Alaska Railroad Fairbanks to Denali Park
1745 Johansen Expressway, 99701
Mile 1.25 Denali Park Road, 99755
3 hours, 55 minutes
Adventure Class, GoldStar, Wilderness Express
Grab ‘N Go, Sit Down Dining
May 18 to September 17, 2017
$73 Adventure, $158 GoldStar, $109 WEX
$37 Adventure, $98 Goldstar, $59.50 WEX
Schedule, Rates, Faqs, BOOK NOW
The train depot in Fairbanks is located off the Johansen Expressway about 8 miles from the airport. Many local hotels, including the River’s Edge Resort Cottages and Pikes Water Front Lodge, do offer shuttles. Try to be at the depot about an hour early for check in. If your final destination today is one of the main hotels in Denali Park, you will likely find that you can check your bags directly to your hotel.
As you roll out of Fairbanks, you will pass by College, which is home to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, as well as the school’s Experimental Farm. UAF, as the locals call it, is Alaska’s oldest operating university, and it is said that it is also the furthest north of any university in the world. The first part of your rail journey will take you through part of the historic gold mining districts that surround Fairbanks. Much of this area was served by the original Tanana Valley Railroad, a narrow gauge railroad that operated near Fairbanks from 1905 to 1917 before declaring bankruptcy and being purchased by the Alaska Railroad.
About 50 miles south of Fairbanks you will reach the town of Nenana, located on the confluence of the Nenana and Tanana Rivers. As you approach town you will cross over the Tanana River on a 700 foot long steel bridge, one of the longest single span bridges in the world, as well as the site where President Warren G Harding drove in the final ceremonial gold spike in 1923 at the completion of the Alaska Railroad. Nenana was originally an Athabascan Village, later an Alaska Railroad construction camp, and today remains an important hub for delivering goods up and down the region’s waterways. As you roll through town, you can see the black and white striped tripod that is used in a popular contest to guess when the river ice will break free in the spring. In recent years, winners have split a pot of over $300,000.
After departing Nenana and traveling another 20 miles or so south, you will approach Clear and notice what could be described as large outdoor movie theater screens. These are actually part of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System at Clear Air Force Base… one of only three in the world. From here you will follow along the Nenana River for much of the next 30 miles, crossing the river near Ferry before arriving at the small Alaska mining community of Healy.
Healy has just under 1000 residents and the main employer is the Usibelli Coal Mine, the only active coal mining operation in Alaska, which produces over 2 million tons of coal annually. About half of this is shipped to Seward via the Alaska Railroad for export, while the rest is used in the state. You will also pass by the large white structure of the Healy Clean Coal Plant which was completed in 1997. The plant has been dormant since 2000 due to legal and operating issues, but recent progress has been made to restart the plant.
Heading south from Healy, you will soon cross under the George Parks Highway at Windy Bridge. This 215 foot long highway bridge is the highest in Alaska. You are now entering the Nenana River canyon gorge, one of the most scenic portions of the train trip from Fairbanks to Denali. Rafters from Denali Park who choose the “whitewater” rafting option will travel down this exciting canyon section with class III and class IV rapids. Just before you arrive at Denali Park, you will pass several lodges just across the Nenana River which now serves as the eastern boundary to Denali National Park. The first large property you pass is the McKinley Chalet Resort, and the next is the Denali Princess Lodge, the largest hotel in Alaska, located in the foreground on the banks of the Nenana River with red roofs. If you look high up on the hillside across the river and highway, you will see the large green roofed Grande Denali Lodge, with its sister property, the Denali Bluffs Hotel, lower and to the right. Finally, you will pass Horseshoe Lake on your left and cross the 90 mile long Denali Park Road before pulling into the depot.
Hopefully you have at least two nights in Denali Park… there is lots to do. You can’t see much of the Park from the entrance area, so you really need to take a bus tour on the 90 mile restricted access park road. Beyond that, many of the most popular activities include rafting, flightseeing, hiking, dog kennel tours, ATV tours and even a dinner theater. You can read more about Denali National Park here, and remember if you need help booking Denali National Park hotels, tour or activities… we can help with that too.
Next Stop Southbound: Talkeetna
If you are staying on the railroad to Talkeetna, you can continue reading here.