If you love railroad towns, stop here. Built by Central Pacific Railroad, Dunsmuir (population 1650) was originally named Pusher, for the auxiliary ‘pusher’ engines that muscled the heavy steam engines up the steep mountain grade. In 1886 Canadian coal baron Alexander Dunsmuir came to Pusher and was so enchanted that he promised the people a fountain if they would name the town after him. The fountain stands in the park today. Stop there to quench your thirst; it could easily be – as locals claim – ‘the best water on earth.’
Dunsmuir might have aptly been named Phoenix. Rising from the ashes, this town has survived one cataclysmic disaster after another – avalanche, fire, flood, even a toxic railroad spill in 1991. Long since cleaned up, the river has been restored to pristine levels and the community has a notably plucky spirit, though today a number of empty storefronts attest to the community’s greatest challenge: the Global Economic Crisis.
Still, it’s home to a spirited set of artists, naturalists, urban refugees and native Dunsmuirians, who are rightly proud of the fish-stocked rivers (yes the fishing is great) around their little community. Its downtown streets – once a bawdy Gold Rush district of five saloons and three brothels – hold cafes, restaurants and galleries, and the town’s reputation is still inseparable from the trains.
Split in two by the I-5, the southern half is where you'll find the bright and pleasant historic downtown.