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RailCycle Mt. Rainier: Exciting Train Bike Adventure With Kids

A fun and unique way to experience nature, and get a little exercise too!

Vicky McDonald

Published on: August 03, 2023

RailCycle tour at Mt. Rainier and two children walking near the tracks, photo credit Vicky McDonald
Kids get ready to board their rail cycle at RailCycle Mt. Rainier. Credit: Vicky McDonald

Sunny summer and early fall weekends are the ideal time for an adventure with the kids that veers off the beaten path. At the start of every summer, my family and I make a bucket list that’s jam-packed with all the stuff we want to do each weekend.

This summer, the new RailCycle Mt. Rainier tour was at the top of the list. The family attraction kicked off earlier this year, and it’s like no other adventure ride we’ve been on.

A rail cycle, or rail bike, used on the new RailCycle Mt. Rainier excursion near Seattle, a summer activity for families
A rail cycle, or rail bike, is a pedal-powered vehicle that travels on railroad tracks. Credit: Vicky McDonald

On this outing, families roll through the forest on a unique rail bike while catching glimpses of the Nisqually River and majestic Mount Rainier. If you’re looking for a unique and relaxing excursion with kids, this new attraction is well worth checking out.

What is a rail cycle?

A rail cycle, or rail bike, is a specially designed human-powered vehicle that runs on railroad tracks. It’s sort of a cross between a bicycle and an old-fashioned railroad handcar, with a bit of pedal boat thrown in. A rail cycle is propelled by pedaling, and one rail cycle can accommodate as many as four riders at once.

Railroad tracks carry rail cycle riders through pristine landscapes, not easily accessible by road
Travel through scenic landscapes on a rail cycle. Credit: Vicky McDonald

A rail cycle tour, with the power of riders’ legs as the engine, carries families on a journey through serene landscapes. Traveling on train tracks allows riders to take in scenes that would otherwise remain hidden from regular tourist routes.

Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad operates RailCycle Mt. Rainier. This organization previously offered train excursions in the same area — and will again this fall (more on that below). The rail cycle tour follows an isolated track, upon which there is no chance of a train running. The tour departs from a spot near Eatonville, Wash., and takes riders on a 1.5-mile pedal through the forest.

A girl who can’t reach the rail cycle pedals even with a booster rides along and enjoys the excursion
It’s still fun, even if a kid can’t quite reach the pedals. Credit: Vicky McDonald

Is RailCycle Mt. Rainier suitable for young kids?

My kids are 5 and 7 years old, and we were excited to try out this novel way of traveling. When we arrived, the company had booster seats available for us to use. These booster seats are easily strapped onto the yellow plastic seats of the rail cycles. With the booster, my 7-year-old was all set to pedal along with us, joining in the fun — and contributing some of the power.

My 5-year-old, however, couldn’t reach the pedals even with the booster. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem. She absolutely loved the ride and was thrilled to be a part of the adventure, even without pedaling.

A family pedals their rail car together along the RailCycle Mt. Rainier train bike excursion
Team pedaling! Credit: Vicky McDonald

The rest of us — my husband, our son and I — worked together and had a blast pedaling our rail cycle, while our daughter enjoyed the ride. We spotted a couple with a young baby in a carrier on the tour, and they also seemed to be having fun. (According to the RailCycle Mt. Rainier website, babies weighing less than 25 pounds may ride with an adult in a front-style harness or carrier, so long as parents can buckle their seatbelt.)

All in all, there were people of all ages on the tour, and everyone appeared able to keep up.

A row of rail bikes awaits riders at RailCycle Mt. Rainier near Seattle
Rail bikes at the ready. Credit: Vicky McDonald

Safety first

Before we hopped on our rail cycle, our guides first gave us a quick and clear safety briefing. They told us about the route we would be taking, the planned stops along the way and the importance of maintaining a safe distance from other rail cycles.

As soon as the briefing wrapped up, we adjusted our seats to ensure comfort, hopped on and started pedaling away, eager to begin our adventure through the scenic surroundings.

A rail cycle excursion passes through the forest on the RailCycle Mt. Rainier excursion
Credit: Vicky McDonald

First impressions

The initial part of the ride was a downhill stretch, making it superfast and requiring minimal pedal power. I was surprised by how noisy the rail cycles were, making it difficult to chat with my kids. Nevertheless, it turned out to be an exhilarating experience as we sat back and took in the wonderful views, sounds and scents of the forest while whooshing along the rails.

I found the route remarkably unspoiled, offering beautiful vistas of the countryside, with colorful wildflowers and fluttering butterflies. Although we caught a fleeting glimpse of Mount Rainier, it was somewhat obscured by the trees. Fair warning: If you go in expecting breathtaking views of the mountain, you might be a little disappointed. There is a nice view of Mount Rainier from the rest stop at the beginning of the tour if you are really hoping for that photo!

The rest stop

After approximately 30 minutes of riding, we reached the turnaround point of the tour and took a break at some picnic tables in the forest. There is one camp toilet here, but note that there are no other facilities available at this spot. You will want to come prepared with snacks, water and sunscreen. Luckily, there is ample space on your rail cycle to accommodate a backpack in which you can tote snacks and water for the journey. (Additionally, there is a store at the check-in desk that offers a few snacks for purchase.)

The rest stop area where rail cycles are turned around for the return trip.
The rest stop and turnaround point. Credit: Vicky McDonald

During this 35-minute break, the employees turned our rail cycles around for the return trip. While it was a necessary task, it did take a fair amount of time. At this point, I couldn’t help but wish that an extra staff member was present to engage us with interesting facts about these railroad tracks, Mount Rainier, or the local area’s history and industry. The rest stop was fine, but it seemed to me that the time spent waiting could have been better used.

The journey back

The journey back required a lot more pedal power. That said, it was nice to have that slower pace to appreciate the wildflowers, the elk and the cattle grazing in the fields — not to mention the gorgeous mountains. The slower pace meant it was a little less noisy and it was easier to take photos and converse. We saw that other riders even picked wildflowers on the route back.

A girl plays dominoes at a picnic table at Mill Haus Cider Co. in Eatonville, Washington, after an family adventure at RailCycle Mt. Rainier
Stop at Mlil Haus Cider Co. after your rail cycle adventure. Credit: Vicky McDonald

The verdict from the backseat

The kids absolutely adored this one-of-a-kind way of exploring the countryside. My son loved pedaling our rail cycle, while my daughter, although unable to reach the pedals this time, is already looking forward to next year when she hopes to join in on the pedaling fun.

The verdict from the front seat

Overall, the tour was well-organized and an enjoyable experience. The tour is relatively short if you are driving all the way from Seattle, but I think it’s probably long enough if you have young kids.

The only thing I felt was missing was a little more interactivity. At the check-in center, there was a poster with a QR code providing details about railroad history, which was a nice touch. I think it would be fantastic if, during the rest stop, someone from the staff could share this information in a more engaging and interactive manner, bringing the area’s history alive for us.

Despite that minor criticism, the entire experience was memorable, and the kids’ excitement and enjoyment made it a day well spent on our RailCycle Mt. Rainier adventure.

If you go...

Find it: RailCycle Mt. Rainier tours departs from 13203 Alder Mashel Connection Road E. in Eatonville. Eatonville is a town in Pierce County about a 1.75-hour drive from Seattle or Bellevue, and about an hour from Tacoma. (Note that this is not the same departure point as Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad train excursions, which leave from nearby Elbe.)

Booking: Book your timed-departure tickets online. Multiple departure times are available Tuesday–Sunday through summer. Weekend excursions are available through October.

Cost: The rail cycles all have four seats. A full rail cycle of 4 riders costs $161.25. Your group of three can also share a bike with a RailCycle Mt. Rainier guide for $120. Another option is to share a rail cycle with another couple (you book 2 seats) for $86.

If you are a family or group of 5 or more, the company recommends booking one 4-seat rail cycle and then booking an additional shared cycle (two- or three-seat options.) Your family group can be placed in adjacent cycles for the excursion.

How long is the trip: Families are directed to arrive 20 minutes before the departure time. The entire experience lasts about two and a half hours, including the safety orientation, outbound pedal, 35-minute rest stop at the turnaround point and the return trip.

What to bring: Snacks, water, hat, sunscreen, insect repellant and appropriate outdoor gear. Closed-toe shoes are better for cycling. The company did offer shade/umbrella if anyone needed it. RailCycle Mt. Rainier tours run rain or shine, so bring wet-weather gear if you go on a drizzly day.

Good to know: Children may not ride in an adult’s lap during the rail cycle excursion, with the exception of babies weighing less than 25 pounds held in a carrier. All riders must be buckled up. There is a maximum weight of 300 pounds per rider on the rail cycles. RailCycle Mt. Rainier is working to design an accessible rail bike — and is welcoming community input if you’d like to offer ideas about this.

Parking: There’s a small parking lot at the check-in area. There are some picnic tables, portable toilets and a store selling drinks and snacks.

Where to eat: On the way back home, we stumbled upon an excellent kid-friendly eatery in Eatonville. Mill Haus Cider Co serves kid-friendly food and features fish ponds, fire pits and lawn games. It’s well worth checking out if you are looking for an entertaining and relaxing food stop before or after your adventure.

Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad train rides are back: Train fans, take note! After a long closure and now under new ownership, Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad steam train excursions are available for booking, with train rides offered weekends in September and October.

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