Train rides in Alaska – Everything you need to know

Everyone knows that in Alaska, there is one, surefire way to maximize relaxation and adventure – a scenic train ride. And, when it comes to train rides in Alaska, the Alaska Railroad is the way to go. This service covers the south-central and interior regions of the state. Routes provide access to some of the greatest places to visit like Seward, Whittier, Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali, and Fairbanks. As long as you can get to Anchorage, you’ll have several amazing options for your scenic train ride. 

Pro Tip: For a more comprehensive guide to traveling in Alaska, check out: the 10 day Alaska Itinerary.

The Coastal Classic (Anchorage to Seward) – the best of train rides in Alaska

Train rides in Alaska - the coastal classic
The coastal classic

This scenic ride will take you from Anchorage to Seward and back in one jampacked day. Leaving at 6:45 am, you’ll spend a total of 8 hours on the train and 7 hours in Seward.  

Following the coastline and then meandering through a remote mountain pass on the Kenai peninsula, the scenery on this ride is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The 7-hour layover in Seward allows enough time for almost any activity you’d like. Most excursions can be booked through the train company. The boat tour of the Kenai Fjords is an all-time favorite. You can also choose to relax in Seward. Here you can enjoy the Alaskan Sea Life Center, plenty of outdoor space around Resurrection Bay, and tons of amazing seafood restaurants. Additionally, there is a shuttle to Exit Glacier, which is only 20 minutes outside of town. 

The Denali Star (Anchorage to Fairbanks) – the flagship train ride in Alaska

Picture of Denali, from Talkeetna

Traveling in the opposite direction of the Coastal Classic, this is the Alaska Railroad’s flagship train. Stopping in Wasilla, Talkeetna, Denali, and Fairbanks, a northbound and southbound train runs each day in the summer. The entire route takes approximately 12 hours to complete, one-way. You can also use these trains for a day trip to Wasilla or Talkeetna. In this case, you’d enjoy an 8.5 hour or a 6-hour layover, respectively. If you are traveling to Denali or Fairbanks, you’ll need to plan on staying the night before returning to Anchorage. 

No matter which destination you pick, this route is stunning. It runs through the interior of Alaska and on a clear day, passengers can see the famous mountain peak, Denali. 

Glacier Discovery (Anchorage to Whittier)

Train rides in Alaska - Spencer Glacier
Spencer Glacier

This is a special scenic train ride that has been optimized for glacier viewing. The roundtrip train ride lasts 11.5 hours. It’s also possible to turn this route into a day trip, however. Stopping in Whittier would have a 6.5-hour layover and the Spencer Whistlestop would have a 3-hour layover. Please note that Spencer Whistle is a remote stop in the Alaskan backcountry. There are plenty of hiking trails to explore, as well as the stunningly gorgeous Spencer Lake and Glacier. Just make sure to plan ahead; you will not get cell service in the area. 

I personally found that the Glacier Discovery is nice a train ride for those who just want to relax. For travelers who tend to be a little more stir crazy, the Coastal Classic may be a better choice. 

Hurricane Turn (Talkeetna to Hurricane Glutch)

A 6 hour, round trip route, this train is mostly used by locals for access to the Alaskan backcountry. However, this train ride is extremely scenic and could be used as an afternoon excursion in and of itself. The train leaves from Talkentena at 1 pm and returns at 7:15 pm, just in time for dinner. For more adventurous travelers, this route provides access to the amazing backcountry of Alaska.

When planning your Alaskan vacation, I highly recommend booking a train ride through the state’s glorious wilderness. The Alaska Railroad offers plenty of options from an afternoon stint through the mountains to longer, multi-day adventures on the Denali Star. No matter what your schedule looks like, there will be time to enjoy one of these amazing train rides in Alaska.

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