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Friday, July 20, 2012

Big Trees Trestle & Felton Junction

The Big Trees Trestle, also known as the San Lorenzo River Trestle, was located immediately south of Big Trees Station within Big Trees Park, equidistant between the Felton Depot and Felton Junction. It was the only San Lorenzo River crossing between Ben Lomond and Santa Cruz, with the exception of the Felton Trestle beside the Covered Bridge that linked New Felton with Old Felton. It was certainly the longest of the Mountain Route trestles south of the summit.

The trestle was built over the San Lorenzo River around 1879 when the South Pacific Coast Railroad first spanned the stretch, thereby bypassing Old Felton and the original Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad line. That line merged just south of the trestle at Felton Junction.  The trestle was 826 feet long originally.

(Rick Hamman)

The aerial photograph above shows the trestle at its longest length, with the clumped earth under the tracks in the foreground already starting to move toward the trestle itself. Eventually, the entire span to the river would be buried leaving a much shorter trestle.  Today, the area all around the tracks leading up to the river are complete surrounded be new-growth trees that have grown in since this 1880s photograph was taken. As a perspective, this photograph was taken from Highway 9. Today, it is impossible to see the tracks and river here, much less the trestle itself. The tracks at the top are heading into Big Trees Park, which is just around the bend, while those at the bottom are heading to Santa Cruz.

In the photograph below, the #1 engine is stopped on the trestle with many of the crew and passengers posing for the camera. Passengers are leaning out of windows in the rear cars, as well. The short span that passes over the river is at the far left.

(Bruce MacGregor)

The current Big Trees Trestle was erected in 1906 when the line was broad-gauged. It is steel and much shorter than the original trestle because most of the wooden span heading into San Lorenzo Gorge was buried to improve stability and support. This trestle still sits over the river today and is used daily throughout the summer by Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway, the part of Roaring Camp Railroads, which takes tourist trains to and from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on the Main Beach.

Felton Junction, meanwhile, no longer exists, though the route that once made it a junction still exists. There is a fire road access path that leads from behind the Tollhouse Resort at Highway 9 and Glengarry Road and heads toward the trestle. That is a surviving segment of the Felton Branch of the South Pacific Coast line that once terminated at the Hihn Lime Kilns near the end of Kirby Street in Felton, 1.7 miles north up the line.

A cement train passes over the relatively
unmaintained trestle in 1978 while a little
girl waves at the train from the beach below.
Absolutely nothing of the actual junction survives, if there ever were something there to survive. It was disbanded when the Felton Branch closed in the early 1930s, and it may have been abandoned even earlier than that since there was freight access to Felton directly across the River in the town of Felton once the Felton Trestle was opened in 1908. That trestle remained in service until 1942. Meanwhile, the Felton branch line only services narrow gauge and likely went into disuse as early as the 1910s.

Looking once more at the top image on this post, the junction broke off just after the bottom of the aerial photograph, heading to the left and following the other side of the river. No photographs of any portion of this route except for its original depot in Felton survive.

A SCBT&PC RR diesel engine steams over the
Big Trees Trestle heading toward Santa Cruz.
The photograph below, shows the location of the junction today, with the view heading toward the trestle. The raise earth still houses the decomposed remains of the original trestle, though its has been widened and heavily packed over the past 130 years. This photograph was taken precisely where the Felton Branch broke off to head along the west side of the San Lorenzo River.

The surviving right-of-way is accessed daily by tourists and locals to access the Garden of Eden and other swimming holes within San Lorenzo Gorge. A portion of that right-of-way, shown below, appears as a wide fire road and is utilized as such by State Park Rangers when necessary. Yet this road continued beneath the Toll House Resort and into the various mobile home parks that line the river toward Gold Gulch. This entire stretch once hosted a railroad right-of-way leading to Felton.

The remnants of this right-of-way as well as the surviving trestle can easily be visited by parking near Glengarry Road on Highway 9 south of Felton and walking down the fire road. When it levels out, head to the right to see the tracks. The trestle will be north along the tracks. Where the road meets the tracks, that is the site of the junction. It never was overly impressive but it was an important branch line that brought much of the lime out of the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Cruz city. Today, it is just another forgotten part of the history of the South Pacific Coast line in Santa Cruz County.


  1. And the branch line was the ROW for the original Santa Cruz & Felton RR, correct?

    1. Indeed. I say that in the second paragraph, but I guess I didn't emphasize it well. Sorry!

  2. Would I be able to use some of the images you've posted here in a couple of entries I've made on Bridgehunter,com?

    1. Feel free to use any modern photographs, since most were taken by myself. The black and white photographs are actually from other sources, though when I wrote this article last year I was not yet crediting photographs (much to my present dismay). I'd suggest searching for those from other sites. Also, I'd love to see where and how you use the photographs since has neglected our fair county in its surveys. Thanks!

    2. Using Google Reverse Image Search, I found someone selling the pic for $5, which is not at all a bad price, considering people like the Wisconsin Historical society charges $20 for a DIGITAL copy of a photograph...

      Considering it's an 1800s photograph to begin with, it is most likely in the public domain.

    3. Found what is probably the place you got the imagery from: