Overview: This five-day train itinerary takes you through three of Alaska’s biggest attractions: Anchorage, the big city; Denali National Park, one of the grandest wilderness areas on the planet; and the “Golden Heart City” of Fairbanks, which serves as the gateway to Alaska’s Interior and Arctic regions.
Day 1 Anchorage
Fly in to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Stop in at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and the Alaska Native Heritage Center to learn about Alaska's rich history and vibrant indigenous cultures. Both places are accessible via a shuttle bus that runs from the downtown visitor center, so you won't need to rent a car. End your day by exploring the downtown boutiques and art galleries, followed by dinner at one of many restaurants featuring fresh-caught wild Alaska seafood and handcrafted Alaska brews.
Day 2 Anchorage to Talkeetna
Board the Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star train for an eight-hour tour north If you splurge on a first-class train ticket, you'll have access to a dedicated dining area and outdoor viewing deck.
Start your tour in Anchorage. Once a tiny railroad camp, this is now Alaska’s biggest city with a busy airport to match. Board an Alaska Railroad passenger train at the historic downtown depot; as the train glides north you might see anglers catching salmon in Ship Creek, which winds straight through the heart of downtown Anchorage. Just before the train reaches the charming town of Talkeetna, you'll have your first great vantage point for viewing Denali, North America’s tallest peak. You’ll arrive in Talkeetna by midday, where you can grab a bite at one of the great local eateries and browse the many fantastic, locally owned gift shops and art galleries.
Be sure to visit the Talkeetna Historical Society’s museum, especially the mountain exhibit, where National Park Service rangers lead twice-daily discussions on the area’s mountaineering history. You can also pick up a map for a self-guided walking tour of the town’s other historic buildings and sites. Spend the night in one of Talkeetna’s many cozy accommodations.
Day 2 Talkeetna
Today’s mission: Take to the air. Book a flightseeing tour around 20,310' Denali, North America’s tallest peak, with one of the highly skilled flying companies in Talkeetna. Often, you’ll be flying with the same pilots that ferry climbers back and forth from base camp on the mountain—and some companies will even let you tack on a quick visit to that base camp. Enjoy one more night in Talkeetna.
Talkeetna to Denali National Park
After eating breakfast in Talkeetna, board the Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star Train as it heads north to Denali National Park and Preserve. 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, and an ever-present chance of seeing wildlife en route. Your late-afternoon arrival at the park will leave you enough time to check out the Denali Visitor Center, where you can chat with park rangers, view the free 20-minute film “Heartbeat of Denali,” or take a short hike on one of the nearby gravel trails. Get a good night’s sleep; you'll need to get up early tomorrow.
Day 3 Denali National Park
Take the tour of your dreams in Denali National Park and Preserve. Options range from all day to just a couple of hours and include flightseeing, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, touring the National Park Service’s working sled dog kennel, and bus rides into the park for wildlife viewing and photo ops. Overnight at one of the many hotels, lodges and cabins at the park’s entrance, or opt to fly to a remote lodge deep in the heart of the park.
Bus tours into Denali National Park typically leave early in the morning. Although it may seem a little taxing to have such an early wakeup call while on vacation, it’s well worth it: You’re going to have a chance at spectacular landscape views and wildlife sightings, and animal activity in the park is at its peak early in the day. Your bus tour options range from 6 to 12 hours long; some offer narration along the way, and all will stop for bathroom breaks and the best photo opportunities. It’s not uncommon to see grizzly bears, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, eagles, ptarmigan, foxes and even wolves on occasion, so be sure your camera is ready for action. Enjoy another night in one of the park’s hotels or lodges.
Day 4 Denali to Fairbanks
In the morning, you’ll have time for one more half-day tour before you board the northbound Denali Star train in the mid-afternoon. Rafting on the Nenana River is a popular choice, as are off-roading tours, zip-lining and horseback tours. If you didn’t take a flightseeing tour in Talkeetna, you have another opportunity here. The train will reach Fairbanks just in time for you to check in to your hotel and enjoy a late dinner.
Day 5 Fairbanks
Fairbanks is the northern terminus of the Alaska Railroad and a bustling center of activity during the summer season. Consider staying at least a day or two to take advantage of its many tour options, including gold panning, riding along as bush plane pilots deliver the mail to isolated villages, nature walks in the company of tame reindeer, dog cart rides (the summer equivalent of a dog sled ride), a scenic river cruise aboard a stern-wheel paddleboat, and a one- or two-day adventure to the Arctic Circle. When you’re ready, you can fly straight home from Fairbanks International Airport or board the southbound Denali Star for a full-day train ride back to Anchorage.
Would you rather end your trip in Anchorage? The Alaska Railroad’s summer rail service runs both northbound and southbound every day, so this itinerary is easily reversed.