One of the many reasons to travel by rail in Alaska is that much of the track goes through landscapes only train passengers ever get to see. One of those sections lies on this four-hour route from Talkeetna north to the Denali Park area. Upon leaving the Talkeetna Depot, the train makes its way along the Susitna River, heading deep into a valley on the border of Denali State Park. After about 60 scenic miles of remote travel, the track crosses the Parks Highway. From here, it winds a path through scraggly tundra forest and rocky river banks before pulling into the depot within Denali National Park.
Much of the track running through remote landscapes.
McKinley Explorer train cars have two levels. All passengers sit in the upper deck. Seats are equipped with footrests and fold-down tray tables. Large curved dome windows run the entire length of the car, providing beautiful wide-open views of the passing landscape from every seat.
On the first level, passengers have access to an observation lounge and private dining area. Lunch is served on this route. The menu includes sandwiches, locally-inspired dishes like Alaska Fish Tacos and Seared Wild Salmon Quinoa Salad, and several enticing desserts. Passengers can expect to pay $12 to $16 for lunch. Additional snacks, drinks, and treats are available in the upper level dome bar.
McKinley Explorer cars are operated by Holland America Line and Princess Cruises. Many passengers on these railcars are part of cruise line group tours, but reservations are offered to independent travelers as well. The route's 12:35 PM departure from Talkeetna makes the McKinley Explorer a good choice for travelers booked on morning tours in the area.
What to Bring
Bring a camera, medications, and government issued photo ID. Bring a credit card for additional onboard purchases (cash not accepted). It is a good idea to dress in layers as it is often chilly on the outside viewing platform.
Check in at the depot with a valid government issued photo ID one hour prior to departure. Boarding passes with seat assignments will be issued then. The McKinley Explorer offers checked baggage service. Passengers are allowed two checked bags plus one carry on, with dimension and weight restrictions like those of airlines. The railroad charges $20 per item for oversized or excess baggage.
Many Talkeetna area hotels and tour operators provide transportation to the Talkeetna Depot. Upon arrival into Denali Park, guests are met at the depot by local hotel and lodge shuttles.