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Wandering along the clean paved streets of Anchorage it’s hard to imagine that mere minutes out of the city is the kind of scenery that makes you gasp out loud.
But then, this is Alaska. State of majestic mountains and a million lakes (or is that 5 million?!). Where “big” is an understatement and “beautiful” doesn’t quite cut it.
Our Kenai/Seward side trip started in the eerie half-light that is typical of an Alaskan dawn in September. We had heard the train whistle from our hotel a few blocks away and despite having plenty of time before check-in, hurried down the hill in anticipation, vouchers at the ready.
The Coastal Classic
The Alaskan Railroad’s Coastal Classic route meanders from Anchorage down the Kenai Peninsula to Seward, one of the main Inside Passage cruise departure ports. An experience rather than just a mode of transport, the 4-hour journey through the Chugach National Forest takes more than double the time you could drive it by car, but is by no means boring.
We follow the road for a while, but it’s not long before the back-yard float planes in Anchorage’s outer suburbs give way to the glassy waters of the Cook Inlet’s Turnagain Arm (beautifully framed by those majestic mountains I was talking about). We have Goldstar tickets, and the cute pin that goes with them, so are among the first downstairs for breakfast – a sumptuous champagne laced affair of cinnamon toast, fresh fruit and reindeer sausage that we struggle to finish. It’s not quite 8am and I’m already in trouble for spending too much time with my camera lens glued to the window.
After breakfast – and a brief and bewildering moose sighting – we leave the road to head into the lush rainforest that covers much of the peninsula. The 5.6 million acre Chugach National Forest is the northern-most range of the country’s temperate rainforest that stretches all the way down to San Francisco and is a startling contrast to the peat bogs we have been travelling through until now.
Entering the mountainous forest, the picturesque sounds are replaced by rushing streams and grand waterfalls, and it’s here that we get our first glimpse of glacial ice. The train slows in anticipation and the crew direct us to the best vantage for photos. In addition to vertical panorama windows, Goldstar service passengers have access to open-air viewing platforms and these alone make it worth the upgrade from Adventure Class.
The ride itself is comfortable and fairly laid-back. Passengers are free to wander around the carriage and I find myself hopping back and forth across the aisle to appreciate all I can as around every corner is a fresh and spectacular view. The crew are laid-back too. Happy to stop for a chat with typical Alaskan friendliness and always willing to share an interesting fact or point out something we may have missed otherwise.
By the time we pull into Seward we’re feeling relaxed and ready for our next adventure. Arriving at around 11am, the train has a 7-hour layover before heading back to Anchorage so there’s plenty of time to explore the area or head out into Resurrection Bay on one of the day-cruises, which is what we have planned. It’s an easy and enjoyable day trip from Alaska’s biggest city, or if you’re heading South to catch a ship, infinitely more enjoyable than a cruise shuttle!
What you need to know
The state-owned Alaska Railroad operates year-round, with services throughout South-central and the Interior of Alaska. Not all services run at all times, so it pays to check their schedules.
As well as the Coastal Classic from Anchorage to Seward, they also operate popular tourist services into Talkeetna and Denali National Park, a Glacier Discovery Train to the Portage Glacier, and the Aurora Winter train.
Fares start from under USD $100 per person, with discounts for children aged 2-11 years. Extra value tickets are available for travel at the beginning and end of the summer season (May / September).
Anita | Burgess Travellers
Anita Burgess is in the business of making memorable family moments. Soccer mum, travel broker & writer, she’s happiest with a camera in her hand and the sand between her toes. Find insider travel tips and inspiration for your memorable moments on her blog, Burgess Travellers, or get in touch if you’re ready to make your holiday happen.
DISCLAIMER: I was hosted in Alaska on a travel agent FAM trip. However, all opinions expressed in this article are my own and are not in any way influenced by my hosts. This post may contain affiliate links for products I love. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. All affiliate products and companies are recommended by Burgess Travel Co and may or may not be products used by the featured traveller. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.