The Alaska Railroad
Anchorage to Denali National Park
June 4, 2016 •

Today we would take the railroad --- the Alaska Railroad, about 240 miles north to the small town of Denali Park, which sits east of the Denali National Park boundary. The ride itself would take about 8 hours, since the train usually rumbles along at about 50 miles per hour, with stops along the way. I believe this is the first time I have ever taken a train within the United States, not counting metro-trains in the big cities.

From our hotel, the train station was juts a short walk, and we were there about 6:30 a.m., getting our bags checked. We boarded a little after 7, then started the journey. The route goes northeast to Wasilla, then west, then north, following the Susitna River for most of the way. I learned (as did everyone else) that "na" is a common suffix, the Athabaskan word for "river", so "Susitna River" is actually a little redundant.

The scenery was amazing. We had great views of the majestic Chugach Mountains at first. Then there was a boring stretch around Wasilla. Once on the Susitna, we had the river to one side, steep verdant slopes to the other. Occasionally, the train would cross these large rivers over giant arch bridges. The engineers would slow down to allow us to take photographs. We saw a lot of wildlife, too, including moose, swans and caribou ... but no bears.

The train stopped for about ten minutes in Talkeetna, and as we headed north, the peaks grew in size, but unfortunately, the biggest peaks, including Denali itself, we hidden in the clouds. They say it's like this 90% of the time.

We arrived in Denali Park about 4 p.m., where we were shuttled to our hotel. Later, my dad and I walked into town. The town here is purely to serve tourists. It boards up between October and April. Healy, the closest real town, is about 20 miles north. Fairbanks was still another hundred miles away. This set a record for me: the farthest north I have ever been (GPS Image)

The weather here was cool, with highs in the low 50s, and cloudy, but calm, too. Big Mount Healy rose to the west, its summit barely poking the cloud ceiling.

I had thoughts of quickly "bagging" a peak while here, but I realized very quickly that in Alaska, there is no such thing as "quickie peakbagging". The upper ridges of the peaks are rocky arete, surrounded by long scree slopes. The lower slopes are covered in extremely dense vegetation, the kind that grows 10 feet high and would require a machete to bash through. The vegetation can hide beasts like moose and bears. This is the major leagues up here. I loved every minute of it.

Boarding the train in Anchorage.

The Anchorage sign.

Dad in Talkeetna.

View of the Alaskan Range.

Whimsical sign.

Dad, with Mount Healy in the back.

At the Denali Park Station before we depart (June 6th)

The train shows up.

Sherman City Hall.

June 3: Hike of Flattop MountainJune 5: Bus Tour of Denali National Park.

(c) 2015 Scott Surgent.