reasonable, and riding the rails usually includes a generous helping of narration about the history of this particular equipment and the sights along the way.

All ages enjoy these old trains - railroad buffs, of course, but also their kids and families and relatives visiting who are just looking for a vacation activity that is uniquely Northwest.

While old-time steam trains do operate in other parts of the country - the narrow-gauge railroad in Durango, Colorado, is one of the most exciting examples - our Northwest trains travel through woods and mountain scenery that can hardly be matched.

So if you're looking for a combination of history, scenery and good-time fun, here are the particulars on several Washington "tourist" trains:

Snoqualmie Valley Railroad -- Only 30 minutes east of Seattle, this well-known train trip includes five miles of scenic waterfalls, forests and mountains on its route past spectacular Snoqualmie Falls. The train leaves from either the restored historic depot in Snoqualmie or the depot in North Bend. The Northwest Railway Museum operates this interpretive railway program and offers visitors the chance to experience a train excursion aboard antique railroad coaches through the Upper Snoqualmie Valley. Trains operate on Saturdays and Sundays from April through October. In 2008, trains also run on Memorial Day and Labor Day. For more information on special events, schedules and fares, call 425-888-3030 or visit their website at www.trainmuseum.org.

Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad -- This train operates out of Elbe, in the Mt. Rainier area and travels through forested valleys to Mineral Lake on this 90-minute 14-mile trip. A clear view of Mt. Rainier at one point along the train's route is one of the many highlights of the trip. There are also several theme-centered excursions offered. For more information on special events, schedules and fares, call 360-569-2351 or visit their website at www.mrsr.com.

Chehalis-Centralia Railroad -- This line links these two adjacent cities and offers several different theme-centered excursions: dinner; murder mystery; pumpkin and others. The train travels through wooded forests, old farmlands, and scenic natural areas on its route. For more information on special events, schedules and fares call 360-748-9593 or visit their website at www.ccrra.com.

Lewis and Clark Railroad (also known as the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad) -- A trip to the Portland area can be greatly enhanced by these scenic trips originating in Yacolt, on the western edge of the Cascade Mountains. This trip offers a variety of scenery not only during the trip along the Lewis River but also during the half-hour stopover at Moulton Falls Park, providing a chance to walk to Hidden Falls on Big Tree Creek. The Lewis and Clark Railroad offers several theme-centered excursions: Train Robbery; Headless Horseman, and others. For more information on special events, schedules and fares call 360-686-3559 or visit their website at www.bycx.com.

Lake Whatcom Railway -- Located in Northwest Washington, the Lake Whatcom Railway now uses a diesel locomotive, offering several theme-centered trips - Valentines Train, Christmas Train and others -- while traveling through forests and tunnels from Wickersham on this 90-minute trip. Many of the Pacific Northwest's trains from the early 1900s, as well as ancient wooden freight cars, are on display. For more information on special events, schedules and fares call 360-595-2218 or visit their website at www.lakewhatcomrailway.com.

Photos, from top: Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, Lake Whatcom Railway.

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Northwest zoos, Northwest water vacations, Port Townsend and Seattle attractions.

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