Now that I am all grown up and have two sons, it is no surprise that the train holds the same esteem for them as it did for my siblings and I, and why not? Alaska Railroad Corporation boasts the only passenger rail system in the state, and can take visitors and residents alike on scenic journeys that beat even the Amtrak chug across Idaho. OK, perhaps that’s not exactly competition, but the AK Railroad does corner the market on “scenery without effort”, and to many, that makes all the difference.
Projecting out from its home base in Anchorage, the Alaska Railroad trains depart daily in the summer (the most opportune season) in a North/South direction, with some East thrown in for good measure. Three distinct trains, all with catchy Alaskan monikers, transport thousands of people and tons of gear each summer. The Glacier Discovery makes the shortest run from Anchorage to Girdwood, Portage, and on through the only car/train tunnel in the U.S., to Whittier, an interesting town with an interesting past. The Denali Star goes to, yep, Denali National Park via the mountain town of Talkeetna, and on to Fairbanks, where it turns around and comes on back to Anchorage. Last is the Coastal Classic, well-used by the cruise lines due to its handiness for folks coming into Seward on one of the many ships.
Each route offers spectacular scenery, helpful staff, and plenty of window space through which to glean even more photos of moose, Dall sheep, beluga whales, and occasionally, depending upon the route, a bear or two. Seasonal tour guides, often students learning the tourism and travel industry, are fixtures aboard the summer trains, giving visitors a real-life example of Alaskan heritage while having help to spot the elusive wildlife and far-off glaciers.
Is a rail trip for families? Well, sort of. Wiggly toddlers might have a hard time making the 12-hour trip to Fairbanks (yes, it takes all stinkin’ day), so we’ll stick to the shortest route to Whittier or Girdwood, a mere three and two hours, respectively. I would certainly take anything along that might keep kids occupied once the novelty of looking out the window fades.
The Alaska Railroad, like every other tourism-based industry, is offering great deals to travelers in 2009. Alaskans can save 20% off rail fares (for visitors who may be with them, too), all by showing off that Driver’s License or other ID. Also, since our state is turning 50 in 2009, anyone who turns 50 this year can receive one free day of travel! Might make that 5-0 sound a little better, eh?
Prices for AK Railroad tickets are not cheap; let me warn you that the train is a Special Occasion in our family. Costs range from $30 for kids and $59 for adults just to get 45 miles down the Seward Highway to Girdwood. But, with the discounts available this year, it just might be the chance you’ve been waiting for. Check the Web site of the Alaska Railroad for their current specials, rates, and special events. The office reservation service can also be accessed via 907-265-2494.
There’s just something about a train, isn’t there?