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Wilderness Adventure Tours beyond Imagination

By Yasent Oliver naethra

Driving in Alaska is an amazing experience – everyone who visits has to consider a road trip when planning a trip to Alaska!

What's it like to ride the Alaska Railroad's winter train?

Friday 25 August 2023

Embracing Alaska's Winter Splendor: My Unforgettable Journey on the Anchorage to Fairbanks Winter Train  
Alaska's winter is a mystical and awe-inspiring season, and my recent adventure on the Anchorage to Fairbanks Winter Train allowed me to experience its wonders firsthand. From the moment I stepped onto the train,I knew I was embarking on a journey filled with breathtaking landscapes, enchanting encounters, and cherished memories. Join me as I recount my personal experience aboard the Alaska Railroad, traversing the snowy landscapes of this extraordinary winter wonderland..

View of Matanuska Glacier from the MICA Guides Office

Our train left  Anchorage at 8:30 am so we needed to check out at 6:45 am, grab breakfast, jump into our reserved shuttle and show up at the Anchorage rail station one hour before in order to collect our tickets and check our luggage. We boarded the train and settled into our assigned seats that were comfortable, airy and next to huge windows easily viewed from either side of the train.

Red helicopter lands to pick up passengers

Helicopter arriving to whisk us away!

As the train departed from Anchorage, we could see the area that was being used for the ice sculpture contest. Fortunately we checked them out the previous day. After about an hour ride, I couldn't help but be captivated by the snowy landscape that stretched as far as the eye could see. The trees, blanketed in pristine white, resembled delicate sculptures, while the glistening frozen lakes and rivers sparkled under the winter sun. The train's large windows allowed me to soak in the ethereal beauty of this winter fairyland, as if I were traveling through a picture-perfect postcard.

The conductor came over the audio system and explained that they would be commenting about what we were seeing throughout the trip and the fact that food was available for purchase from their bistro car and also seated meals in the dining car. The dining car required reservations which were made about one half hour before each meal as the dining manager came down the aisle asking if reservations were desired for the meal. The train had three passenger cars, (we were in car A) and several luggage and cargo cars as well as the aforementioned bistro and dining car. The train was barely half full (this is Alaska in winter) but did include an infant and a very large dog. 

The journey unfolded amidst a backdrop of majestic mountains, and I was in awe of their grandeur and immensity. The Chugach and Alaska Mountain Ranges towered over the landscape, their peaks adorned with a fresh layer of snow. As the train wound its way through valleys and canyons, I found myself constantly reaching for my camera to capture the breathtaking vistas that unfolded before my eyes.

One of the highlights of the journey was the opportunity to witness Alaska's wildlife in its natural habitat. We were eagerly looking for wildlife, which the the crew happily pointed out throughout the trip. From the train, I spotted a moose gracefully trudging through the snow, its antlers dusted with frost. Bald eagles soared overhead, their majestic wingspans casting shadows on the wintry landscape. We also saw a wolf and although we looked for caribou, we did not see any. We did see, and I got some good photos of, Dall Sheep. These encounters with Alaska's iconic animals left me with a deep appreciation for the delicate balance between nature and wildlife.

Red helicopter lands to pick up passengers

Helicopter arriving to whisk us away!

Amazingly, the train would slow or stop to let us see or photograph some of the more spectacular views. We stopped to see Dall sheep climbing the steep side of a cliff. They were all white and could not have been seen without stopping and having the crew guide us to the precise area that they were travelling. They even made a potty-stop for the one dog on board.

Then, in addition to the stops and slowdowns for our viewing pleasure, they also stopped at the Denali Depot and the Talkeetna Depot, both basically deserted in the winter with only a few people willing to travel by snow shoes or snow machine.

The other reasons for the train to stop are because they are flagged down by people along the track that need to interact with the train in some way. Evidently there are specific spots where people can flag down the train. It could be because they want to board the train, or have something to ship or, to me the most interesting, because a lady that had lived there for 50 years, who was a children's book author and illustrator, wanted to leave books on the train for the crew to sell to the passengers and then the crew later gave her the money from the sales. I bought a book about Dinosaurs Fossils in Alaska. My seven year old grandson will love it.

Lastly, the crew slowed or pointed out or stopped the train every time Mount Denali became visible. At first it had a slight cloud cover. The day, in general, had been bright and sunny but Denali had a slight cloud blockage even though all the surrounding mountains were totally clear. As the day progressed, views of Denali became more and more clear until we could eventually see and photograph a completely could free mountain towering above its neighbors.

We ate lunch and dinner in the dining room and some of us spent some time at the tables in the Bistro on and off through out the ride. Darkness fell about two hours before we arrived in Fairbanks. 

Red helicopter lands to pick up passengers

Helicopter arriving to whisk us away!

The Alaska Railroad ensured that my journey was comfortable and cozy. The train cars were warm and inviting, with comfortable seating and panoramic windows that offered unobstructed views. The friendly staff onboard provided excellent service and shared their knowledge of the region, making the journey all the more enriching. Delicious meals prepared with local ingredients were served in the dining cars, allowing me to savor the flavors of Alaska while marveling at the passing scenery.

No winter adventure in Alaska would be complete without a chance to witness the mesmerizing Northern Lights. As night fell, the train made its way closer to Fairbanks, known for its prime viewing spots for the aurora borealis. I was fortunate enough to witness the dancing lights in the sky, a breathtaking display of vibrant colors that seemed to be performing exclusively for us. It was a moment of pure magic that will forever be etched in my memory.

As our 12 hour trip came to an end, the conductor started describing the University of Alaska Fairbanks as we passed by its grounds. He highlighted the coal cars, covered with snow, that the university used for energy. Most of Alaska is run on coal with many plants changing it into electricity. We passed a few of these plants.

My journey on the Anchorage to Fairbanks Winter Train was a dream come true, allowing me to immerse myself in the enchanting beauty of Alaska's winter wonderland. From the awe-inspiring landscapes and close wildlife encounters to the cultural immersion and the captivating Northern Lights, every moment on the train was filled with wonder and delight. If you're seeking an unforgettable winter adventure, I highly recommend embarking on this extraordinary train journey, where Alaska's winter splendor awaits at every turn.

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