We chose the McKinley Explorer train as our form of transportation from Denali to Anchorage. We had taken the highway up to Denali but wanted a more relaxing, scenic route for our return trip. It was the perfect way to end our Alaska vacation.
The McKinley Explorer dome railcar is available for Holland America and Princess Cruise vacationers. However, when space is available, anyone can join in for the ride. In fact, we did not book through either of those companies. (You can book on www.AlaskaTrain.com)
The McKinley Explorer train is different from the other railway services in Alaska. It leaves a little later than other trains. Also, it does not provide service to Fairbanks like the Alaska railway does.
When we arrived to the train station, we were greeted by the staff onboard.
The staff assisted us with our luggage and invited us onboard to find our reserved seats. As soon as we entered the first level of the McKinley Explorer train, we entered a sitting area with a TV displaying a map of our intended journey.
Further into the railcar, there was a decent sized, clean bathroom on one side and a smaller one across from it.
Then, you enter the dining area of the train. It is set up with tables covered in white tablecloths and a flower on each. More on this later!
Upstairs is where the reserved seats are.
I found my seat to be comfortable. There is bar service on this level that offers Coke products, beer, cocktails, and wine. I chose Coke. Chris liked his Moose Mary, their version of the bloody mary.
We were the first onboard and only a few others joined us at the Denali stop on our trip south.
As the McKinley Explorer train started off on its journey, the tour commentator explained the services offered on the train ride. Food and drink services were available on both the bottom and top levels of the railcar. Gift shop items were available for purchase but I was not impressed by the selection.
The breakfast options sounded so delicious (flapjacks!), but, as we were just getting started, I did not want to miss any of the amazing 360 degree views provided by the large glass windows.
I was excited to look for wildlife and was told the train would slow or stop if wildlife was spotted. Chris saw a moose (I missed it), and other than a few swans and eagles, we didn’t see much wildlife.
This is the melting glacier water mixing with the river near Denali.
Each railcar has their own commentator.
I think ours was the BEST. He had been a teacher in the northernmost city of Barrow. He had so many stories to tell about living in Alaska and even brought a picture book of some of his highlights living in the area.
One of my favorite views was that of the tallest peak in North America, Denali. Lucky for us, we had amazing views of the mountain. In fact, even the train’s employees were coming out snapping pictures. Some said it was the best view they had EVER seen. I loved that as we ventured south, we could see different angles of Denali.
All of the views were amazing!
There were several areas with evidence of the effects of permafrost. That’s what makes the trees unequal in height even though they are the same age. The frozen ground prevents some from growing.
Then, lunch was offered in the dining room downstairs.
Luckily, we could still see the Alaska countryside while we ate. Lunch is my favorite meal of the day and I will be honest in saying that I had trouble deciding what I wanted to eat. I started off with a side salad (the dressing is SO yummy!). For our meal, Chris chose the fish tacos and I had the turkey club. The presentation and taste were superb.
Then, the moment we had been waiting for. Dessert.
I wanted one of each. Chris thought we could share one dessert. What was he thinking?! That idea was quickly abandoned and we chose the warm chocolate chip cookies and ice cream and the Fruits of the Forest Pie. I loved the taste of both. Chris wasn’t a fan of the rhubarb pie so I pretty much ate it by myself AND I ate one of his cookies! (Did I mention that he had ate ALL prior week on the cruise while I drank my Isagenix shakes to make sure my wedding dress fit perfect?!)
While the train was moving we were able to walk freely between the railcars.
There were a total of 4 on our trip back to Anchorage. We did have to climb up and down the stairs of the railcars to avoid walking through the kitchen. At the end of each railcar there is a viewing platform. We preferred the railcar at the end to see all the unimpeded views.
Don’t forget to take a picture of the sign about the highest point on the Alaska Railroad. The area is called Broad Pass and is at 2,363 feet.
Another good picture, just north of Talkeetna, is the Hurricane Gulch bridge. It’s a whopping 296 feet above the creek!
In Talkeetna we picked up a whole heaping bunch of riders. Many of them looked to be from the Holland cruise line as we saw many with their paperwork. Luckily, our railcar was not as full as many of the others.
When we were getting closer to Anchorage, there was an announcement for last call for food. I just HAD to try the Railway Nachos with the reindeer chili. They did not disappoint! There was plenty of room to eat them in my seat using the fold down tray table so that I did not miss the commentary regarding the biggest earthquake in Alaska.
When our journey on the McKinley Explorer train was over, we took a bus over to the taxi area where we made our way to the airport.