Driving in Alaska can be unpredictable. That’s why two of the most popular ways to see the state are by cruise ship and train. The Alaska Railroad is a great way to see interior Alaska either before or after a cruise.
It was originally built in 1902 with the main goal of extracting gold from Fairbanks to bring it down to Anchorage.
“But word got out this was a pretty cool train,” says Tracy Zadra, from the Alaska Railroad. “It’s very scenic and very popular, and it just boomed into what it is today.”
In our podcast, Cruising in Alaska, we talk to Zadra about the best ways for groups and independent travelers to experience the state by train as well as cruise ship.
Depending on how many days you have, she recommends flying into Fairbanks or Anchorage, then taking the railroad down to your cruise port on the coast.
The Alaska Railroad works closely with the cruise ships to deliver guests to Seward and Whittier. The train can act as a travel agent, working with groups and independent people to help travelers find the itinerary that works with their cruise plans.
By riding the train and taking a cruise, travelers can experience the best of all the different types of adventures in Alaska.
One possible itinerary takes about five to six days. Travelers can start in Fairbanks, where Zadra recommends a riverboat discovery cruise. Then take a three hour train ride to Denali National Park to spend a few nights. Then finally, go to Talkeetna, the town with spectacular views where climbers begin their ascent of the tallest mountain in North America. Stay there one night and then go to Anchorage, she says.
There’s two popular train routes out of Anchorage: the Coastal Classic, which goes down to the coast, or the Glacier Discovery, which is a great day trip option.
Since the Alaska Railroad is different from Amtrak, there are no sleeper cars. The train travels at about 35 miles per hour, and some cars even have a second level viewing platform, unique to the Alaska Railroad.