Why This Trip?
This trip offers the opportunity to ride the renowned Alaska Railroad between Alaska’s 2 most populous cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks and to see one of the most visited National Parks (Denali) and the 2 of the least visited National Parks in Alaska (Kobuk Valley and Gates of the Arctic).
If you choose this itinerary between mid-August and mid-September, it also offers a great chance to see the northern lights from above the Arctic Circle!
A potential view of Mt. Denali from Talkeetna is a highlight no matter what time of year.
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Arrive in Anchorage and head to the Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria for a pie and brew….you won’t be sorry! To work off what you just ate and drank, join the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail at any point of its 11 miles along the west side of the city between Kincaid Park (just south of Ted Stevens International Airport) and 2nd & H St (just past the Capt. Cook Monument). You will get incredible views of downtown Anchorage, the Chugach Mountains, Denali (on a clear day), Mount Susitna (Sleeping Lady), and Fire Island. Head back to your hotel for a good night’s sleep to prepare for tomorrow’s 8:20am departure to Talkeetna on the Alaska Railroad.
Pictured: View from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
Anchorage to Talkeetna by Train
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Leave Anchorage on the 8:20 Denali Star train and arrive in Talkeetna at 11:05am. Head over to Main St. The Roadhouse is always open for a quick baked snack or stop into Nagley’s Store for a sandwich and fresh coffee. Main St also has a number of specialty shops where you can buy soaps, salves, teas, jewelry, knives, clothing & photos. At one end of Main St is City Park (across from Nagley’s Store) and at the other end on the banks of the Susitna River is Riverfront Park, where on a clear day, you can get a stunning view of Denali!
Pictured: View of Mt. Foraker, Mt. Hunter, and Mt. Denali from Riverfront Park in Talkeetna
Morning in Talkeetna, Train to Denali
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Stop into the Roadhouse one more time for some sweet breakfast treats before heading over to the Talkeetna depot for an 11:20am train departure for Denali. Arrive in Denali at 3:55pm. Most Denali hotels provide transfers form the rail depot, so look for your hotel shuttle in the parking lot. Check into your hotel and head out for dinner. There are quite a few dining options in Glitter Gulch (The Denali Boardwalk), so walk around and enjoy! And be sure to pick up some to-go sandwiches, chips and a drink for tomorrow’s trip into Denali. If you’re not sure where to go, ask your hotel, they often help arranged picnic lunches. There are no restaurants inside the park, so you’ll want to be prepared!
Pictured: Talkeetna Roadhouse at sunrise
Full Day in Denali
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Arrive at the park for a full day in beautiful Denali! Because of the Pretty Rocks rockslide, there are only 2 bus options for 2022. The Denali Natural History Tour travels to Primrose Ridge (Mile 17), is 4 ½ -5 hours and focuses on the natural and cultural history of the park. The Tundra Wilderness Tour travels to Murie Cabin near the East Fork River (Mile 43) and is 5 to 5 ½ hours r/t. The Kantishna Experience is 11-12 hours r/t, travels 92.5 miles to “The End Of The Road” but is not available in 2022 because of the slide. Fingers crossed it will resume in 2023!
There are also trails that start near the visitor center and are well worth exploring. The Mount Healy Trail is 2.7 miles (one way) and takes visitors part of the way up Mount Healy, a small mountain overlooking the entrance to the park. It is one of the steepest trails near the park entrance,but the view from the top is worth the effort! The other trail is the Horseshoe Lake Trail and is a 2 mile loop around the lake that provides views of beaver dams and Glitter Gulch as you skirt the Nenana River.
Pictured: View from Mt. Healy Overlook Trail
Day in Denali, Train to Fairbanks
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The train doesn’t leave for Fairbanks until 4:10pm, so the day is open. The sled dog kennels are a perfect way to spend an hour or two and demonstrations are offered 3 times a day in peak season (June 1 - early September). Or take a walk through the dog yard on your own to see the canines up close and talk to the rangers about the work the sled dogs do to protect the wilderness. Head to the train depot for your 4:10pm departure to Fairbanks. Keep yourself near a window as you leave Denali and head through Healy Canyon…you won’t be disappointed! Arrive in Fairbanks at 8pm. Many Fairbanks hotels provide shuttles from the rail depot. Find yours and get a good night sleep for a busy day tomorrow!
Pictured: Denali sled dog kennels
Fly Fairbanks to Bettles
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Arrive at Warbelow’s Air Ventures (on the backside of Fairbanks International Airport) at 12pm for a 1pm departure to Bettles. Arrive in Bettles around 2:15 and check in to your room in the historic Bettles Lodge or in the Aurora Lodge right next door. The afternoon can be spent exploring nearby Evansville, the Koyukuk River or meandering down to Vor Lake. Dinner will be served at the lodge, so bring your appetite!
Pictured: Floatplane on Vor Lake
Day Trip from Bettles to Gates of the Arctic & Kobuk Valley National Parks
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Today arrange a fly-out day trip from Bettles. First, fly into Gates of the Arctic National Park and land on a gravel bar on the Noatak River to experience the beauty of the Arctic from the ground. And if weather allows, fly over the Arrigetch Peaks. These granite peaks are one of the wonders of Gates of the Arctic National Park and are spectacular from the air! Continue on to Kobuk Valley National Park and the Great Sand Dunes. Fly over the park before landing on the sand dunes and explore the area for an hour or two. The flight back to Bettles is about 2 hours, so buckle up and get your camera ready for some amazing landscapes! And maybe spot some moose, caribou or bear!
Pictured: Kobuk Valley Sand Dunes
Day 8 Fly from Bettles to Fairbanks, Catch Return Flight Home
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Pack up and bid farewell to Bettles! Fly back to Fairbanks with Warbelow’s to catch your flight home from the Fairbanks International Airport.