Alaska Railroad

Fairbanks to Denali to Anchorage

Goldstar Service

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Return to Larry and Linda Pearson -> 2006 Alaska Vacation

To see every single blessed picture taken on the train portion of the journey, CLICK HERE!

We rode the Denali Star Train from Fairbanks to Denali National Park on Tuesday. Then on Thursday, we rode the Denali Star Train from Denali National Park to Anchorage. We chose the Alaska Railroad's GoldStar Service. It costs more but provides assigned seating in a super nice observation car that provides a panoramic glass dome and an open-air observation deck. Also, you get complementary beverages (alcohol costs extra), cute little gift pack, priority check-in and boarding. Basically, GoldStar is equivalent to First Class service on a domestic airline.

Fairbanks Train Depot is a very nice facility with a few surprising features. However, eat before you come to hang out. There isn't any food service. You will have to eat on the train if you are hungry.

Inside the Fairbanks Train Depot, there is a very fun model railroad on display. The layout (which is under construction) has a number of features that model what the traveler might see when traveling from Fairbanks to Anchorage by train. The model railroad is courtesy of the Tanana Valley Model Railroad Club. I talked to one of the club members while admiring the train layout. Nice folks. Good job guys!

The train tunnel the model railroad is replicating.

Even though GoldStar service provides faster check ins, don't wait until the last minute to check in at the train station. This get pretty busy just before boarding as this picture shows.

WOW! The GoldStar car as seen at the Denali National Park Train Depot. Super observation car. Note the outdoor observation deck on the back. One of the cooks takes a break while the train is at the station.

Inside the car, there is lots of space. Our car had a dedicated tour guide who provided color commentary on the sites along the way. Since this leg of the trip wasn't very full, our guide turned seats around so Linda and I ended up with extra seating. This picture clearly shows how open the car is. It really is an effective observation platform.

Complementary beverage service is provided. Alcoholic beverages are available but require cash or credit card payment.

At some point during the journey, the guides who provide commentary on the sites along the way, dress up in clothing and trinkets available in the Alaska State Railroad Store which is on the train. Even though the store is on the train, they (and the dining cars) take credit cards.

The outside observation deck at the back of the observation car is very cool. The top is covered providing some protection from the elements. The sides and back are open. The railing is very sturdy so you can really lean into it for that special photograph. This is a good place to be for the Fairbanks to Denali run. The last 40 or so miles before Denali provides some spectacular (if not scary) views. There were times I wondered how the train tracks could keep from sliding down the mountain side.

Larry and Linda are grinning like fools. This is just to cool!


The train depot in Denali doesn't have any food. However, if you walk a block into the park you will find signs directing you to a restaurant, book store, and the Denali National Park Visitor Center.

During the summer season, things are pretty hectic. Always be a little early for the train. The crowds can be intense.

Once you get your luggage off the train, it is off to the buses.

One aspect of train travel that you might find peculiar is the baggage handling. All of the bags are loaded into these large plastic baskets. The plastic baskets are then loaded and unloaded from the baggage car on the train. I'm assuming that the baskets are labeled by the destination. While it is pretty fast, it is hard to watch. You can't possibly imagine how or where your bags will show up.

The Denali to Anchorage leg is pretty tame compared to the Fairbanks to Denali. The train makes a stop in Talkeetna. Talkeetna is small (900 year round residents) but interesting. There was a rumor on the train that the TV show "Northern Exposure" was written based on the residents of Talkeetna. I wouldn't be surprised. By the way, folks we had met at the Denali Backcountry Lodge (who also have good taste) stayed at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge and gave it rave reviews. Below, the Talkeetna Train Depot.


By the time we reached the Train Depot in Anchorage, we were so worn out, we didn't take any pictures. The Anchorage Train Depot is a Cold War Era utilitarian building. We never went inside because the luggage is dumped out on the sidewalk in front of the Depot. We got a cab pretty easily and high-tailed it to the airport.

Copyright © 2006 Larry Pearson - All Rights Reserved