Exploring the wild outdoors via rail and river provides a pleasing change of pace from the infinite staircases of the wild indoors. Step outside with today’s Groupon: for $75, you get a seven-hour rail and raft adventure (up to a $150 value) from Sierra Railroad and Sunshine Rafting Adventures. The trip launches from Horseshoe Recreation Area in Oakdale at 9:45 a.m. on the following seven dates throughout the summer:
- Tuesday, May 31
- Tuesday, June 7
- Tuesday, July 12
- Tuesday, July 26
- Tuesday, August 16
- Tuesday, August 23
- Tuesday, August 30
The storied Sierra Railroad allies itself with Sunshine Rafting Adventures to combine the peanut butter of luxury locomotion with the chocolate of river-riding outdoor adventure. The historical and ecological edu-venture—which may last as long as seven hours, depending on conditions and rafting pace—follows a closed-circuit route that navigates through vernal landscapes and meandering river bends filled with scenic bluffs and the signs of local fauna. Pathfinders 5 years old and up can observe the cliff swallows’ mud nests among the ancient volcanic flows and the unmistakable tracks of the greater whistling iron-horse. A roast beef, turkey, or PB&J picnic lunch divides the 1.5-hour train trip and the guide-assisted Stanislaus River sojourn, which delivers adventurers back to their car or rickshaw at Horseshoe Recreation Area.
No strangers to the flowing frontiers, the buoyancy-buffs of Sunshine Rafting Adventures provide all rafting accouterments, from sturdy craft to fashionable life vest. While cameras are permitted, nothing brought onboard is completely safe from this rakish river’s playful splashes. Day-trippers should plan accordingly, packing towels, a change of clothes, post-journey beverages, and trunk-mounted gyroscopes for quick drying. Trips are not often deterred by rain, though severe weather may force rescheduling.
Completed in 1911, the Woodland Branch is a 16-mile stretch of railway that connects West Sacramento with Woodland, California. At the branch's peak, passenger trains were running eight times a day, nine times on leap-days, but it all came to an end in 1940 with the start of World War II. The tracks were still used for freight, but it would be more than 60 years before passengers began using the railway again with any frequency. When the scenic stretch of rail was absorbed by the Sierra Railroad Company in 2003, it wasn't long before it took the name Sacramento RiverTrain and began running luxury coaches complete with rattan furniture, wood paneling, and state-of-the-art sound systems. Today, passengers board these trains to savor Sunday brunch, murder-mystery dinners, and other events while train tracks softly clack in the background.