All Aboard the Denali Star

Above photo by Dave Blazejewski ~ 

A Ride on the Scenic Alaska Railroad

When I had a chance to grab a seat on the iconic Denali Star from Anchorage, Alaska, to Denali, I jumped at the opportunity.

I come from a family of railroad men. One of my earliest memories is of an overnight train journey with my dad on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. Falling asleep on the caboose to the clickety-clack of wheels on the track is forever etched in my mind. Since then, I’ve come a long way — now enjoying the luxury of the Denali Star!

Sprawling national parks, scenic wonders, and impressive wildlife make Alaska a family vacation destination like none other, but how does one tackle a state as vast as California, Montana, and Texas combined? The Denali Star offers a great opportunity to see it all.

The Alaska Railroad is unique

The Alaskan Railroad is a stand-alone railroad operation independent of any other rail service in North America. It stretches 470 miles from Seward Fairbanks on four individual routes.

Decades before roads connected Alaska’s major cities, they were linked by rail. Construction of the famous Alaska Railroad began in 1903. It now links Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, with both Denali National Park and Fairbanks.

Today that 350-mile trip is known as Alaska’s flagship route, the Denali Star. For many years, travel by rail was the only way to visit Denali National Park. Even after the Parks Highway opened in 1971, most modern-day visitors continue to travel through Denali Depot. To travel via rail is to be a part of the great history of one of America’s most famous national parks.

Traveling north from Anchorage, I boarded the train at the Alaska Railroad Depot, a notable three-story structure built in 1942 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It serves as the starting point for many routes, including the Denali Star. Hearing that “All Aboard” invitation from the conductor gave me goosebumps, harking back to iconic train journeys of the past.

As the name implies, Denali National Park is the star attraction of the route, which  travels along the Knik Arm branch of the Cook Inlet and across the Knik and Matanuska Rivers, stopping briefly in Wasilla and the funky community of Talkeetna.

The route boasts stunning views while crossing glacial valleys, passing through scenic mountain ranges, and rolling over the jaw-dropping Hurricane Gulch Bridge. It flaunts incredible views of the train’s namesake peak: Denali, the tallest mountain in North America.

Riding the scenic Alaskan railroad is a relaxing and memorable experience. In many cases the route veers far away from roads and highways, offering views one can only see from the rails.

Photo by Glenn Aronwits

The Gold Star Service makes the journey as exciting as the destination.

Glass-domed cars and an outdoor upper-level viewing platform make an upgrade to Gold Star Service worth the splurge for many travelers. It includes meals in a full-service dining room and two adult beverages per trip (for passengers 21 and over).

Onboard guides provide commentary and history alongside the stunning scenery as the train meanders through awe-inspiring landscapes of snowcapped mountain ranges, valleys, and rushing rivers. I spent much of my time on the outdoor viewing platform staying vigilant for eagle, bear, and moose sightings.

Why choose the Alaska Railroad over a Cruise? 

Large cruise ships visit only one small part of the Inside Passage, missing out on the interior parks. Seeing Alaska by train offers travelers much more, including views of the inland wilderness landscape, rugged peaks, and wildlife.

A Unique Perspective 

For many travelers, a trip to Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The 49th state offers unspoiled wilderness, wildlife, and views of the last frontier from the highest mountain in North America.

Every trip to Alaska should include a ride on the Alaska Railroad (click here to purchase tickets). It’s a spectacular way to see the unforgettable landscapes and areas otherwise inaccessible.

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