Q&A: We’re taking your advice and visiting Alaska this summer. We’d like to do a day trip on the Alaska Railroad but have limited funds. Is the Alaska Railroad worth it? Should we sacrifice something else to ride the rails? Thanks!
– Kevin and Annie Covington of Madison, Wisconsin.
A: Good question Kevin and Annie. During our recent trip to Alaska, we found that riding the Alaska Railroad was an experience like no other. It was an adventure filled with fun and excitement – plus a bit of intrique. We encountered quite a few quirky travelers (other than myself) and it gave us ample opportunity for conversations we could enjoy nowhere else. There are a number of reasons why the Alaska Railroad is such an amazing way to see Alaska’s expansive landscape. And it’s a key reason we named Alaska a Top 10 Travel Destination for 2023.
First, a brief history of the Alaska Railroad
The Alaska Railroad was originally built in the early 1900s to provide transportation and access to remote regions of Alaska. The railroad was a crucial lifeline for many small towns and villages, as well as “mountainmen” who often lived 100s of miles from the nearest encampment. The railroad gave them access to essential goods and services that were otherwise unavailable.
Over the years, the Alaska Railroad has played an important role in the economic and cultural development of Alaska. The railroad has been used to transport everything from gold and copper to timber and seafood, helping to drive Alaska’s economy and support the state’s many industries.
During World War II, the Alaska Railroad played a vital role in the war effort, transporting troops and supplies to strategic locations throughout the state. After the war, the railroad continued to serve as a vital link between Alaska’s many communities and it continues to help defend our nation today by quickly ferrying heavy equipment to various military installations in the state.
For the people you’ll encounter as you wander Alaska, the Alaska Railroad remains an important part of their transportation infrastructure. While the railroad has undergone many changes over the years, including the introduction of modern trains and technology, the spirit of adventure and independence that the railroad represents remains unchanged, making it a beloved part of Alaskan culture and history.
Why you should ride the Alaska Railroad
Today, the Alaska Railroad continues to be an important part of Alaska’s cultural and economic fabric. It is a source of pride for many Alaskans, who see it as a symbol of the state’s rugged spirit and independence. And it’s a key destination in itself for wanderers, as it features a safe and easy way to reach various sites via 5 routes connecting Fairbanks in the north to Anchorage and running down to Portage, Whittier, and Seward (explore the route map).
There are 5 key reasons why I recomment taking a ride on the Alaska Railroad:
- Stunning scenery: One of the main reasons why the Alaska Railroad is so enjoyable is the stunning scenery that you get to see along the way. The train travels through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, including snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and forests.
- Access to remote areas: The route also passes through remote regions of Alaska that are inaccessible by road, giving passengers a unique opportunity to see parts of the state that are rarely seen by outsiders. National Geographic even made a television show about it.
- Living history: Another reason why the Alaska Railroad is so special is the history and culture that it represents. The railroad played a crucial role in the development of Alaska, helping to open up the region to trade and commerce. The railroad also served as a lifeline for many communities, providing them with access to essential goods and services. Hoping on board makes you a part of that!
- Perfect for day trips: The Alaska Railroad can connect you safely and easily to several unique destinations in Alaska. This includes the Port of Whittier where you can hop on board a 4.5 hour cruise that visits 26 glaciers – and still get back on board before sundown. Or you can hope of the train at Portage and visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center just which is just a stones throw from the tracks. Lots of options for day trips make make it a great adventure.
- Relaxing and restorative to the soul: Lastly, riding the Alaska Railroad is very relaxing. After a few high energy days of wandering Alaska, it gives you the chance to sit back and basically do nothing physical. We found this to be very restorative to our souls. It gave me time to start writing a short story about the railroad which I’ll publish soon. It makes a great mid-trip break.
Unique experiences for the wanderer
The Alaska Railroad also offers a range of unique experiences that you won’t find on any other train. For example, the railroad offers:
- Flagstop service: The Alaska Railroad still allows passengers to request a stop at any point along the route – a rarity in North America. This gives wanderers the opportunity to explore some of Alaska’s most remote regions, including small villages and fishing communities.
- Themed tours: In addition to its regular passenger service, the Alaska Railroad also offers a range of themed tours that are designed to showcase the best of Alaska. These tours include everything from wildlife viewing trips to historic excursions to visits to the state’s many national parks.
- Unique people and conversation: Alaska Railroad is a great way to meet new people and experience the unique culture of Alaska. The train is often filled with friendly passengers from all over the world, who are eager to share their stories and experiences with others. This creates a fun and welcoming atmosphere that makes riding the Alaska Railroad a truly memorable experience.
As you wander the globe, you’ll find that the Alaska Railroad is a wonderful and unique way to experience the beauty and culture of Alaska. Whether you are looking for stunning scenery, a taste of history, or a fun and adventurous journey, the Alaska Railroad has something to offer everyone. So, if you are planning a trip to Alaska, I strongly suggest putting Alaska Railroad on your itinerary!
So my advice, Kevin and Annie, is YES – the Alaska Railroad is worth it! If you’re budget is a little stretched, be sure to sneak the Alaska Railroad in, even if you have to sacrifice somewhere else. You’ll find landscapes and people that you would never encounter with any other method of travel through the Alaskan wilderness. Plus, you’ll be able to sit back and relax as you do.
Until then, check out our 3 part series on wandering Alaska: