Alaska Railroad

The Alaska Railroad: 12 Things You Need To Know Before Riding

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Riding the Alaska Railroad can be the trip of a lifetime. After coming back from our last trip to Alaska, we wrote down everything we wished we’d known before we booked our tickets.

Which side of the Denali Star is the best side to sit on

From Anchorage to Fairbanks you want to be on the left side. Almost every sight you’ll want to see will be on that side including Denali and the national park. In reverse from Fairbanks to Anchorage you’ll want to sit on the right side.

Sometimes it isn’t that important which side you are on, but that is not the case with this train. The scenery is markedly better on the side facing Denali, so ask when you check in if you can be put on that side. We observed that the staff did a good job accommodating seat requests left in the comments when you book your tickets.

Is there a train from Alaska to the Contiguous USA

There is no way to reach Alaska by train from the Contiguous USA. The Alaska Railroad covers much of the state of Alaska, but doesn’t go anywhere outside the borders of Alaska. To get to Alaska and ride the Alaska Railroad you’ll need to either fly, drive or take a cruise to Alaska.

To plan a vacation on the Alaska Railroad the best choices are to take a cruise to Seward or Whittier, fly to Anchorage, or drive.

What Are the best seats on the Glacier Discovery train

There is one car on the Glacier Discovery train that has two levels and in that car on the upper level the best seats are 2A and 2C. These are special seats that have a view out the front of the car and the sides of the car. Since the car in front is only single level, you can see and take pictures in all directions. These seats are also on the right side from Anchorage to Whittier, which is the better side. We were seated in 1A and 1C, which is the same seats on the left side, and they were almost as good. The ride from Anchorage to Whittier on the Glacier Discovery takes 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Sitting at Table 2
Table Seat Map
View from seat 1 on the left. Seat 2 is on the right side.

Is the Alaska Railroad worth it?

The Alaska Railroad is totally worth it and a bargain at the price they are charging. We’ve ridden every scenic train in the USA and the Denali Star and Glacier Discovery trains of the Alaska Railroad are the most scenic. They are a shorter and cheaper alternative to the most scenic Amtrak rides which are the Empire Builder and the California Zephyr.

Does the Alaska Railroad have sleeper cars

The Alaska Railroad does not have sleeper cars and none of the trains are overnight trains. Classes on the Alaska Railroad are broken into two categories, Adventure Class, and Gold Star. Not all trains offer Gold Star class, which features domed cars, outdoor viewing areas, and meals.

Can you bring food on the Alaska Railroad

On most rides on the Alaska Railroad you’ll need to eat, so knowing what food options you have is important. You are allowed to bring your own food on the Alaska Railroad. You can also buy snacks from the dining car or if you are in GoldStar Service you’ll have meals served to you in the dining car.

Snacks available for purchase

Can you smoke on the Alaska Railroad

Smoking is not allowed on any Alaska Railroad train. You are also not allowed to smoke on the outdoor viewing platform in the Gold Star class car. In addition to not being able to smoke on board, there are few if any smoke break stops where you can get off the train to smoke.

What is the most scenic train ride in Alaska

The most scenic train ride in Alaska is the Denali Star. On the Denali Star you’ll travel through Denali national park on your way from Anchorage to Fairbanks. The most scenic parts of the ride are a few hours before you get to Denali and just after you leave the Denali station going north. Denali is visible and in full view on only about 30 percent of the days the train runs.

A much shorter but almost as scenic ride is the Glacier Discovery route from Anchorage to Whittier. On this route you’ll be riding to and through beautiful mountains the whole time. On our last trip we rode the Glacier Discovery round trip from Anchorage and took a 26 Glacier Cruise while in Whittier for an incredible day.

Denali Star

How long is the train from Anchorage to Fairbanks

The Denali Star route from Anchorage to Fairbanks takes just under 12 hours departing from Anchorage at 8:20am and arriving in Fairbanks at 8:00pm.

What hotel should we stay at in Anchorage if we are basing out of there

We stayed at the Comfort Inn Ship Creek and had a great experience. The reason we choose the hotel is that it was walking distance to the depot. There isn’t much else around, and the hotel is on the older side, but you won’t be spending much time in your room on this trip. We also saved some money staying there as it was the cheapest option available when we booked.

Does the Alaska Railroad have WiFi

The Alaska Railroad does not have WiFi and at some points of the train ride you will not have any service on your cell phone.

Does the Alaska Railroad run in the Winter

The Alaska Railroad does run year round, but there is a very limited schedule in the winter months. During high season, which is the summer, cruise ship passengers allow the railroad to operate a full schedule.

If you want to ride with fewer crowds, consider going the first two weeks of May, before cruise ship season is fully active.

Robert Marmion
Rob is married to Allie and together they have been traveling the world for the past 5 years. Rob is one of the most published photographers in the world, having published over 1 million images in the last 20 years. He enjoys doing landscape and astrophotography while on the road.