YOSEMITE IS OPEN. Click here for more TRAVEL ALERTS and information.
Visitor Guide
Get Our Newsletter
Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad Moonlight Express
All Aboard!
The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad Moonlight Express
Local Freshies
Blog All Aboard. The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad Moonlight Express - A Unique Experience
Alex Silgalis | 04/01/2023Entertainment/Theater, Family Friendly, Food & Beverage, Food & Wine, Guest Stories, Museums, History & Culture, Train Riding |   

In the pitch darkness, you slowly coast through a dense forest. In between the tall pines, a full moon shines down on you giving glimpses of this hulking beast leading you to your destination. The sound of the steam powered engine is a deep pumping rhythm. The rumbling underneath the floor makes you feel alive. Huge plumes of steam rise from the train. The deafening silence of the forest is broken by the three truck shay roaring. Its whistle letting everyone know it still is the lion amongst this land. Even if you’ve enjoyed the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad during the day, the Moonlight Express is an experience that can’t be missed.

The Event Begins as the Sun Sets

Descending down off the highway down to the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, we park our car and stroll up to the main railroad buildings. The train sits quietly on the track. It waits patiently for the conductor to fire her up and begin the journey. Just to the right is a host of picnic tables, and beyond that, huge grills being manned by grill masters.

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

On That Evening Train to Sugar Pine

The sound of searing meat and smell of juicy steaks grilling make our mouths water. We order a bottle of wine and choose our table. As we sit down, the minstrels of the evening begin to serenade the crowd. Classic train songs like City of New Orleans By Steve Goodman are played.

A Dinner Fit for Lumberjacks

Our number is called, and we walk back to the grills as they serve up our dinner. The portions were generous, and we were impressed at the quality of food. Prior to the event you had to pick if you wanted steak or chicken. We tried both and had to say they were perfectly cooked. The sides were good too. A refreshing corn salad, beans, and a big hunk of bread.

The Journey Begins

As everyone finished up their meals, the conductor hopped on board. The locomotive awakened with a huge plume of steam like she was clearing out her lungs. The cloud seemed to just stand there. Motionless for a moment before dissipating. This signaled to everyone that it was time to get a move on.

With a quick jerk, the hulking beauty and its compatriots departed the station. On our way down to this evening’s festivities, a narrator spoke about the area’s logging history and the train itself. Still, with plenty of daylight left you could see everything around you.

A Camp-Style Sing-along

The train pulled into Lewis Creek Canyon, and we stepped out. The location was like what you’d find at a camping retreat. Rows of wooden benches surrounded a small band shell. And in the center, a big fire bellowed. The band playing earlier in the evening setup and began to strum away. The assortment of songs for the sing-along was creative. From #1 pop hits to classic Elvis songs and even the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song. They made sure everyone from 5 to 50 were thoroughly entertained.

Sing-along at the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroads Moonlight Special

A True Glimpse into the Past

Alas it was time to go. In the darkness, the train was even more impressive. Its paint was darker than the night sky. The midnight black metal seemed to glow in the night. Below the engine compartment, the fire box smoldered a deep orange. It was reminiscent of the windows from the children’s movie Monster House.

As we began our ascent in pitch blackness, our senses took over. With only a glow from the engine’s light, the trees seemed taller. The rumbling of the cars felt like mini earthquakes. The white smoke bellowed above us. My mind began to wander… this is how it must’ve felt to ride a steam train in the 19th century.

What to Bring

The train itself is at 5,000 feet above sea level which means even on the warmest days the nights can get a bit chilly. Be sure to bring a sweatshirt/jacket or even a blanket to wrap yourself up in for the ride.


Like what you see? Save any of these pins (or possibly all of them) to your travel planning board(s) to give you an easy way to find your way back here!  Also check out our other travel stories/blog posts as well as itineraries for more ideas and pins!

Alex Silgalis

Alex founded localfreshies.com® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
Visit Yosemite - Madera County
Oakhurst Visitor Center, 40343 Highway 41, Oakhurst, CA 93644
(559) 683-4636
Email us!

7 days a week: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm

Developed by Drozian Webworks | ©2024 Southern Yosemite Visitors Bureau. All Rights Reserved.