Not A Typical Train Trip: Experience Alaska Railroad Special Events

Published: March 10, 2020

For nearly 100 years, the Alaska Railroad has taken passengers to classic Alaska destinations and adventures aboard an iconic form of American transportation – travel by rail. One bonus to traveling by rail is that the Alaska Railroad treats its passengers to some rather unique “good times” with an array of annual special events that you can only experience by train.

When the busy summer season winds down, the Alaska Railroad ramps up its slew of unique railroad-centric events – some are full day affairs, some are relatively quick out-and-backs, all are celebrations of Alaska lifestyles and all-around terrific times. These opportunities for Alaska visitors range from music events that have the trains rockin’ and rollin’ down the tracks to those marking Alaska’s seasons with others celebrating the holiday season. Some include off-train activities and all exhibit the high-level of hospitality and stunning Alaska scenery that all visitors associate with the Alaska Railroad.

Tickets for special event train trips are often limited, so if you’re interested, book ahead and plan for each specific specialty journey by rail accordingly – dancing shoes for the Seward Music & Arts Festival Train, outdoor boots and bindings for Ski Train, etc.

Here’s a look at some of the more popular specialty train events hosted by the Alaska Railroad:

The Fair Train

The Alaska Railroad is far from a commuter train experience, but when summer wanes and the Alaska State Fair starts in Palmer, hundreds of fairgoers hop aboard the train in Anchorage for a convenient trip to and from all the fair festivities. Visitors and locals alike love this weekend schedule of 90-minute train trips (two per day) as it takes away the stress of driving on the often-hectic Glenn Highway traffic and parking at the bustling fairgrounds. It also provides a window seat view of the moose and mountains of the Mat-Su Valley. And if you think cotton candy is a pretty pink, check out the sunsets on the train ride back to Anchorage as the famous fall alpenglow paints the sky and mountains in breathtaking red and yellow hues. No matter what time of day you take this train, you’ll feel fortunate to kick back and relax after a day spent enjoying Alaska’s giant vegetables, great cuisine, wild rides and good ol’ fashioned fair fun.

The Ferris wheel rules the midway at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer.

The Alaska State Fair in Palmer (Ashley Heimbigner/Visit Anchorage)

The Ski Train

When spring sun and warmth returns to Southcentral Alaska in March, Alaskans get giddy and the skiing gets sensational. The Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage takes advantage of the timing and fills train cars with outdoors enthusiasts and indoor party people for its Ski Train. The train is a nonstop celebration, even as it departs in the dark early morning hours and heads a few hours north, past Talkeetna, to the snowy and woodsy ghost town whistle stop of Curry. There, cross-country skiers and snowshoers explore the area for a few hours others while others grill, chill or even nap under the warm spring sun. The return ride to Anchorage is a cherry on top of a perfect Alaska day, as Denali is often on full display and a polka band has passengers grooving all the way home.

The Holiday Train

This choo-choo train puts the “Ho ho ho!” in Alaska’s holiday season. There are no reindeer pulling this big sleigh out of Anchorage for a short but sweet ride south along Turnagain Arm. But Santa does play the role of Christmas conductor, visiting families and spreading cheer along the way. He’s joined by many not-so-little helpers, including carolers and magicians, who keep the spirits high. There’s also a coloring contest and festive door prizes, of course. This train departs twice daily for three straight Saturdays in December.

The Kids’ Halloween Train

It’s trick-or-treat on the tracks with this super-sweet and semi-spooky annual all-ages costume party. Two trains depart out of Anchorage for two-and-a-half hour trips south on Turnagain Arm on the Saturday before Halloween. The cars are crammed with family-friendly fun like sugary snacks, creative crafts, magic, balloon animals, Halloween Bingo, a coloring contest and costumes, of course!

The Fur Rondy Express

The annual Fur Rendezvous festival is such a big winter party, it can’t be contained within Anchorage. That’s why Rondy revelers of all ages mix their celebration of Alaska’s classic and quirky history with some modern-day revelry on the Fur Rondy Express each February. Saturday morning and afternoon trains leave downtown Anchorage, the heart of the Fur Rondy festivities, and head south along Turnagain Arm for two-plus hours of traditional Alaska Native dancing and drumming, music, food, drink and more.

Fireworks illuminate the skies over downtown and Ship Creek, marking the start of Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, Anchorage's winter festival.

Fur Rondy Fireworks (JodyO.Photos/Visit Anchorage)

The Seward Music & Arts Festival Train

Sleepy Seward shakes off its early winter blues each October when it hosts the swinging Seward Music & Arts Festival. Anchorage-area festival fans can make a weekend of it and start the party early by taking the Seward Music & Arts Festival Train four-plus hours south to Seward on Saturday morning. This train starts jamming with live music shortly after departure and the energy builds all the way down the Kenai Peninsula. The return train leaves Seward at 3 p.m. Sunday, giving passengers plenty of time to take in the creative crafts and funky tunes late into late Saturday and keep the fest flow going all day Sunday.

The Great Alaska Beer Train and The Hoodoo Choo Choo

Sample some of Alaska’s best brews, chews and views on these two entertaining Octoberfest train trips. The Great Alaska Beer Train is hosted by Glacier BrewHouse and departs Anchorage for a ride south to Portage along Turnagain Arm in October. The Hoodoo Choo Choo Choo spotlights Fairbanks’ HooDoo Brewing suds and foodie fare from local favorites as its chugs south to Nenana in late-September. Both trips are four-and-a-half hours long and for adults 21-and-up only.

The Easter Train

Every spring, families hop, hop, hop aboard the Easter Train. The furry fun includes a two-and-a-half hour train ride out of Anchorage along Turnagain Arm, with the expected Easter egg-citement, including treats and an appearance from the Easter Bunny. The train departs twice on the Saturday before Easter.

The Fairbanks Family Fun Train

Fall in Fairbanks and around Alaska’s Interior is a wonder of bright colors and cool air. This family-friendly farewell to the Midnight Sun lets passengers enjoy the seasonal views, as well as food, games and other fun, from the warmth of the train on a two-and-a-half hour trip south and back. The trip is scheduled for a Saturday in September, with morning and afternoon departures.

The Alaska Railroad events listed above arrive annually, but new and infrequent special event trains also pop up on occasion like murder mysteries, themed fundraisers, and more. Check out the Alaska Railroad event calendar and choose your favorite