All aboard! If you are exploring Mt. Rainier and are looking for an extra activity outside the park, the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad is an amazing ride. Located just twelve miles from the west entrance to Mt. Rainier, the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad (MRSR) is close to the action and family-friendly, with beautiful scenery and a stop at a historic logging museum
The Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad train has been operating out of Elbe since 1981. The non-profit organization’s mission is two-fold: to educate visitors and locals alike about the logging industry that shaped the region over the last 100 years, and to preserve the steam engines that made the lumber industry possible in the first part of the 20th century.
Rides are offered Saturday and Sunday at 10 am, 12:45 pm, and 3:30 pm through October 27th, when the trains will stop for the winter season. You can reserve seats in advance (recommended) or arrive at least 30 minutes early to purchase tickets. Check here for occasional Groupon opportunities to save some dough.
The staff will let you and your family know when it is time to board, and then let you take your seats. As the train pulls out of the Elbe station, a staff member will come around to punch tickets, answer questions, and provide safety rules for the journey. Once you and your family depart on your adventure, you’ll cross over the highway and head west towards Ashford (and Mt. Rainier Nat’l Park) until the train turns southwards at Park Junction and makes its way south towards Mineral. The other branch (which is no longer in use), once made its way onwards to Ashford and National the first half of last century, where one of the largest logging mills in America used to reside.
Continuing on the adventure, the train will cross back across the high way and across a bridge over the Nisqually River. On a clear day you can look upriver to enjoy the grandeur of the river’s source – Mt. Rainier. The mountain will show her face a bit throughout the latter half of the ride, peaking above the hills and adding another dimension to the scenes of changing leaves, flowing rivers, and forested hillsides.
The train will stop after approximately 30 minutes in Mineral, at the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad’s own version of a railroad camp. Historic logging camp buildings from all over Washington have been brought together to form this camp. The largest structure is the MRSR restoration and repair shop which contains a track with a servicing pit, and all the necessary tools to rebuild a steam locomotive. The staff and volunteers work here on the MRSR trains, using skills and tools employed since the 1800’s. The railroad camp is still under development to restore and furnish each of the camp buildings to accurately portray life as it once was at a railroad camp. On each visit you can come to enjoy something new!
Once run on coal, the train now runs on used motor oil. The round-trip adventure from Elbe to Mineral and back takes 150 gallons of the recycled oil, and 1,500 gallons or more of water. A steam locomotive works by burning a combustible material (in this case used motor oil), producing steam in a boiler, which is then driven through an engine.
The water is an incredibly powerful source of combustion – when a molecule of water is heated to 387 degrees, it expands to more than 1600 times it’s original size. The steam engines are marvelously effective, but their disuse came about because of their difficulty to maintain. Steam engines were used until the 1950s.
Interestingly, the steam also explains where the “choo-choo” sound comes from. When the slide valve opens the high-pressure steam into either side of the cylinder, the escaping steam makes the recognizable “choo!” sound as it exits.
Learn all about steam engines and the fascinating logging history of the Nisqually River region on the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad. The views are beautiful, the people friendly, and the ride is sure to please everyone in your family, young and old. Enjoy!
More information can be found at the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad website here.