RVing the Rails – Excursion Trains in Alaska


Shelley Dennis

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Shelley Dennis is a travel photographer and writer who threw caution to the wind and gave up most of her belongings to travel the country in an RV. Her trusty sidekick for this lifetime adventure is her Golden Retriever, Sully. You can find them both at www.PhotoTrippingAmerica.com

Many times camping trips involve exploring new territory and discovering enticing attractions along the way. Passenger tour trains have that magnetic appeal for many RVers, providing a novel way to see hidden countryside not normally viewed from the road. Railroad passengers learn about local history, culture and the many colorful characters from the communities visited. And Camping World wants to make sure you don’t miss the departing whistle, so we have created a series entitled RVing the RailsYou will find the most popular excursion trains to ride in each state, complete with any specialty trains they might offer.

Steam Locomotive on the rails
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Today we will explore the most popular trains in Alaska:

White Pass & Yukon Route

White Pass & Yukon Route
Photo Credit: WPYR.com

The Klondike Gold Rush in 1896 brought sturdy miners to Skagway, looking for a way to the goldfields. But enterprising businessmen realized there was money to be made taking supplies to and from the camps, as well. So, by 1898 construction on a railroad over White Pass was begun. Today, the White Pass & Yukon Route train has discovered there is even more treasure in taking cruise ship passengers along the original route, with more than 14 excursion trains running on some days!

Railway and Locomotive Types

The White Pass & Yukon Railroad utilizes both diesel and steam locomotives on narrow gauge rails. The engines split duties to pull several passenger coaches along this historic railway. In total, the railroad has 79 cars in its rolling stock!

Seating Options

All seating is assigned on the White Pass trains. Bottled water is offered with the price of your ticket, and each car has available restrooms onboard.

Riding Options

White Pass & Yukon Route Train
Photo Credit: WPYR.com

The railroad offers round trip service on a variety of trains, and one-way passage from Skagway to Lake Bennett. See Specialty Trains for optional trips.

The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad also provides hiker service on some of its routes and can combine rail service with motorcoach travel for more lengthy trips.

Specialty Trains

  • Summer Excursion Train – Follow the original Klondike Trail up to White Pass, where the travelers from 1896 wore their path into the rocks, documenting a momentous expedition.
  • Bennet Scenic Journey – Take the train from Skagway to Carcross, Yukon Territories, with a stopover at Lake Bennett.
  • Fraser Meadows Steam Train – Ride the rails through two tunnels, over trestles and past waterfalls to Fraser Meadows.

Length of Season

White Pass & Yukon Route Train at Bennett
Photo Credit: WPYR.com

The trains run from May through September, on specific dates for each specialty train. Please check the railroad calendar to find the excursion that best fits your travel plans. You may also be interested in amending your train ticket with a motorcoach tour.

Denali Star Train

Denali Star Train in Autumn
Photo Credit: Len Turner (CC BY-SA 2.0)

As part of the Alaska Railroad, the Denali Star Train has colorful ancestry. Many towns along the route were founded as railroad communities almost 100 years ago. The railroad was built to establish villages that would provide for the needs of a growing state:  timber was used for railroad ties and building, fishing regions eventually needed to transport their catch, and miners required a way to bring minerals out of the mountains.

Today’s train runs on some of those same tracks, hauling precious cargo once again, in the form of tourists and adventurers.

Railway and Locomotive Types

The Denali Star is pulled by diesel engines on a standard gauge track. The rolling stock consists of several passenger cars, dining cars, and a baggage car. On some trips, the Wilderness Express dome cars are added for all-encompassing viewing of the Alaskan countryside.

Seating Options

Seating on the train is assigned within two different classes of service:

  • Goldstar Service – Passengers ride in luxurious dome railcars. On the lower level is a full-service dining room, and all tickets include meals, soft drinks and 2 adult beverages for those over 21 years of age.  A tour guide offers narration and a viewing platform is available in the car.
  • Adventure Class – Passengers ride in comfortable coach cars and have the freedom to move from car to car. Food and drink are available for purchase in the Wilderness Café car.

Riding Options

Denali Star Train in Summer
Photo Credit: Andrew E. Russell (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Denali Star Train runs in two directions. The northbound train leaves Anchorage in the morning, with stops in Wasilla, Talkeetna and Denali before arriving in Fairbanks at 8:15pm. Passengers can load or unload at these stations and catch the train on another day to return.

The southbound train leaves Fairbanks at 8:15am, stopping at the same stations and arriving at Anchorage by 6:15pm. Fairbanks passengers have the opportunity to ride the train to Denali, spend a few hours at the park, then catch the northbound train at 4:00pm back to Fairbanks.

Specialty Trains

  • Fur Rondy Express – Celebrating Alaska’s Fur Rendevous Festival, the train takes riders from Anchorage along scenic Turnagain Arm. Enjoy drummers and dancers from Alaska Native Heritage Center, crafts and music.
  • Easter Train – Kids will marvel at a magic show, treats and a visit from the Easter Bunny, as the train explores Turnagain Arm before returning to Anchorage.
  • The Great Alaska Beer Train – With your engineer as a designated driver, passengers are able to enjoy a wide selection of local microbrews, along with a multicourse meal, as the train wanders from Anchorage to Portage and back.
  • Kid’s Halloween Train – Pull out the costumes and come enjoy a howling good time, with magicians, crafts, balloon animals and lots of treats. The ghoulish railroad takes passengers from Anchorage to Indian before returning, providing a spooky-good time!
  • Holiday Train – The entire family will delight in a Christmas train, where Santa, carolers, magicians, and treats all culminate in a festive experience.

Length of Season

Denali Star Train in Snow
Photo Credit: Pixabay

The Alaskan Railroad runs from mid-May through mid-September, with northbound departures leaving Anchorage and southbound departures leaving Fairbanks.  For pick-ups along the way, please check the train schedule.

McKinley Explorer

McKinley Express Before Departure
Photo Credit: Brandon Wood (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The McKinley Explorer train covers ground that has exceptional views, landscapes, and geology. Running on a part of the Alaskan Railroad tracks, it encompasses vast forested lands, rushing glacier-fed rivers and the tallest mountain in the United States.

Passengers never tire of the endless vistas or the countless wildlife spied along the way. The dome cars on this train offer a unique way to see Alaska’s wildness while riding in luxury!

Railway and Locomotive Types

Diesel locomotives pull the railcars on standard gauge tracks, with trains consisting of McKinley Explorer dome cars for prime viewing opportunities of the majestic lands between Talkeetna and Denali.

Seating Options

Seating on the McKinley Express is all assigned and only one class of service is offered. Passengers have dome car seats on the second level of the train, with an outdoor viewing platform available, as well as a fully stocked dining room below. Ticket prices do not cover food or drink, but both are optional purchases that can be made onboard.

Riding Options

McKinley Express Rounding a Curve
Photo Credit: Brandon Wood (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The railroad runs from Anchorage to Talkeetna, then on to Denali, with return trips. Passengers can purchase one-way or round-trip tickets, catching a train back to their departure point day(s) later, if desired.

Specialty Trains

The McKinley Express has no specialty trains available. However, if passengers will be in Anchorage, several event trains run from Anchorage to Turnagain Arm on specific dates. Please refer to the Denali Star Specialty Trains for descriptions and schedules.

Length of Season

McKinley Express Specialty Train
Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek (CC BY-SA 2.0)

As part of the Alaska Railroad line, the traveling season for the McKinley Express runs from mid-May through mid-September.  Check the train schedule for specific dates and times of departure.

Join the thousands of RVers that have a love affair with trains and ride the rails on your next camping trip.  Check out the other excursion trains available on a state-by-state basis in our series, RVing the Rails.

Excursion trains in Alaska

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