Alaska Railroad Train Trips: An Affordable Addition to Any Alaska Trip
One of the more traditional, romantic and unique ways to travel in America’s “Last Frontier” is aboard the Alaska Railroad. This iconic rail line spans 470 miles from the scenic Kenai Peninsula’s port of Seward to the Interior’s Golden Heart City, Fairbanks. Along the way are many opportunities train passengers can take advantage of with stops in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city and its entertainment hub; Denali National Park, home to the “Great One”, a menagerie of breathtaking wildlife, landscapes and adventures; Talkeetna, the quirky and friendly climbing town in the shadow of Denali; and Girdwood, a friendly hamlet nestled between mountains and the sea.
The slower pace of Alaska Railroad journeys allows passengers more relaxation and quality time with their travel companions, opportunities to meet new friends and fellow travelers, and zero stress. It also delivers incomparable scenic viewing, allowing you to soak up all the Alaska scenery you can handle – from birds to bears, mountains to moose, waterways to trees, sourdough towns to glaciers.
How Much is a Train Vacation in Alaska?
Although each Alaska train trip is unique, there are some general rules of thumb to help you budget for your Alaskan railroad adventure. The most popular time to tour Alaska by train is in June, July and August, when the weather is warmest. In the summer, the cost for a railroad vacation package is typically around $300* per adult per day, based on two adults sharing a room. Tour packages include hotels, excursions, and touring by train.
With the highest level of comfort, the double-decker, glass domed train cars provide optimal viewing. There is also an outdoor area for taking photos and enjoying Alaska’s crisp, fresh air. The GoldStar dome train even includes meals and drinks, in addition to many other perks. Upgrading a railroad tour package to include first class train and 4-star hotels can increase costs by 10% to 50%.
As a rough estimate, an Alaska Railroad trip with nice accommodations, sightseeing, and dome train travel, costs about $400 per adult per day during the summer.* Prices are reduced for Alaskan train packages during Alaska’s shoulder season, in May and September, saving you 5% to 20% off peak summer rates.
The most affordable time to travel by train is in the winter, from late September to early May. During the Aurora season, the train makes its relaxing 11.5-hour journey between Fairbanks and Anchorage at least twice per week. A four-night package with hotels, tours and a train ride costs around $1000 per person, based on two adults sharing a room.
Alaska Railroad Routes
The priceless moments and rich experiences onboard the Alaska Railroad and off-board at its many fascinating and historic stops are actually quite affordable, especially if you opt for one-way trips. You can save money and avoid backtracking by flying home from a different city, or by taking a motorcoach or rental car to complete a roundtrip route.
Seward to Anchorage: The Coastal Classic
The Coastal Classic Train is indeed an Alaska classic, transporting passengers between Seward and Anchorage, carving through the mountain-and-glacier packed Kenai Peninsula. The rails also abut more mountains and glaciers and the wonderful waterways of Turnagain Arm and Cook Inlet on its way into the heart of Southcentral Alaska, the Chugach Mountains and downtown Anchorage. There’s just one stop on this route, but it’s an excellent one: Girdwood, the quaint town that’s home to skiers, artists, mountain runners, weekend warriors and amazing restaurants. Girdwood’s greatest draw is Mount Alyeska. Alyeska is the No. 1 destination for local and visiting skiers and snowboarders, and home to the luxurious Alyeska Resort. One-way rail trips are perfect for those arriving into or departing from Seward by cruise ship.
Anchorage to Fairbanks: The Denali Star
Like its namesake peak, the Denali Star Train is a great route in the Alaska Railroad’s lineup. It travels between Anchorage and Fairbanks with a trio of popular stops along the way: Wasilla, Talkeetna and of course the iconic Denali National Park.
When it comes to Alaska towns where time has practically stood still, it’s Talkeetna: its gold mining history is still evident in its architecture and even with some sourdough recipes and residents, though there are the modern touches of Denali flightseeing tours and microbreweries. Denali National Park is the ultimate destination for many train travelers on this route. Simply seeing the mountain from afar is amazing but entering the park and experiencing all the wildlife, landscapes and unbridled views of Denali makes for a lifetime of memories. Fairbanks is also a fun town, especially in the summer when it’s blanketed in the brightness of the ever-present Midnight Sun. Many travelers choose one-way trips on this route because so many other options are available for the next chapter of their trip.
Anchorage to Whittier: The Glacier Discovery Train
The ice is nice and the ride is ridiculously pretty on the Glacier Discovery Train, which takes passengers from urban Anchorage down the spectacular Turnagain Arm to the natural wonders of Girdwood, Whittier, Portage, Spencer and Grandview. Girdwood is worth its own stop and stay, but this Alaska train trip is all about seeing the glaciers and grandeur of Portage, Whittier, Spencer and Grandview. While passing by Portage, you’ll catch a brief glimpse of its namesake glacier across Portage Lake. Many on this trip choose to get off the train at the whistle stop of Spencer Glacier, where they can spend the day exploring this glacier by foot, raft or kayak and ogling its big ice chunks before the train returns and ferries them back to Anchorage in time for dinner. One bonus on this trip: traveling to and from the port town of Whittier on this route means trips through Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, at 2.5 miles the longest combined vehicle/railroad tunnel in North America which is literally cut through a mountain. It’s a sensational if not slightly unsettling ride. This train only has the traditional Adventure Class service, due to the height of the dome trains not fitting through the tunnel. Once in Whittier, there are glacier cruises, fishing charters and hiking galore to be found.
Talkeetna-Hurricane (Summer) & Anchorage-Hurricane (Winter): Hurricane Turn Train
The Hurricane Turn Train travels into densely forested Interior Alaska from Talkeetna or Anchorage (depending on the season) to the breathtaking stop of Hurricane, with dazzling Denali looming along the way. In the summer, the route is Talkeetna-Hurricane; winter expands between Anchorage-Hurricane. Either trip takes passengers on a thrilling crossing of Hurricane Gulch Bridge, the 900-plus-foot span and part of the Parks Highway that sits nearly 300 feet above Hurricane Creek. But beyond the scenery, just be aware that there are no frills on this ride. This route is basically a cabin-dweller, commuter train to more remote places like Chase, Curry, Gold Creek and Twin Bridges. This train doesn’t offer dining options and only has Adventure Class service.
Anchorage to Fairbanks: Aurora Winter Train
When Alaska’s tourist hustle and bustle slows in the fall, winter and spring, the Aurora Winter Train takes off between September and mid-May, providing weekend service between Anchorage and Fairbanks, with numerous popular stops (Denali, Talkeetna, Healy, Wasilla) and little-known flag stops along the way, northbound on Saturdays, southbound on Sundays. There are select midweek travel dates, as well.
Special Event Based Alaska Railroad Experiences
If your timing is right, you may also be able to hop aboard one of the many seasonal special event trains hosted by the Alaska Railroad:
- The Fair Train takes passengers to/from Anchorage to the Alaska State Fair in Palmer
- The Ski Train takes passengers to the best in spring Nordic skiing and partying
- The Holiday Train features a special passenger: Santa!
- The Easter Train features the Easter Bunny and friends, of course
There are many more cool and quirky options on the Alaska Railroad throughout the season. We’ll be happy to help you learn more about all of them whenever you’re traveling to Alaska.
*Estimated Alaska Railroad trip prices listed are based on 2020 travel.