Riding the Rails in Alaska

Sawyer Glacier and Killer Whales by Rennett Stowe

You don’t need a car to tour Alaska. Whether you’re traveling with your family, a partner, or solo, you can take a scenic tour on an Alaskan railroad. When you travel by train, you don’t even need to book a hotel room. You can book a sleeper car, where you can comfortably retire at night. Moving through the Alaskan wilderness by train lets you see everything. Witness hanging glaciers and deep gorges, and watch Beluga whales frolic off the shore.

A Learning Experience

Traveling alone entails carrying around guidebooks and maps. When you travel by rail, however, you will often have a tour guide on board giving you the inside scoop on the landmarks you pass. Inquisitive passengers are welcome. Ask as many questions as possible—you will learn a lot! The Alaska Railroad trains students to work as tour guides, so riding the rails is a learning experience for everyone.

Delectable Dining

The Princess Rail cars are double-decker, with dining rooms on the lower level. Five-foot-tall windows allow for minimal obstruction between the passengers and the natural wonders around them. The Alaska Railroad cars have full bars upstairs and full-service restaurants downstairs.

Panoramas in Every Direction

Some of the cars that travel on the Alaskan railroad have domed glass roofs that give passengers views of the clear Alaskan sky, as well as the wilderness in every direction. The seating in these cars is arranged in groups of four around a table, so passengers are encouraged to socialize. Outdoor viewing platforms allow travelers to step outside and experience the fresh Alaska air while jetting through the countryside.

Off the Rails

If you do want to stop for a few days, there are many destinations along the way. Princess Rail runs two wilderness lodges. The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge offers a variety of restaurants and amenities amidst the wilderness. Located just outside of Denali National Park, visitors will find outdoor adventure around the corner.  The Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge provides visitors a spectacular view of the mountain. The tall ceilings feel luxurious, and the Great Room is a wonderful place to cozy up to the fireplace while you mingle with the other travelers. The Hotel Alyeska is nestled in the Chugash Mountains and combines elegance and mountain style.

White Pass Railroad Car by Rennette Stowe

Comfortable Accommodations

Fresh flowers and unique artwork decorate the cars, so you feel like you’re in a comfortable moving building and not enclosed in a train. Some train cars even showcase original native artwork, giving travelers a pure Alaskan cultural experience. Sculptures made from whale bones and paintings of local plants give the cars’ interior a true Alaskan feel.  The White Pass Railroad still heats its cars with stoves; this historic railroad takes passengers through some of the country’s most stunning landscapes.

Hubbard Glacier by Tony Buser

Relaxed or Rugged

Even if you just want to take a day trip, hop aboard one of Alaska’s railways. You can stay on the train or stop for various activities. Go rafting amidst the icebergs in Spencer Lake, a body of water that is not accessible by car. Stop in Girdwood, a former mining town that is now a bustling resort destination. In Girdwood, you can ride an aerial tram for even more breathtaking views. While you’re more than 2,000 feet above sea level, hike on the glacier or paraglide back to the base.

Even if you’re traveling alone, a train trip is like a family journey. You get to know the people on the train as you dine and experience the views together. In fact, if you ever want to get some sleep, you may want to reserve a private sleeper cabin. Otherwise, you may not be able to resist the opportunity to chat and share travel tales with your fellow travelers.

Photo credits courtesy of Flickr creative commons: Sawyer Glacier and Killer Whales by Rennett Stowe; Glass Domed Train by Willow&Monk; White Pass Railroad Car by Rennette Stowe; Hubbard Glacier by Tony Buser.

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