Not to put to fine a point on it, but isn’t train travel SO.MUCH.BETTER than air travel? In about 159 different ways?!
In the last few years of perpetual motion, I’ve discovered how much I value any time I get to spend in transit on trains. I could just ride for hours and hours and never get tired of the gentle lull, raindrops on the windows, countryside zipping past… leg room!
Air travel is a means to an end, a way to get from Point A to Point B. Train travel feels more like a part of the story.
Trains are so much more restful and pleasant than the security nightmare and delays that often accompany air travel, don’t you think?
In July, I traveled to Alaska to celebrate my grandparents’ 50th anniversary, and when we weren’t having close encounters with grizzly bears, we journeyed from Fairbanks to Anchorage on the Denali Star, a train that only operates during the summer.
While the full one-way jaunt is under 400 miles, it takes 12 blissful hours to complete the journey, stopping in Talkeetna, Wasilla and Denali National Park and winding through mountains and valleys and some of the most pristine scenery in America.
Alaska’s whole vibe is “rugged individualism,” and taking the train through virgin forests past actual wild animals satisfies that notion. The journey feels vintage, like you’re seeing the same things that early gold rushers saw when they first trekked here in search of riches.
There are no skyscrapers or buildings dominating the landscape, and no trash or junkyards or industrial complexes.
Mostly it’s just pine and birch trees, salmon-filled rivers, galloping moose and caribou, and big sky.
The Denali Star is the Alaska Railroad’s flagship train, though there are other routes and options for those with the time to explore. The Hurricane Turn is one of the last flag-stop railway routes in the US, meaning if you want to get on, you just wave a large white cloth or flag and the train will stop and scoop you up.
We flew into Fairbanks, spent a few days exploring, then boarded the Denali Star and made our way south. My grandparents upgraded us to GoldStar Service, which gave us the first-class experience and upper deck seating in the glass-domed train car. There’s a dining room on the lower deck with surprisingly delicious food (reindeer sausage!) and an outdoor viewing deck on the upper level.
We broke our trip up by stopping at Denali for a few days, something I highly recommend if you have the time. There’s hiking and camping, helicopter rides on glaciers, luxury lodges and cute singing dinner theater shows if you’re inclined to learn about the early frontier folk who settled in these parts.
While the few days we spent in Denali National Park were great in many ways, we were all disappointed that we didn’t even get the tiniest glimpse of Mt. McKinley. We were socked in with wet weather just about the whole time, which literally and figuratively put a damper on that part of the trip.
Our luck changed on the way to Anchorage though, as we were some of the lucky few travelers on the Denali Star who get to experience a perfectly clear view of the mountain’s peak.
You never quite know what you’re going to see on the journey. You could see 100 moose or none, Mt. McKinley’s peak or perhaps not, a herd of caribou or even a lone wolf. No matter what, your eyes will be trained on the wilderness all around, searching for the next beautiful sight.
The journey was so relaxing, the scenery so peaceful and the general Alaskan vibe so special, I didn’t want the trip to end.
So what are you waiting for? Book a flight, book a spot on the Denali Star ($289 for adults on GoldStar service from Anchorage to Fairbanks) and thank me later. You won’t regret it!
*This trip was NOT sponsored by Alaska Tourism or the Alaska Railroad. I just liked it a lot!