It's a couple hours' drive to the Mt. Rainier National Park area from Seattle, so we only make it out there once or twice a year. We were already booked on a field trip to the Pioneer Farm Museum in the Ohop Valley and it seemed like a good idea to make the most of it and tack on a visit to tiny Elbe, WA and the Mt Rainier Scenic Railroad.
The old rustic steam train travels 14 miles between the towns of Elbe and Mineral through forests and foothills. The ride is about half an hour, and intrepid passengers can loiter in the vestibules between cars for a wind-in-your-face ride. We may have played a few rounds of "imagine you're Jesse James and his gang robbing the train" and "it's Back to the Future part 3 with the train hurtling toward the ravine!" :)
The town of Elbe has a population of 29 (what?!) and the depot is right next to a teeny tiny church which is sometimes open for visits. The depot includes a nice gift shop and snacks/drinks for the train, which you'll need unless you purchased a first class ticket (we did not). Once on board, the seats are arranged in groups of four, so if you're traveling with a group, plan to reserve seats on the same side of the train, not across the full rows. The seating process wasn't clear on the reservation page, but this photo shows what I mean.
Once the train rolls out, it passes beautiful scenic views, but unfortunately we never caught sight of Mt. Rainier because of the wildfire smoky haze. You can often see the mountain when the train crosses the Nisqually River. (You'll know when you reach it and the conductor will announce it). On the way out, look on the left side of the train. On the return trip, look to the right.
Eventually the train reaches the old mining town of Mineral and all the passengers disembark at the Logging Museum. The old cabins are available to walk through and lots of train cars and locomotives are on display as well. The stop in Mineral was announced as an hour, but actually was more than that by about 20 minutes. It was honestly too much time and we wandered back to our seats with half an hour to spare. We were glad to see another small gift shop with snacks and drinks as well, and I giggled about how we were "cargo commoners" among the "first class guests." Seriously though, if I'd realized the next car over offered free goodies, I would have splurged on the fancy tickets!
The Standard Class cars are old Tacoma Rail cars from the 1950s, and tickets are $41/adults and $21 for kids ages 3-11. We traveled on a special deal with kids riding free! Check their special deals page for current promos. The upgrade to a midcentury passenger rail car with assigned table seating is $54/adults and $34/kids. Parking is an extra $4 /vehicle. Logging Museum admission is included in the train fare. Special event fare prices vary.