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Lace up your snow boots for winter rail adventure in Alaska

Lace up your snow boots for winter rail adventure in Alaska
Snow comes early and stays late in Alaska's interior, creating a winter wonderland to view from the warmth of rail cars. (Richard Kelly / Alaska Railroad)

The Alaska Railroad is revving up for winter service, increasing the number of trains for the fifth year in a row.

The biggest bump in service will occur in March, when the railroad will offer service six days a week along the 360-mile line between Anchorage and Fairbanks.

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The Aurora Winter Train will add a northbound journey on Thursdays and a southbound trip on Fridays between Feb. 28 and March 29. That will be in addition to northbound trains on Saturdays and Tuesdays, returning to Anchorage on Sundays and Wednesdays.

More trains will also be added around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

With Denali, the continent's highest mountain peak, dominating the backdrop, the Aurora Winter Train plies its 360-mile route between Anchorage and Fairbanks.
With Denali, the continent's highest mountain peak, dominating the backdrop, the Aurora Winter Train plies its 360-mile route between Anchorage and Fairbanks. (Kevin Burkholder / Alaska Railroad)

Gone are summer’s double-decker rail cars with their wraparound windows upstairs for taking in the spectacular scenery. Cars on the winter train are slightly more utilitarian, with only one class of service from late September to early May.

But plenty of sightseeing still awaits.

The white backdrop of snow means better chances for spotting wildlife such as moose. And clearer skies during the cold months provide better odds of spotting Denali, formerly Mt. McKinley, North America’s highest mountain peak at 20,310 feet in elevation.

A dining car provides breakfast, lunch and dinner — with meals prepared on board — throughout the year.

One-way fares on the Aurora Train from Anchorage to Fairbanks cost $200, half that for kids 2-11 and seniors 65 and older.

Passengers exit the Anchorage depot in preparation for boarding the Alaska Winter Train. The journey north to Fairbanks takes nearly 12 hours.
Passengers exit the Anchorage depot in preparation for boarding the Alaska Winter Train. The journey north to Fairbanks takes nearly 12 hours. (Jay Jones)

Fairbanks is buzzing in winter. The bitterly-cold temperatures are perfect for hosting an ice sculpture park. And Alaska’s interior boasts terrific opportunities to view the northern lights.

The train trip to Fairbanks takes 11.5 hours, so travelers often opt to take the train one way and fly back.

Visitors who don’t want to go all the way to Fairbanks can consider overnighting in Talkeetna, a rustic town in the shadow of Denali National Park. A variety of indoor and outdoor pursuits await year-round, such as flightseeing trips to Denali.

Info: Aurora Winter Train, (800) 544-0552

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