Ride the Aurora Winter Train, AK

Photo by Steve Heyano

Sightings of majestic moose, Denali, sparkling snow and the ethereal glow of the aurora borealis distinguish the Aurora Winter Train ride as the epitome of a winter getaway in the far north. With four regular stops, this rejuvenating 12-hour train ride can be enjoyed from the comfort of Adventure Class which offers large picture windows, a vista-viewing dome and the Wilderness Café, making this winter journey the perfect weekend getaway.

The Aurora Winter Train departs from Anchorage, a town rich with not only Alaskan Native history, but also of Russians and pioneers initially attracted by whispers of the Klondike Gold Rush. Beginning as a railroad construction camp near Ship Creek in 1915, the historic town of Anchorage hosts the Fur Rendezvous festival and is the ceremonial starting point for the famous Iditarod Dog Race. To this day, Anchorage’s easy accessibility to the vast wilderness, wildlife, mountains, various bodies of water and proximity to other significant towns continue to mark this location as the locus of the Alaska Railroad Service.

One of the various stops on the journey includes Talkeetna, a quaint, rustic town nestled at the base of Denali, North America’s tallest peak. Not only was this area originally inhabited by Athabascan Indians, but it is also where the Talkeetna, Chulitna, and Susitna rivers meet and converge into the big Susitna drainage. After the discovery of gold in 1905, Talkeetna soon became a location buzzing with activity from miners, traders and other settlers. Many of the town’s original buildings remain intact today, such as the Fairview Inn which was built to host weary Alaska Railroad travelers back in 1923. Today, the structure includes six renovated rooms, as well as a bar and music venue popular among both locals and travelers, making it a top destination.

After passing Hurricane, Healy and Nenana, the Aurora Winter Train makes its final stop at Fairbanks, also known as the Golden Heart of Alaska due to its central location as well as the discovery of gold, saturating the town with frontier history. Fairbanks is typically thought to be the ultimate place to view the aurora borealis because of its location under the Auroral Oval. When you aren’t chasing the northern lights, Fairbanks is alive with activity, whether you decide to spend your afternoon running with the reindeer at the local reindeer ranch or taking a winter stroll along a portion of the 100-mile-long Chena river.

Regardless of choosing to make the Sunday journey back toward Anchorage or fly out of Fairbanks, the Aurora Winter Train is an incredible way to experience the sublime stretches of Alaska’s untouched wilderness, all while encountering its native and pioneer history.

For more information on the Aurora Winter Train as well as purchasing tickets, go to alaskarailroad.com. To find lodging in Anchorage and Fairbanks, please visit anchorage.net and explorefairbanks.com.