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Friday, October 12, 2012

Zayante Station

For being the last formal station in the San Lorenzo River basin, Zayante remains an obscure and poorly-documented location. The town site today is located about three and a half miles up the Zayante Creek valley from Felton. Today, the Zayante Market is really the only commercial business marking the area as something separate from Olympia, Lompico, or Felton. Yet in relation to the South Pacific Coast and Southern Pacific railroads, Zayante was a stop to be found at the pinnacle of its descent into the San Lorenzo River watershed.

Zayante Station at the top of the grade, c. 1920s. Note the
railroad crossing sign behind the station house marking
the top of the fire road that leads down to E. Zayante Rd.
(Courtesy Stephen M. Hayes)
First documented on maps in 1880, the technical center of Zayante can be found at the confluence of Zayante Creek and another stream that runs from near Mountain Charlie Road with its source near Riva Ridge Drive off Summit Rd. It appears in the 1899 Station Book at 69 miles south of San Francisco via Alameda Point, and midway between Tank Siding a mile to the north and Meehan Station a mile to the south. In 1899, it featured a full A-class freight siding yard that could hold multiple flat and box cars while they waited for shipment over the mountain. Once the line was converted to broad-gauge, most of these sidings probably disappeared since freight operations had largely settled in Glenwood. The book also mentions a platform on the right of the tracks, which would place it on a ledge that overlooked Zayante Creek, which matches current evidence of a clearing there. The local post office was moved from Gibbs, located about a half mile south along the tracks, to Zayante Station on January 29, 1916. It is possible that Gibbs was the primary town site for Zayante but that Zayante Station had more space for freight.

Unfortunately, there are no extant images of Zayante Station and the site was neglected in Rick Hamman's California Central Coast Railways, which marks the location of Zayante on its route map with a pip, but accidentally skips naming the site. Some timetables mention it, including a table in 1889 that closely matches the information in the station book. Another timetable, this time in 1932, notes its new location in relation to San Francisco as being 64 miles south of the city. It was also noted on the 1938 and 1939 tables, suggesting that it has not entirely gone out of use when the line was closed in 1940.

Today, the site is not difficult to access. A fire road located on the 18000 block of East Zayante Road just before crossing a bridge marks the ascent to the right-of-way. A hike up two switchbacks along a rutted dirt road will get you to the site of the tracks and the station. To the left of the road, the clearing where the station house was remains. The right-of-way is plenty wide to support two tracks, though more, as in narrow gauge times, seems wildly unrealistic since there is a hillside on the opposite side of the tracks. The right-of-way has long since been converted to a Santa Cruz Water District fire road, but it is still accessible as a hiking trail.

  • Southern Pacific System: List of Officers, Agencies and Stations, 1899.
  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Hayes, Stephen M., Southern Pacific Stations in California, Vol. I. ,>


  1. 11136 E Zayante Rd is the location of the double switchback fire road, which once past the green gate will take you relatively straight up Mtn Charlie/ Riva Ridge creek (between 600' and 800') for about a mile to one of the train tunnels. I think it spits you out at Mtn Charlie and Station Ranch Rd. I have never been past the tunnel due to private property.


  2. A few nice Zayante images were posted up on the T.O board.,3564884

    1. Thanks for the link. My account expired over there a month ago and it wasn't worth it for me to renew. I have two copies of the bottom photo, which is of the Mt. Hermon Trestle, but the top one looks different than the one I have of Zayante. It looks Perhaps I'm wrong, but if you have access to the site, I'd love you to send that my way. I have permission to use all of Wil Whittaker's photos from the current owner of the collection, I just haven't been able to visit him. He lives in Tuscan. Most of my photos come second-hand from a man who got them from Alan a number of years ago.

      Now I wish I could respond on the site. They are talking about things I can answer, but I'm not able to post without paying the site usage fee again.

  3. Very interesting. I should remind folks that this property is posted and not open to public hiking per City of Santa Cruz policy.