It’s no secret that we love travelling by train! We’ve made many train trips over the years, but our journey on the Alaska Railroad was the most scenic train trip we’ve been on so far.
Our ride on the McKinley Explorer was part of our Alaska cruise. We chose an itinerary that had a land tour following the cruise, so that we could see as much of Alaska as possible. After two nights near Denali National Park, we boarded a train for the incredibly scenic journey back to Anchorage.
Our Journey on the McKinley Explorer
The McKinley Explorer was so much more than just a way to get from point-A to B. It was an experience in itself.
I was pleasantly impressed with how luxurious the train was. The seats were spacious and comfortable, not like on an airplane. We received first-class service from the railcar attendant who was selling snacks and drinks, and learned a lot about Alaska from our railcar’s host/commentator.
Not only luxurious, the train was perfect for sightseeing! Seating was on the upper deck and the large, glass-domed rail cars allowed for sweeping views of the passing scenery.
Even in the dining room on the lower level, the windows were still large enough to easily enjoy the views, while also enjoying a delicious lunch.
As comfortable as the train was, I ended up spending probably 98% of the journey standing on the outdoor platform at the back of the train. It was such a warm, sunny day, with a beautiful blue sky, that I couldn’t justify being inside all day.
From the platform at the back of the train I was able to get some fabulous photos. So much of photography is about good timing, and this is especially true when photographing from a moving train. I found it exciting to anticipate just the right moment to press the shutter, capturing the beautiful landscape before me.
We passed by snow-capped mountains, alpine meadows, lakes, rivers and lush forests. I felt pretty special getting to experience these landscapes since many areas we passed through aren’t accessible by road.
The most memorable part of our ride on the Alaska Railroad was the clear views we had of Denali (Mt. McKinley) for a large portion of our journey. We were extremely lucky because apparently only 30% of visitors are lucky enough to see the entire mountain free from cloud cover!
I honestly can’t help but gush about how wonderful our trip on the McKinley Explorer was. I was enthralled the entire time and smiled for hours after we got to Anchorage. Months after the fact, I still smile when I think about it! The spectacular scenery, coupled with the beautiful weather, made this Alaska Railroad experience something I will remember forever.
Scenery Along the Alaska Railroad
I had so much fun taking pictures from the back of the train during our ride on the McKinley Explorer. I came home with so many pictures and even more great memories. Here are a selection of photos from our ride along the Alaska Railroad. Enjoy!
Tips for Riding the McKinley Explorer
- The McKinley Explorer offers service between Anchorage and Denali.
- Most passengers that travel on the McKinley Explorer are part of a cruise line tour, as Holland America and Princess Cruises operate the railcars. When extra space is available, reservations are offered to independent travellers.
- The McKinley Explorer is not to be confused with Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star. Although they run almost the same route (Denali Star goes all the way to Fairbanks), they are different trains and operate on a different schedule.
- On the upper level, there is full bar service and snacks available for purchase. Downstairs there are restrooms and a dining room. Your railcar attendant will ask you to select a time to dine, since the restaurant can only accommodate a small amount of passengers at a time. The food served is freshly prepared on board and many dishes include local Alaskan ingredients.
- Seating is upstairs and the large, glass-dome windows run the full length of the car, so every seat is great for sightseeing. There are also foot rests and fold down tray tables to make your journey more comfortable.
- Both levels of the McKinley Explorer are wheelchair accessible.
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