What’s So Special About the Alaska Railroad? Find Out!

Published: May 17, 2023

A ride on the iconic Alaska Railroad is not the usual train-riding experience.

This is not a commuter train or an urban subway system. In fact, it is the farthest thing from it. And most other cross-state train routes in the U.S., for example, just can’t compete with what you can see Seward to Fairbanks. What makes the Alaska Railroad so special is that it is part of the quintessential Alaska travel experience, a unique blend of diverse scenery, bucket-list destinations, exciting discoveries and comfortable passenger service that rivals any other form of travel. And while riding on the Alaska Railroad is not the fastest way to get around the state … but that’s part of the draw for many. There’s a relaxing vibe onboard, with no anxiety-inducing rush to race to the next place.

a passenger train travels across a bridge over a gulch

Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star Train (John Combs)

Traveling south to north in Alaska, the Alaska Railroad starts in the beautiful port of Seward, transporting visitors through glacier-and-mountain-packed Turnagain Pass and the big bright white Grandview area. Barreling on into a world-famous tunnel carved through a massive mountain into the port of Whittier, the train pulls into the ski town of Girdwood, home to the world renown Alyeska Resort before traveling on to Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest city, travel hub, and dining and culture center. After Anchorage, the train route moves through the mountainous Matanuska-Susitna Valley and to the tiny town of Talkeetna, for one moment riding on a bridge high above chill-inducing Hurricane Gulch and on to Denali National Park, providing visitors access to all the Park offers. At  the end of the line is Fairbanks, Alaska’s Golden Heart City just filled with gold mining history and old-time charm.

Alaska Railroad Route Map

A train ride in Alaska is a transformative visitor draw, and the Alaska Railroad offers something for every age and style of rider. Some more adventurous travelers love day trips options to the Spencer Glacier whistlestop in Chugach National Forest and Mountain Range for hiking, rafting, and glacier viewing. Others prefer a ride to the fun towns like tranquil Talkeetna (where you can find everything from active adventure or simply walk around the quiet main street), the alpine hamlet of Girdwood (for the hiking, biking, and resort life) and the wacky Whittier (for fishing, glacier viewing and hiking).

Alaska Railroad Passenger Train Near Bird Point, Turnagain Arm.

Many take the Alaska Railroad to travel north from Anchorage to and from viewing Alaska’s most popular peak, Denali, in Denali National Park. Others like to travel south, to the train’s start in Seward for a wildlife and glacier cruise in the magical Kenai Fjords National Park. Still others hop a ride to explore Exit Glacier, or to enjoy the hands-on science and wildlife experience at the Alaska Sea Life Center. And many take a train trip up to Fairbanks, where tourists are treated to Midnight Sun warmth, Northern Lights views and countless options to explore, learn, play and dine.

True train aficionados even build robust plans around their railroad rides, with a full lineup of activities and adventures organized around their stops. Just check out our 10-day Alaska by Rail multiday tour! Every train stop along the Alaska Railroad route opens the door for endless opportunities of Alaska fun – from flightseeing to riverboat riding, day trips to see wildlife and get out in nature, overnight out-and-backs, and even multiday stays at Alaska’s luxurious lodges.

two women, one pointing, on the viewing platform of an Alaska Railroad train

Touring by train is a great way to experience Alaska!

Alaska Railroad trips are magical regardless of the season and run year-round. Summer is peak passenger time for the Alaska Railroad with throngs traveling to its most popular destinations. Fall is a unique time to ride the train with the greens of Alaska’s tundra and trees turning into bright yellows, reds and oranges. Approaching winter, the ever-present midnight sun gives way to darkening skies and a crispness fills the air as possibilities of seeing northern lights increase and the tourist season in Alaska wanes. But riding the railroad during a shoulder season like Fall or Spring also makes for easier access to popular destinations off the train, like Chena Hot Springs, Kenai Fjords, and many more.

Even in the “offseason”, the Alaska Railroad offers special Events Train trips that are a big draw for Alaskans around special occasions including a family-focused Easter, Halloween and Christmastime trips. The railroad also hosts special adventures for organized groups such as the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage’s annual Ski Train, a springtime trip to a rural whistle stop for snow-loving skiers and fans of onboard polka dancing), as well as big-time parties including Octoberfest’s Hoodoo Choo Choo hosted by a famous Fairbanks brewery and the Great Alaska Beer Train hosted by Anchorage’s great Glacier Brew House.

Source: Facebook – NSAA Ski Train.

Special occasion or not, day trip or full ride from end to end, every journey on the Alaska Railroad is truly a treat that all Alaska visitors and railroad passengers will cherish for years to come.