Alaska is one of the most beautiful states to tour and explore.
The Last Frontier is awash with rugged natural beauty and almost always with a hint of frostbite.
Alaska is the least habitable and least explored of all the U.S. states owing to its northernly altitude position and proximity to the North Pole.
So, can you tour Alaska by train?
A large area of Alaska can be toured by train. The largest rail company, Alaskan Railroad, operates several services from Seward in the south and as far north as Fairbanks. The Denali Star, Aurora Winter train, Coastal Classic and the Glacier Discovery are some of the routes available to tour Alaska.
Due to the fact some small Alaskan towns are only accessible by plane, not all of Alaska can be seen by train.
Fortunately, the main tourist destinations are found along the train routes operated by Alaskan Railroads and the Yukon and White Pass Railroad.
Alaskan Railroads operate between different towns and cities and is used by tourists and residents alike, whereas the Yukon and White Pass Railroad in the east of the state mainly caters to the tourist trade, and available only during spring and summer months.
In this article we will look at how to tour Alaska by train, which routes are the best, what parts of Alaska are accessible by train and when is the best time to tour and explore!
What parts of Alaska can be toured by Train?
Alaska is huge.
It’s exactly 663,000 square miles in area, or almost 426 million acres!
Despite its size and popularity so much of Alaska is restricted.
The restriction to just main cities and towns due to its distance from the equator and how cold Alaska is, and how much is usually covered in snow and ice.
This means only small parts are accessible by road and rail, and why float planes are popular in the Alaskan state.
The main areas of Alaska that can be toured by train tend to be in the south of the state where it is slightly warmer, and the terrain becomes easier to travel.
From the south and popular cruise ports of Seward and Anchorage and as far north as Fairbanks can be reached by train. This somewhat direct north and south route provides some incredible views across glaciers, lakes, mountains and even the Denali National Park!
Southcentral Alaska by Train
The Southcentral area of Alaska covers an area from the border of Canada in the east up until Anchorage and as far north as the Denali National Park.
90% of all Alaska train tours and journeys are in the Southcentral area of Alaska.
The 10 hour one way Denali Star train tour carries passengers from Anchorage in the south and travels north on its way to Fairbanks, which is the largest city in Alaska.
Fairbanks though falls within the Interior area of Alaska.
Interior area of Alaska by Train
Although 90% of the area covered by both Alaskan train companies sits within the Southcentral area, it isn’t the only area covered.
The Interior area of Alaska is home to Fairbanks, the last stop on both the Denali Star and Aurora Winter train routes.
There are no trains that go further north than Fairbanks, so the Northern area of Alaska can not be reached this way.
Fairbanks is not the only stop this far north, there are smaller station stops along the route, but these are used mainly by residents traveling between towns for work and for supplies.
Southeast area of Alaska by Train
The Southeast area of Alaska is a stretch of land area underneath Canada, and to the east of Alaska and Canada border.
This area also popular with cruise layovers is home to the Yukon and White Pass Railroad which regularly takes tourist passengers from sea level to 2,000 ft into the mountains.
Various routes are operated by Yukon and White Pass to take passengers to popular campsites and even to where thousands of people headed to the great Klondike gold rush in the late 1800’s.
Northern and Southwest areas of Alaska by Train
There are no train services operating in either the Northern or Southwest areas of Alaska.
Train routes to tour Alaska
There are a number of train routes operated by the two Alaskan train companies.
- Denali Star: Anchorage to Fairbanks (spring and summer)
- Aurora Winter train: Anchorage to Fairbanks (autumn and winter)
- Glacier Discovery: Anchorage to Whittier
- Coastal Classic: Anchorage to Seward
- White Pass Summit Excursion
- Skagway to Denver
We have covered all the best trains in a different article.
Rather than simply repeat the same details, you can find all the best routes of Alaska in full in-depth detail here.
Suffice it to say the most popular route for tourists on casual trips to Alaska is the Denali Star service between Anchorage and Seward.
It is worth noting that the round-train tour trip between the two cities takes two days, and an overnight stay in a hotel is required at Fairbanks (if Anchorage is the departing station).
Those adventure seekers, hikers, and campers may find preference with the White Pass and Summit Excursion train tour for mountain hikes and stunning camp site locations.
When is the best time to explore Alaska by train
Due to where Alaska sits in relation to the equator it means in summer cities such as Fairbanks experience 22 hours of daylight, and in the winter residents experience 22 hours of darkness.
Daylight is needed to explore Alaska of course and to really see all of its rugged beauty.
The Aurora Winter train is enticingly named and although it may be possible to see auroras on the train route, you are unlikely to see much of Alaska as it operates mostly in the dark.
The best time to explore Alaska by train is between April and October.
Many tourists want to see Alaska but are also excited about catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights, therefore the best months to tour Alaska by train to see much of Alaska and have a chance to see the Northern Lights is between April to mid-May and September and October.
This will give enough daylight to see the beauty of Alaska, and dark enough skies to hopefully catch sight of the Northern Lights.