Thanks to the Alaska Railroad, I recently enjoyed a wonderful trip to our northernmost state which included not only trains, but a few buses and planes as well. While visiting Alaska in the winter may seem a bit foreboding, having the right gear makes sightseeing in negative-Fahrenheit temperatures bearable, and actually enjoyable. Though the snowy landscape is quite beautiful, most make the winter trek to catch the aurora borealis – or as is more commonly known, the northern lights. Heading up to the Arctic Circle yields the best views of the lights, and that is where I wound up for part of my adventure.
The railroad doesn’t offer too many trains in the winter, but I did get a chance to ride the Aurora Winter train (don’t worry, I’ll be going back in September to ride all the rest of the trains). Similar to Amtrak’s Vacations, the Alaska Railroad offers travel packages that include rail and other tours. I opted for their Arctic Circle Adventure Package, which included the train trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks, and a bus/plane journey up the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle.
If you’ve seen the show Ice Road Truckers, you may be familiar with the Dalton Highway. The show’s third through sixth seasons feature the highway, which runs just north of Fairbanks up to the Arctic Ocean and Prudhoe Bay in the north – a 414-mile journey. Our first day consisted of traveling to Coldfoot (Mile 175), where we spent two nights and would be our jumping-off point. The second day took us further north on the highway, through the route’s highest elevation – Atigun Pass (Mile 244) – and to the North Slope, offering a beautiful view of the Brooks Range. Both nights consisted of aurora watching, the first of which was at a cabin in the small former mining community of Wiseman – population 14.
Before sharing the photos I took on the train, I figured I’d share the ones from the Arctic. Much of the vista is similar to what is seen from the train, with the exception of the trucks and the Trans Alaska Pipeline running parallel. For anyone else out there feeling adventurous, I’d certainly recommend the railroad’s Arctic Circle Adventure Package, with a couple nights at the hot springs outside of Fairbanks… it was great fun. I can’t wait until September, and my next trip to Alaska.