Midnight Sun Express
If you would rather take in spectacular scenery and don't mind leaving the driving to the conductor, I highly recommend taking a rail trip up to Denali Park. Princess Tours offers passage on its super luxury double-decker rail cars that are pulled by the Alaska Railroad engines. Much of the rail line runs on its own path away from the highway system. So even if you have taken the drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park and Preserve you will see new scenic views on the train.
You will need to buy tickets in advance for this trip. Click here to jump to the vendor directory to find the contact information. Once you are in Anchorage you will need to find the train station. Take the new Seward Highway or Minnesota all the way downtown (north). If you take the New Seward, it will turn into Ingra and will go all the way to first avenue. Make a left on First Avenue and watch for a two story white building on the right. Parking must be purchased on the left side of First Avenue. If you come downtown by way of Minnesota, it will turn into L Street. When you reach third avenue, turn right. At the next block, turn left on Christianson (H street turns into Christianson). Christianson will wind its way down and end at First Avenue. Turn right and watch for the white two story train depot on the left.
The Midnight Sun Express cars are made up of two levels. The top level is the passenger area where we spend most of the ride. The top level is almost entirely a glass dome, so it is as though we were sitting in a solarium watching the scenery go by. There is a bar on this level that sells drinks, but provides tea, coffee and water for free. It is a bit crowded when the train is full, with limited areas for stowing bags. We recommend bringing only a small suitcase or backpack on board. There are storage compartments for larger bags or backpacks, but they are not accessible once we are underway.
The bottom level features the dining area, gift shop and an outdoor viewing deck. The viewing deck is extremely noisy and it is difficult to see very much as it is more enclosed that the solarium on top, but it provides opportunities for taking pictures without the risk of reflection in the glass. The cost of the round trip tickets varies depending on the time of year. Rates are posted at the Princess website www.princessalaskalodges.com.
The lodging at the Denali Princess Lodge was not what I expected from Princess. It is comfortable, but not as cozy as I had hoped. The outdoor hot tubs were a nice touch, and we even got snowed on while sitting in them one morning in mid-September, 2000. If I were to do this adventure again, I would probably prefer to take the rail car up, but then camp in one of the campgrounds. Shuttles take guests from the lodge over to the Park Headquarters where camping permits can be purchased and shuttles arranged out into the park.
During the rail ride we did not spot any game, but did see some crested mergansers and swans. But the views of Mt. McKinley both on the way up and on the way back were the best I have ever seen! Mt. McKinley is often difficult to see because it is so large it generates its own cloud cover often obstructing views even on clear days. But we had some spectacular weather both going up and coming back to Anchorage, so we were just in heaven as we moved from good views to even better views along the route.
Some may want to stay in Talkeetna, and the railroad makes a stop here, too. Princess passengers stay at the Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge. This is the town that the television series Northern Exposure was pattered after, and where it was originally filmed until the weather became "too freakin' cold." And ladies, if you are looking for a husband, there is only one woman for every thirty three men in Talkeetna. You know what they say about Alaskan men, don't you? "The odds are good, but the goods are odd."
While we stayed at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge we took two tours that can be arranged through the lodge. If you like horseback riding, click here to jump to the Denali Saddle Safaris tour. If you are interested in going into Denali National Park, click here to jump to the Denali Park page.
Last Visited: September 2000