Train travel should be on everyone's travel bucket list. There's something magical about sitting back in your seat, watching towering trestle bridges, going through long tunnels, or taking in the stunning views of canyons next to rivers, or even exploring parts of the country that are only accessible by rail.
One of the most special train experiences you can have is in Alaska, riding the Northern Lights train. Imagine sitting on the train, soaking up the beautiful and incomparable aurora borealis scenery and glacier beauty along the way!
The Northern Lights train takes you on a scenic journey to the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Even in the snow and ice, there's no need to fear the cold - it's all about the travel experience and the beauty of the polar regions. Starting in Anchorage, the train covers 470 miles south to Whittier and Seward, and north to Fairbanks, taking nearly 12 hours! From early morning to sunset, the train slowly climbs along the narrow mountain railroad, creating a dream-like atmosphere.
The Northern Lights train is the only winter passenger train operated by the Alaska Railroad and runs on weekends only. The train travels at a moderate speed and offers a relaxing view of the majestic Alaska Range from the comfort of the observation car.
The Aurora train provides a completely different experience that will leave you awestruck within minutes. The luxurious and comfortable configuration of the train cars will surprise you. They are divided into two layers, one with the bathroom and dining area, and the other dedicated to enjoying the beauty of the scenery, creating a stark contrast to the domestic train cars that can feel dull.
The aurora borealis train crosses the snow country into the hinterland of Alaska, where each carriage of the train opens its window to capture the stunning scenery along the way. Located on the left side of the train, Mount McKinley is often a popular spot for taking pictures. When the train travels on the edge of steep cliffs or over steel bridges with big river waves, it's a heart-pounding experience that cannot be missed.
The polar train arrives at the final destination of Fairbanks, where you can encounter a breathtaking view of the aurora borealis in the suburbs. Fairbanks is the closest city to the Arctic Circle in North America, only 208 kilometers (120 miles) away, making it one of the best places in the world to view the Northern Lights.
Here are a few tips for taking the Alaska Aurora Borealis train:
1. The Northern Lights train runs from September to May, twice a week. It departs from Anchorage at 8:30 on Saturdays and arrives in Fairbanks at 20:00. It runs in the opposite direction on Sundays.
Creech & Fairbanks stations require at least 1-hour early arrival, and Takina and Denali stations require at least 30 to 45 minutes early arrival. Boarding time at all stations is 20 to 30 minutes prior to departure.
2. The dining car on the train only accepts credit or debit cards, not cash. Remember, this is an observation train, not a high-speed express, so the purpose is not to arrive quickly, but to savor the snowy scenery.
3. In winter, Denali National Park is covered with thick snow. In good weather with the right amount of snow, you can try a short walking experience or wilderness snowshoe walk to get closer to the first summit of North America and feel its charm.