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Alaska Film Favorites

The classic mid-‘80s action movie “Runaway Train” starring Jon Voight tells the story of two prisoners who escape from a fictional Alaska prison in the middle of winter. The plot includes a wild ride aboard an out-of-control train, as a heartless prison administrator pursues them. The train in the movie is actually the Alaska Railroad and the Alaska rail scenes were filmed near Portage Glacier, Whittier and Grandview along the same route that the Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Discovery train tavels today.

In real life, the Glacier Discovery train is a leisurely trip south from Anchorage along the shores of picturesque Turnagain Arm. Visitors travel in glass-domed cars offering 180-degree views of the dramatic scenery — including the Chugach National Forest, the second-largest national forest in the United States. Passengers often see beluga whalesDall sheep and bald eagles along the 40-mile route south to the ski town of Girdwood, home of the state’s only year-round, full-service resort, Alyeska Resort. After a stop in Girdwood, the train continues south, stopping next at Portage, a U.S. Forest Service recreation area and home to Portage Glacier.

The Alaska Railroad’s new Whistle Stop service to the Spencer Glacier is a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, allowing passengers to get off the train and hike the nearby trails with a forest service ranger. The trails are being expanded to permit visitors to hike from Spencer Glacier all the way to the train route’s terminus in Grandview, a project expected to be completed in the next few years. The name Grandview says it all — stunning views of sparkling waterfalls, lush forests and towering mountains are just a few of the grand sights to take in here before the train begins the return trip to Anchorage.

Contrary to the wintery scenes in “Runaway Train,” the Alaska Railroad only operates the Glacier Discovery train between May and September. Visitors more interested in traveling the rails in winter can board the Aurora Winter train – the Alaska Railroad’s only passenger train that operates in winter with stops in Anchorage, Talkeetna and Fairbanks – or select special-event trains, offered seasonally.

Movie goers were captivated by the 2007 biographical drama “Into the Wild,” based on a book by author Jon Krakauer of the same name about the life of Christopher McCandless. Directed by Sean Penn, the film boasts a who’s-who cast. The production team made four trips to Alaska during different seasons to film, which took place in other areas of Denali National Park and Preserve and the neighboring towns of Cantwell and Healy.

To access Denali National Park and Preserve, a visitor can travel by train, car or RV from either Anchorage or Fairbanks; the park is located midway. Several tours inside the park take travelers along the Stampede Trail where McCandless initially set out into the wilderness. Have lunch and taste one of several handcrafted brews available at the 49th State Brewing Company in Healy, located just north of the park entrance along the George Parks Highway. The brewpub features a replica of the iconic bus used on the set of “Into the Wild,” and visitors can take their pictures with the famous school bus.

Rent one of the many other movies filmed (at least in part) in Alaska for more inspiration for your next trip north, including “White Fang,” “Never Cry Wolf,” “On Deadly Ground” and “Limbo.” Or go see the upcoming romantic drama “Big Miracle,” which will be in theaters this February.

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