Denali National Park by Rail

Featuring: Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali National Park and Preserve, Denali National Park, Fairbanks

Take advantage of add-on rail and bus trips to access the best vistas and wildlife inside Denali National Park; then continue on to Fairbanks by rail to explore the historic Gold Rush town.

Day 1 - Anchorage to Talkeetna

Board the Alaska Railroad at its historic depot in Anchorage’s Ship Creek area and watch anglers catching salmon as you glide north out of town. You’ll arrive in Talkeetna at midday. Grab a bite at one of the great eateries or the local brewery and browse the shops downtown. Be sure to visit the Talkeetna Historical Society’s museum, and particularly the Mountain Exhibit. National Park Service Rangers lead twice-daily discussions during the summer of the area’s mountaineering history. You can pick up a brochure with a self-guided tour for exploring the rest of the town’s old buildings and sites. Overnight in Talkeetna.

Day 2 – Talkeetna

Today’s mission is airborne. Book a flightseeing tour of Denali from one of the several reputable flight-service companies in Talkeetna. Tours vary in length and routes, so shop around, particularly if you’re interested in special add-ons like glacier landings or a visit to Denali’s base camp. Overnight in Talkeetna.

Day 3 – Talkeetna to Denali National Park and Preserve

After eating breakfast in Talkeetna, you’ll board the Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star Train as it heads north to Denali National Park. The four-hour trip is a stunner, with views of Denali (on clear days), beaver ponds ringed with vibrant wildflowers, the steep walls of dramatic Hurricane Gulch, as well as wildlife en route. Your late afternoon arrival at the park will provide enough time to check out the Denali Visitor Center, where you can chat with rangers, view the free, 20-minute film “Heartbeats of Denali,” explore exhibits or even take a short hike on one of the nearby gravel trails. Get a good night’s sleep, because your exploration of the park by bus starts early the next day.

denali national park by rail

Day 4 – Denali National Park

Bus tours into Denali National Park typically leave early in the morning, and although it may seem a little taxing to have such an early wakeup call while on vacation, it’s well worth it. Animal activity in the park is at its peak early in the day. Tours vary in duration and the distance they travel into the park, but some run up to 12 hours. All feature frequent stops for photography and observation whenever wildlife is visible, as well as meals, snacks and bathroom breaks. It’s not uncommon to see grizzly bears, caribou, moose, sheep, eagles, owls, ptarmigan, fox and even wolves on occasion, so be sure your memory card or film supply is ready for action. Overnight in Denali.

Day 5 – Denali to Fairbanks

The train to Fairbanks leaves in the late afternoon, so there’s time in the morning to fit in another experience in the Denali Park area. River rafting on the Nenana River is a popular choice, as are ATV and Jeep tours. If you didn’t take a flightseeing tour in Talkeetna, you’ll have another opportunity here. If you’re in the mood to stretch your legs, trail information is available at the Denali Visitor Center. Trails of varying length and difficulty are available. The train leaves at 4 p.m. and will arrive in Fairbanks around 8 p.m.

Day 6 – Fairbanks

Fairbanks is the northern terminus of the Alaska Railroad so you’ve reached the proverbial end of the line. Before heading home, consider taking a historic sternwheeler tour on the Chena River, which runs right through town, or tour a gold-panning operation for a chance to go home with your own nugget (or flake).

With daily scheduled jet service to both Fairbanks and Anchorage on multiple carriers – and daily summer rail service running both north- and southbound – this itinerary is easily reversed.