The Alaska Railroad is one of the Last Frontier’s most unique, exciting and passenger-friendly travel experiences. Yet one of the many awesome aspects about traveling the state on the Alaska Railroad happens – when the train stops. Alaska’s trains and trips pull into some of the state’s coolest, quaintest, and quirkiest cities and towns, each possessing its own sights and bites, attractions and excursions, natural environments, and roles in Alaska’s history and culture.
The bookends of the Alaska Railroad’s nearly 500 miles of tracks are among the most interesting: the southern port of Seward is a postcard-perfect small fishing town by the water and the gateway to some big-time adventures on water and land; and its farthest-north stop is Fairbanks, Alaska’s Golden Heart City set in the center of the state’s Interior region, with a Gold Rush past and independent spirit, and a sky that it lit by the Midnight Sun all summer and northern lights all winter.
Each community along the Alaska Railroad offers something worth checking out for curious Alaska visitors, especially for travelers seeking quick day tours that pack in quality time.
Here are a few of the most popular stops along the Alaska Railroad’s route:
A day spent breathing in the mountain air and mountain views in the home of Alaska’s most popular attraction is one that visitors never forget. And the range of day trip adventures in the park area are as exciting as a peek of the peak of majestic Denali itself! There are guided bus tours into the heart of the park, learning about park ecosystems, and Denali’s landscapes, wildlife and natural history. Other amazing park perspectives can be found by flightseeing or taking a helicopter trip around Denali, with some, offering pitstops of glacier landings. And thrill-seekers will love the whitewater action of guided float trips, whitewater rafting or guided ATV tours around the park.
Deciding how to spend a day tour in Alaska’s largest city, travel hub, and cultural, entertainment and cuisine center is a tall task. The list of exciting and interesting things to see and do in Anchorage is as long as an Alaska summer day. Visiting the Anchorage Museum and Alaska Native Heritage Center can pack a full day with cultural education and inspiration. And a hike in the Chugach Mountains followed by refueling at a local Alaskan brewery is the perfect combo for outdoor explorers. A steady stroll around Anchorage’s downtown’s shops, restaurants and stopping for views of Cook Inlet, Sleeping Lady and even Denali on a clear day will fill visitors with Alaska’s big city charm. And of course, be sure to visit the beautiful downtown depot for the Alaska Railroad, just a short walk from summer salmon fishing on Ship Creek.
Set a few hours north of Anchorage and with priceless views of Denali, Talkeetna is a slice of old-time Alaska that balance rustic charm and a slow small-town pace with modern accommodations and active adventures. It’s fitting that the Alaska Railroad stops here, as the hamlet was once a hopping hub during the construction of the railroad. Today, summer day-trippers walk the streets of Talkeetna enjoying snacks and chats between flightseeing trips around the peak of Denali, rafting or fishing trips, and many more exciting excursions. The pace is even slower in the winter, but the cross-country skiing, hanging with the always lively locals, and the chance for a glimpse of the northern lights make for plenty of Alaska good times.
If you’re looking for fun under the Midnight Sun or the dancing northern lights, Fairbanks is the place. Fairbanks is the northern end of the line for the Alaska Railroad and a land of extremes; an urban city surrounded by rugged wilderness; a cultural center of Alaska’s Native past, present and future; and an historic Gold Rush town of the past now featuring a renowned sciences university. Fairbanks is famous for its endless daylight in the summer and slivers of sun in the winter and its genuinely hot summers and bone-chilling winters. Residents of Fairbanks have a friendly yet tough streak, welcoming visitors and any opportunity to celebrate life at the top of the world. There are lots of events to enjoy from the Summer and Winter Solstices, Golden Days, and more. And there are many museums and plenty of parks, gold panning, dog mushing, views of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and visits to the North Pole and the Santa Claus House (only a 20-minute drive away) and Chena Hot Springs (just an hour away).
The sleepy and tiny town that’s lies at the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad is also the gateway to one of Alaska’s greatest natural gems: Kenai Fjords National Park. A day trip of the Fjords features glaciers and otters, whales and waterfalls, and so much more aquatic excitement. Framed by mountains, glaciers and Resurrection Bay, Seward is an Alaska wonder. Seward is named after the man brokered the state’s purchase from Russia – William H. Seward. There’s tons of on- and off-shore fishing, a surprisingly tasty cuisine scene, and the very cool Exit Glacier only a short drive away, lots of hiking and history, a cruise ship terminal, and the Alaska SeaLife Center, whose residents – sea birds, fish, seals, human researchers and more – charm visitors. It’s hard to believe a town this small has so much to offer!
Now when it comes to quirky/interesting Alaska communities, few can match the pretty Prince William Sound port of Whittier. First, the majority of its fewer-than-300 year-round residents live in one big old funky-looking building: the 14-story Begich Towers. And to get to Whittier on land, which many do since it’s just an hour south of Anchorage, you have to travel by train or vehicle through the Anton Anderson Tunnel, which at 2.5 miles is North America’s longest highway (and rail and highway) tunnel. Its ice-free port made it a popular stop for Gold Rush prospectors heading north, and generations later, for the military which took residence there during World War II. Today, tourism is its beating heart: fishing and glacier tours are popular, along with shore excursions for the occasional cruise ship or Alaska Marine Highway System vessel. And there’s excellent hiking and dramatic views from the surrounding hills and mountains.
Can’t decide on where to stop while on board the Alaska Rairoad? Want to learn about more the communities and attractions along the Alaska Railroad route? The Alaska Tours team can help you maximize your minutes on and off the train as you visit Alaska’s towns. All abord Alaska travelers!