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6 Most Scenic Train Rides in Alaska

The largest state in the country offers mind-blowingly wild landscapes and a comfortable way to enjoy them; by train. Think piercing through the endless mountains, passing gigantic glaciers, observing vast pine forests, and marveling at emerald bodies of water between stops in some of Alaska’s best places to visit. Exploring Alaska by train is the best way to experience The Last Frontier, a chance to get to the very soul of it. Each turn gifts a new magnificent vista, and you can’t really ever get enough of the natural beauty. Here are Alaska’s most scenic train rides, so check them out and book your tickets.

Keep in mind that Alaskan railroad routes primarily operate from mid-May to mid-September when the temperatures allow for a comfortable ride. Buy your tickets in advance because this adventure is always in high demand. The stations around Denali National Park are unheated and very basic, so plan all your transportation in advance and check the return trip schedules to avoid being stranded in the wilderness.

Denali Star - Anchorage to Fairbanks Denali Star - Anchorage to Fairbanks
Credit: Denali Star - Anchorage to Fairbanks by © Alan Stoddard | Dreamstime.com

Denali Star - Anchorage to Fairbanks

If you were to choose only one scenic train ride in Alaska, Denali Star is that, especially come fall when it’s one of the best fall foliage train rides in the U.S. Requiring 356 miles and 12 hours to complete, this journey allows you to fully appreciate the magnetic beauty of the state. The train connects Anchorage to Fairbanks, passing through the vast expanse of Southcentral and Interior Alaska. Your breath is guaranteed to be taken away by the panorama of Denali, the highest peak in the country, right from the train window. A more luxurious way to travel would be to opt for the GoldStar Service class with glass-dome ceilings, upper-level viewing platforms, and a full-service dining car. Use this train also as a getaway to Denali National Park. You can plan to spend a day here embarking on outdoor activities, observing the wildlife, or simply contemplating nature. A roundtrip ticket for the Adventure Class is $422, and the sumptuous GoldStar Service is $838 at the time of writing.

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Coastal Classic - Anchorage to Seward Coastal Classic - Anchorage to Seward
Credit: Coastal Classic - Anchorage to Seward by © Cvandyke | Dreamstime.com

Coastal Classic - Anchorage to Seward

Picture-perfect panoramas will accompany you throughout the journey on Coastal Classic, one of the most breathtaking train journeys in the world. It can easily be considered a “voyage of a lifetime” kind of trip. Prepare to be awe-inspired by the sight of towering glaciers, meet the Alaskan wildlife, and constantly say “wow” as the train takes its next curve. Also, it’s a very accessible ride to take. Starting from the state’s capital Anchorage, it takes only 4 hours to reach Seward, so you can even make a return the same day. Alternatively, you can stay in Seward to cruise to epic Kenai Fjords National Park and see the grandeur of Resurrection Bay. A roundtrip ticket costs $178 for Adventure class and $363 for GoldStar Service at the time of writing.

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Glacier Discovery- Anchorage to Grandview Glacier Discovery - Anchorage to Grandview
Credit: Glacier Discovery - Anchorage to Grandview by alaskarailroad.com

Glacier Discovery- Anchorage to Grandview

Although the route of Glacier Discovery repeats the one of Coastal Classic, there’s one substantial difference. You will make a stop at Whittier, a small port town that is also the starting point for Prince William Sound cruises. Get your dose of grandiose maritime beauty by embarking on one. As for the train ride, after Whittier, you’ll pass through the magical Chugach National Forest and see the gigantic Spencer Glacier, both of which are top attractions in the Kenai Peninsula. Even more majestic scenery awaits you further down the tracks as the Bartlett and Trail Glaciers come into view. Grandview, with its alpine panoramas, is the final stop, and you can comfortably hop on a return train to Anchorage from there. The ride takes 10 hours on average, so you will have plenty of time to enjoy the views. It’s also quite affordable at $157 for a roundtrip ticket.

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Hurricane Turn - Talkeetna to Hurricane Gulch Hurricane Turn - Talkeetna to Hurricane Gulch
Credit: Hurricane Turn - Talkeetna to Hurricane Gulch by alaskarailroad.com

Hurricane Turn - Talkeetna to Hurricane Gulch

You’re looking at quite an extraordinary rail trip. First of all, Hurricane Turn is one of the last remaining flag stop trains in the USA, meaning that many stops here are not scheduled and requested along the route. It also passes through lands without connection to civilization other than the railway, so you’re getting a truly remote experience. Hurricane Turn is among Alaska’s most scenic train rides and a sweet little tour to take. The travel time is only 2 hours 30 minutes one-way. Moreover, you can see the splendid Denali National Park from your window, and that’s definitely a landscape to remember. A winter version of this train is available from October to May, departing from Anchorage.

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Aurora Winter Train - Anchorage to Fairbanks Aurora Winter Train - Anchorage to Fairbanks
Credit: Aurora Winter Train - Anchorage to Fairbanks by alaskarailroad.com

Aurora Winter Train - Anchorage to Fairbanks

Nothing can compete with Alaska in the winter. Sure, the temperatures are extreme, and it’s the north at its coldest. But it’s a superb way to witness the snow-covered terrain from a heated train car. Hop on the Aurora Winter Train, one of the top winter train rides in the U.S., to be engulfed by the unbelievable views of the Alaskan outdoors. This ride is a winter alternative to the famous Denali Star but without the luxury GoldStar Service class. Still, it’s among Alaska’s most scenic train rides and a bucket list adventure. The glistening peaks of Denali, a kaleidoscope of frozen rivers and lakes, the backcountry tundra of Hurricane Gulch, and a chance to see the mythical Northern Lights during the Fairbanks nights – Is that not a dream of a trip? Book your Aurora Winter train tickets now.

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White Pass & Yukon Route - Skagway to White Pass Summit White Pass & Yukon Route - Skagway to White Pass Summit
Credit: White Pass & Yukon Route - Skagway to White Pass Summit by wpyr.com

White Pass & Yukon Route - Skagway to White Pass Summit

Transport yourself to the Klondike Gold Rush times by boarding this historic narrow-gauge train connecting the U.S. and Canada. It’s a testament to the human spirit and an engineering marvel that pierces through the dramatic terrain of mountains, waterfalls, canyons, rivers, and rocks, making for one of the best train trips you can take in the U.S. Don’t forget to bring your passport; the big chunk of the route lies in Canada’s Yukon, with a final stop in Whitehorse. This voyage is an absolute must for rail enthusiasts and lovers of spectacular views. You can also go on shorter rides. There’s one to the magnificent White Pass peak that serves as an international border and stands at a glorious height of 2,888 feet. Another popular ride is the Bennett Scenic Route which allows you to see the wonderful Emerald Lake, pass the massive Lake Bennett, and arrive at Carcross in Canada.

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