There’s little argument that Alaska is one of the best places in the United States to catch sight of the aurora borealis—whimsical dancing lights caused by the interaction of charged particles from the sun in the earth’s upper atmosphere. While the conditions have to be just right for this phenomenon to occur, the dark, clear winter nights of America’s “Last Frontier” may offer the best stage. Thanks to the state’s sprawling stretches of unspoiled wilderness, getting back in touch with nature and social distancing is a snap. This winter, the Alaska Railroad offers an array of experiences and packages so guests can enjoy those snow-covered landscapes and endlessly starry nights, all from the comfort of a modern train car.
First opened in 1914, the Alaska Railroad extends from Seward to Whittier in the south of the state to Fairbanks (via Anchorage) and onward to Fort Wainwright in the interior. With a mainline over 650 miles in length, it’s more than feasible to take a week to explore all the exciting stops along the way, including the natural wonders of Kenai Fjords National Park and Denali National Park—home to Denali, the highest peak in North America.
One of the most popular experiences on offer this season is the aptly named Aurora Package. This six-night journey, available starting in March 2021, begins in Anchorage, with the option to wander the many downtown shops and restaurants. After boarding the Aurora Winter Train, guests are whisked north to the charming town of Talkeetna while taking in spectacular mountain views along the way. Once there, visitors can tack on a flightseeing excursion of the Alaska Range. Other highlights of the journey include dog sledding with an Iditarod champion kennel, a guided tour of Fairbanks, late-night hunting for the aurora borealis, and soaking in the Chena Hot Springs.
The Alaska Railroad also offers shorter excursions of Denali, and the Northern Lights are, for example, just a small part of a more extensive vacation. The best way to describe the one-night Winter Escape might be to call it the “fun-sized” version of the Aurora Package. Similarly, guests depart Anchorage aboard the Aurora Winter Train, but instead of stopping in Talkeetna, it chugs right along to Fairbanks. Passengers can still take spectacular views of Denali National Park during the all-day journey and pass the evening unwinding under the stars. Spend the following day exploring the city. As part of the package, participants can catch an evening flight back to Anchorage to round out a genuinely scenic weekend getaway.