Why You Shouldn’t Miss This Epic Train Trip Across Alaska

All aboard for a 12-day journey through the heart of the 49th state.

A blue and gold train passes a pond, with mountains in the background

Construction of the railroad started in 1903 and ended in 1923.

Courtesy of the Alaska Railroad

A hundred years ago, President Harding drove a golden spike into the rail belt near Nenana, Alaska, signifying the completion of the 470-mile-long Alaska Railroad.

To say the Alaska Railroad is a big deal in the 49th state is an understatement. It predates Alaska’s statehood (1959), helped develop cities (Anchorage, the largest city in the state, was initially formed as a tent city to support the railroad’s construction), and continues to shuttle vital goods (as well as travelers) throughout south central Alaska.

In celebration of the Alaska Railroad’s 100th year, the company is rolling out an epic Centennial Special through the end of September that allows guests to ride the entire length of the historic line, as well as participate in bucket list experiences, like cruising among humpback whales and calving glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park and taking a flight-seeing tour above the Arctic Circle.

Historical Alaska Railroad picture of engine at station platform with passengers

The Alaska Railroad has been chugging for 100 years.

Courtesy of the Alaska Railroad

What’s included

The tour departs from Anchorage, heading south to Seward, a coastal port town, for a few days of exploring the 23,000-year-old Exit Glacier, visiting an Iditarod champion sled dog kennel, and participating in a wildlife cruise through the fjords.

From there, it’s back up to Anchorage, where guests can visit the Anchorage Museum, which launched a new exhibit titled All Aboard for 2023 that looks at the history and legacy of the railroad highlighting “crucial moments, technological innovations, and human stories connected to the railroad and its operations in Alaska.”

Next on the agenda is a train ride to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (an important rehabilitation campus for orphaned and injured animals like bears, moose, and eagles) before a guided pack-rafting float to the face of Spencer Glacier (only accessible from the railroad).

Then it’s north to Talkeetna, the funky hamlet that the TV show Northern Exposure was based on, for a flight-seeing tour of the Alaska Range, before chugging up to Denali National Park for guided Jeep tours and a day-long foray into the third largest national park in the United States. The tour concludes at the railroad’s northern terminus, Fairbanks, with a riverboat cruise and a bush plane trip above the Arctic Circle.


Travelers have two choices for fare class: Adventure (confirmed seats with picture windows and access to the Wilderness Cafe and Vista Dome car) and GoldStar (a second-floor seating area with glass-dome ceilings, outdoor viewing platforms, included meals in the dining car, private bar, and tour guide). Tour prices start at $5,155 and $6,175, respectively, based on double occupancy. (Travelers stay in hotels in Anchorage, Seward, Talkeetna, Denali, and Fairbanks along the way).

The 12-day package can be booked by calling the Alaska Railroad at 800-544-0552.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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