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Just after departing Anchorage the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet will come into view, and you will begin to understand why this route from Anchorage to Seward is called the Coastal Classic. Next you will leave the town of Anchorage behind and drop down to near sea level where you will follow the Turnagain Arm for the next hour or so. You now leave the coast (but not the spectacular scenery) as you start climb through the Kenai Mountains. As you wind along the Placer River Canyon, you will travel through a series of five relatively short tunnels and past Bartlett Glacier before reaching a 1,063 foot pass of the Kenai Mountainsa€¦ appropriately named Grandview. Next you will travel over Divide, another lower summit of the Kenai Mountains, then cross the Resurrection River and into the coastal town of Seward. Glaciers appear blue because the ice absorbs all of the colors of the spectrum except for blue which is reflected. Soon you will be passing through the small community of Cantwell, and then entering Broad Pass. About a half hour after departing Broad Pass you will reach Hurricane Gulch and cross 296 feet above the creek below.
The train depot in Talkeetna is close to downtown and the airport at mile 13.5 on the Talkeetna Spur Road, which connects this community of about 900 residents with the Parks Highway. The Alaska Railroad offers two levels or classes of service on its Denali Star and Coastal Classic routes. The first thing you will likely notice about the Adventure Class railcars is their roominess. The Alaska Railroad Adventure Class is a solid choice, but there is a lot to be said for the upgrade to the GoldStar domes if they are available and within your budget. Worth every penny and I will definitely recommend people take the train to get to their port of call or to see Alaska.
Some of the same equipment used to build the Alaska Railroad was used in construction of the Panama Canal. The Alaska Railroad operates three primary trains during the summer monthsa€¦ the Denali Star, Coastal Classic to Seward, and the Glacier Discovery to Whittier. Sometimes you just have to travel first classa€¦ and your trip on the Alaska Railroad is one of those times.
The Wilderness Express is the newest private dome rail fleet in Alaska, and is Alaskan owned and operated. Holland America Cruise Lines and Princess Cruises operate a fleet of over 20 private dome rail cars in Alaska, including the McKinley Explorer cars.
If you are still wondering which rail service is right for you, don’t worrya€¦ we can help. At the peak of construction in 1917, the Alaska Railroad employed over 4,500 construction workers.
Daylight freight movements are rare occurrences in the midsection of the Alaska Railroads owing to a nocturnal scheduling of freight movements through the area.
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Enjoy the expansive wilderness from standard rail cars or aboard deluxe, double-decker glass domed cars.
As you leave downtown you will notice that the railroad tracks are parallel to a paved pathway called the Coastal Trail. Off to your left you will see Potter’s Marsh, a great spot to view migratory birds and the occasional moose. This small town is home to Alyeska Ski Resort, a favorite winter and summer destination of local Alaskans and visitors alike. This is a particularly scenic portion of your journey and the train will slow down to make sure everyone can take a picture or twoa€¦ or ten.
Although mile 0 is truly at the historic depot located downtown, you will stop a mile or so short at the present Seward train depot located near the small boat harbor. Some charge for this service, and many transfer passengers separately from luggage, so be sure to get the details from the property you are staying at. The Riley Creek Campground is the largest campground in Denali National Park and the only one open all year round.

There is not much there now, but from 1920 to 1957 this was the location of the largest and most luxurious hotel in Alaska. Many larger hotels like the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, and even the McKinley Princess Lodge located 45 minutes to the north, offer complimentary shuttles from the depot, so check your hotel for transfer options. Adventure Class is considered the standard or coach service while GoldStar service is an upgrade to one of the railroad’s newer luxury dome railcars.
The single level cars range from 60 to 80 seats and have high ceilings, large windows, as well as a truly surprising amount of leg room. These are partial dome cars that offer an even better view of the scenery along the train route.
For breakfast there is a nice selection of menu items between $3 to $8, from fresh fruit to hot cereal and breakfast burritos. There are pros and cons to each so be sure to read about the GoldStar option here and also take a look at our advice on choosing between Adventure Class and the GoldStar dome. All train cars are pulled by Alaska Railroad locomotives, and there are a variety of train service options with the Alaska Railroad, as well as other private rail car companies. On the first two routes you can choose from two levels of service, either the standard Adventure Class or the luxurious GoldStar Dome cars. Yet with the spacious comfortable seats, large picture windows and friendly guidesa€¦ we are sure you will find your experience anything but ordinary.
You will be glad you did as you take in the scenery from the large dome windows and unique second level viewing platform, or enjoy the all-inclusive meals with priority seating in the lower level restaurant.
Guests from Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruise travel on these cars, as well as other groups and independent travelers. Their group of companies pioneered private dome rail service in Alaska with a history dating back 30 years.
Enjoyed visiting with some local people on the train.A  Very relaxing, clean and comfortable. Heading north, the Alaska Railroad serves the resort town of Girdwood en route to Anchorage, Alaska's largest city. Although every train ride is a treat, the route between Anchorage and Seward is considered the most scenic. This 11 mile long trail connects downtown to Kincaid Park and is a wonderful place to explore by bicycle or by foot. The train will now wind along the coast, traveling by small communities such as Indian, and around scenic vistas including Beluga and Bird Points.
After another 10 miles you will pass Old Portage Station, and the cutoff or branch line that would take you to the town of Whittier. Next up is Trail Glacier, Trail Creek and Trail Canyons, and the train offers great views of all three. This 22 mile long lake is the headwaters of the Kenai River, home to world-famous salmon fishing runs. The train will remain in Seward for the day before heading back to Anchorage in the evening. The Alaska Railroad suggests that you check in one hour prior to your train departure, but again, your hotel will likely dictate your transfer time. Over the next few miles you will cross the George Parks Highway twice, and pass the McKinley Village area. As you reach Summit Lake you will be at 2,363 feet, the highest point on the Alaska Railroad.
It is midway between Seward and Fairbanks, and guests originally overnighted here on their 3 day journey north.
Passengers are asked to rotate seats, limiting their use to 20 minutes at a time, but often these cars are not busy and you can stay longer. Remember, if you are traveling between Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali Park and Fairbanks, there are additional private dome options as well with the Wilderness Express and McKinley Explorer.
Your selection will impact your seating, viewing and dining optionsa€¦ and in some cases, even your arrival and departure times.
From there, the train stops at Talkeetna and Denali National Park and Preserve on the way to its northern terminus in Fairbanks.Alaska Rail ExperiencesAlaska rail travel can be combined with some of Alaska's finest tour options for an unforgettable single-day experience or a complete Alaska vacation.

As you continue on through Anchorage, you will pass by Westchester Lagoon and several older neighborhoods including Spenarda€¦ named after the early Alaska homesteader named Joe Spenard.
Because the tracks curve so often in this area, you can get great photos of the train and Turnagain Arm from the viewing platforms and rail vestibules. The tracks from Portage to Whittier are just over 12 miles long, and travel through two tunnels, the longer of them being two and one half miles in length. After taking the bridge over Trail Creek, you will reach the small community of Moose Pass situated on the banks of Upper Trail Lake. Often the lake is a stunning turquoise colora€¦ a result of the sun reflecting off glacier silt particles suspended in the water.
You can read more about Seward here, and if you need help booking Seward hotels, cruise or toursa€¦ we can help with that too.
Dress for the weather, and a moderate wait outdoors, although there are some shelters in case of rain. The McKinley Village area is about seven road miles south of the Park entrance, and is home to the Lodge at Denali Village, as well as several other lodges and hotels. You may be wondering since you have only been seeing one set of train tracks on most of your tripa€¦ how does the northbound train from Anchorage pass by?
There are also snacks and treats like cookies and ice cream, as well as beverages including full bar service and a separate lounge car. Single-day options include rail travel to Seward or Whittier from Anchorage, where visitors connect with day cruises to Kenai Fjords National Park or into the legendary Prince William Sound for wildlife viewing and an up-close view of mammoth glaciers. You will pass over Dimond Boulevard, a busy commercial area which is home to one of the state’s largest shopping malls. With its massive wall of ice, and close proximity to the train tracks, it is one of many excellent photograph opportunities on this trip. For much of the next 20 miles you will be traveling along the Nenana River on your left, as well as the eastern boundary of Denali National Park. Well, if everything is running on schedule, one of the trains will typically pull onto a siding near Broad Pass, and the other will roll on by. You are now following the eastern boundary of Denali State Parka€¦ a 325,000 acre state park that shares its western boundary with its big brothera€¦ the six million acre plus Denali National Park. Note the Glacier Discovery route from Anchorage to Whittier does not offer GoldStar service, so the entire train essentially consists of Adventure Class.
About 10 minutes, later keep an eye out on the right side of the train for a unique subdivision with Alaskan bush planes parked in their backyards, as well as a short grassy air strip adjacent to the tracks. The Susitna River is about 20 miles south of Hurricane Gulch, and also features a steel bridge built in 1921 with a span of 504 feet.
Other popular activities include jet boat tours, fishing, dog sled kennel visits and shopping for local arts and crafts.
There is a public address system, and tour highlights are pointed out along the way by local high school students who have taken a special tour guide class sponsored by the Alaska Railroad. Rail serves as the backbone of these itineraries, but pre-planned arrangements that include other modes of travel allow visitors to experience much more of Alaska without the hassle of booking each segment individually.
You can read more about Talkeetna here, and as usual, if you need assistance booking Talkeetna hotels, tour or activitiesa€¦ we can help with that too. Usually there are a couple host guides on board, not one for each car, but they often walk among the cars visiting with passengers.
Multi-day rail-only packages are another option, and a great way to see the spectacular scenery and quirky communities along the railroad while including popular visitor destinations like Kenai Fjords National Park, Denali National Park and Prince William Sound. Traveling by rail leaves you free to relax, take photos and soak up the stunning surroundings.

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