Escape to Alaska Interior on a Train
The Alaska Railroad train service seemed like a natural choice when we began talking about taking a day trip to Talkeetna to visit Denali National Park and Preserve.
While a rental car was briefly considered, we are so thankful that we decided to ride the train. The schedule was convenient and the seats were quite comfortable.
It was a wonderful experience!
The train gave us the mental space to relax and survey the wonders around us. The vivid colors and majestic scenery is unmatched!
The second day was busy with the train ride from Anchorage to Talkeetna, flight-seeing with K2 Aviation, dining in Talkeetna, and then a return on the Talkeetna-to-Anchorage return train ride.
Benefits of Vacation by Train
Taking the train is a cost-effective way of travelling in Alaska and is a very common transportation among residents of the state when connecting to the towns and cities along the main routes. Since we were going a fairly short distance and did not want to study maps and route plans, the train was a perfect solution for our vacation.
We were impressed and pleasantly surprised at the comfortable seats and ample legroom for our trips on the train. There was overhead storage available and pre-assigned seats left no confusion about how to locate our train car and seats.
This may be our favorite part of having a vacation trip on a railway. When we travel by train and observe the countryside, the rural and urban areas unveil just outside the windows. We observed the local residents going about their daily business. Even more, we could see the landscape, with its changes and nuances as we journeyed along. There was so much to look at outside our window and certain cars also had sightseeing spaces to enhance the experience.
Hotel to Anchorage Train Depot
We spent two nights at the Ramada by Wyndham Anchorage. We chose this hotel due to the close proximity to the train depot and we were able to walk between the two locations. The hotel has a certain charm while maintaining the standards and routines true to the Ramada and Wyndham brands. The lobby has ample seating for guests and a cozy fireplace with welcoming hospitality.
In fact, the hotel location is ideal for travel by railway in Anchorage. We walked across the hotel parking lot and then through a public parking area to a covered walkway (first photo below). This walkway extends down the hill to the depot building (second photo below). It was a bit of a walk, and sturdy knees are important, but the morning was beautiful with bright skies and we thoroughly enjoyed the walk.
How We Scheduled the Alaska Railroad Trips
There were a few legs to our trip and we booked them online in advance of our trip. When we arrived at the Anchorage Depot on the first day, we traded our printed receipts for passenger tickets with seat assignments for that day. On the second day, we did the same for one-way tickets to Seward.
Two tickets were purchased to create a round-trip excursion on the Denali Star. The Anchorage to Talkeetna (Denali) train had an early departure and the return leg was mid-afternoon so that we arrived back in Anchorage in time for an evening meal.
For this ticket, we purchased one-way from Anchorage to Seward, to meet the cruise ship embarkation schedule. we deposited our luggage into a white tent just outside the station. The luggage handlers added the appropriate tags and let us know that the luggage would transfer onto the cruise ship from the train. That was a great relief and allowed us to travel freely for our few hours in Seward. It was an unexpected bonus and much appreciated!
At the Anchorage Train Depot
Back to our Anchorage to Talkeetna trip. When we entered the depot, was headed for the ticket window. This is where we exchanged our printed receipts for our train car and seat assignments.
Business cared for, we mingled in the lobby of the building, observing the displays and education exhibits. The gift shop was small but has souvenirs and some travel essentials.
Dining at the Anchorage Train Depot
The train depot has a coffee kiosk and the line for coffee was much longer than the line for boarding passes! There were pastries and fruit available along with a selection of coffee, tea, and hot cocoa.
Touring: Anchorage to Talkeetna
One of the travelers for the train was celebrating his fifth birthday, so we sang a birthday celebration song and he was honored as the crier for “All Aboooaaarrrddd” and the embarkation began! The train cars were clean and well-organized so the preparations for travel were stress-free. The ride to Talkeetna was comfortable. The dome car has open glass and a much broader view, which was pleasant. These viewing cars are available to everyone on the train.
We arrived in Talkeetna, walked to the local airport field and checked in at K2 Aviation. We had booked the summit tour for Mount McKinley, but due to clouds shifted to a slightly different flight and were among the clouds in about an hour after our arrival. In the photo below you can see those menacing clouds, and our tiny plane on the runway. The second photo is after the excursion and the skies were much brighter by then.
After the flight, we toured the town. Talkeetna, Alaska has fewer than 1,000 residents and is a small, charming town on the edge of the wilderness. There’s an immediate appeal to the inner pioneer. The mountain range views are spectacular and ideal for photography. This is a laid back place – a place that's comfortable having a cat as its mayor.
To wrap up our town tour, we had lunch on the patio of Wildflower Cafe. The halibut sandwich was delicious and menu choices seemed to have consistently generous portions. The cafe is known for local fish and impressive desserts. It was highly recommended as we asked others in town and we were not disappointed in the food selections or quality.
Return to Anchorage by Train
We then returned to the train depot, about a half mile from town (less than a ten minute walk) and waited for the train to Anchorage. It's important to note that there is a smaller train station at the end of the main street of the town. That station is known as the “winter station” and is not where the train stops during the summer season. My tour guide book only included the address for the winter station and John soon pointed out that it was not the place where we exited the train in the morning. I had been so excited about our flight that I hardly notice where we were when the train had stopped! At the proper station, we took a few minutes to look at the exhibits of local photos and absorb a bit of a history lesson.
Day 2: Moments and Memories
Our second day in Alaska reached an end, and our return to Anchorage was quiet, with time to enjoy the scenery from the train's viewing windows, and time to reflect on the majesty of the Denali National Park and Preserve. Back at the hotel, it was time to pack and prepare for our transfer from Anchorage to Seward. Tomorrow, we'll join our cruise ship and take on new adventures in this final frontier state.
If You Go to Talkeetna, Alaska by Train
Slippery Salmon Bar & Grill – 115 E 3rd Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501 (907) 334-8410
Wildflower Cafe 13578 E Main St, Talkeetna, AK 99676
Ramada by Wyndham Anchorage – 115 E 3rd Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501 (907) 272-7561 The Ramada by Wyndham Anchorage hotel is within walking distance to the Anchorage Train Depot, the 5th Avenue Mall, the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, and the Alaska Center for Performing Arts.
Things to Do:
Flightseeing in Talkeetna – Denali National Park and Preserve
Need more ideas? Check out How to Spend 3 Days in Anchorage with Viator tours!