Are you headed north to Alaska? Sadly, you can't take a train to Alaska, as a result of Canada's rail networks doesn't connect through. However, there's some smart news: Once you truly build it to the forty-ninth state by other means, riding the Alaska Railroad passenger trains can unlock stunning views, natural sightings, and some fun experiences that you can't get to the other means.

Freight transport
Photo by Ankush Minda / Unsplash

The Alaska Railroad offers passenger service on 482 miles of track. ordered end-to-end, that might reach farther than the distance from Boston to Washington, DC, and it still covers solely a small fraction of the state.

The Alaska Railroad passenger Routes

The Alaska Railroad's downtown Anchorage depot is the hub of the rail network's passenger routes: one leading south to Seward, and another leading north to Fairbanks.

A short rail spur additionally runs northeast, connecting Anchorage to the small town of Palmer. That stretch of track is only used for passenger service on special occasions, as well as providing seasonal service to the Alaska State fair fairgrounds in Palmer.

On a moving train
Photo by JK / Unsplash

Anchorage to Seward

Dubbed the Coastal Classic, the Anchorage-to-Seward coastal train is a common connection for cruise passengers, who could fly into Anchorage and then take the train to Seward to board their cruise ship or vice versa. Though the railroad tracks parallel the spectacular, coastal Seward highway for much of the route, the train takes some short detours as well as a pass by remote Spencer glacier, which is just accessible by air or rail.

If you'd rather link up with the Alaska Marine route System's state ferries, you can ride the Glacier Discovery train, which follows more or less the same route because the Coastal Classic yet also takes a quick side trip to go to the small port city of Whittier, which is repaired by the ferry.

There's one more special factor regarding the glacier Discovery train: It stops at Spencer glacier, providing you the possibility to get off and enjoy a few hours in an interpretive plaza or on easy walking trails before the train collects you on the way home.
Take note: though the glacier Discovery train follows much the same route as the Coastal Classic, it doesn't go all the way to Seward.

Anchorage to Fairbanks

Photo by Carrie Yang / Unsplash

The rail route connecting Anchorage to Talkeetna, Denali Park, Healy, and Fairbanks is termed the Denali Star and, just like the southbound route, it often diverges from the route, providing you with glimpses into an even wilder, more lonely kind of scenery. This is the one train that runs with some regularity during the offseason as the Aurora Winter train, making just a few journeys every week.

Wildlife sightings are common here and, as long as the train is running on time, conductors will usually stop the train and even back it up to make certain you get great photos. On a reasonably clear day, you'll additionally take photos of Denali on the distant horizon.

The hurricane turn

Train tour additionally runs on this stretch of track, with most passengers jumping on in Talkeetna for the pleasure trip to the small city of the cyclone, wherever the train turns around. This narrated day trip is well-known for providing an authentic look into the importance of trains in backcountry Alaska. It's additionally one of the last railroad terminal trains within the nation.