Denali to Fairbanks

Denali Park Fairbanks Train

Alaska Railroad Denali Park to Fairbanks

Mile 1.25 Denali Park Road, 99755
1745 Johansen Expressway, 99701
4:00 PM
8:00 PM
4 hours
122 miles
Denali Star
Adventure Class, GoldStar, Wilderness Express
Grab ‘N Go, Sit Down Dining
May 10 to September 16, 2023
$85 Adventure, $194 GoldStar, $135 WEX
$43 Adventure, $114 Goldstar, $68 WEX
Schedule, Rates, Faqs, BOOK NOW

Most hotels in Denali Park offer transfers to the rail depot, although some do charge for the service. Check with the front desk for timing as well as luggage instructions as many hotels transfer people and luggage in separate vehicles. The Denali train depot is located just over a mile inside the Park entrance. Check in at the main depot building, then wait in the designated area which will vary depending on your assigned train car and class of service. Dress for a moderate wait outdoors, although there are some covered shelters in the case of rain.

Immediately after departing the Denali depot, you will cross the Denali Park road which runs 90 miles to the historic mining district of Kantishna. During the summer months public traffic into the Park is restricted past mile 15, so most visitors take tour or shuttle buses down this road to explore Denali. Look off to your right after crossing the Park road and you will see Horseshoe Lake, and shortly thereafter you begin to follow the Nenana River. Many of the lodges located in the Denali Canyon area (one mile north of the Park entrance) will now come into view. If you look high up on the hillside across the river and highway, you will see the large green roofed Grande Denali Lodge, with its sister property, the Denali Bluffs Hotel, lower and to the right. The Denali Princess Lodge, the largest hotel in Alaska, is located in the foreground on the banks of the Nenana River with red roofs, and the last major hotel you pass to the north is the McKinley Chalet Resort.

You are now entering the Nenana River canyon gorge, one of the most scenic portions of the train trip from Denali to Fairbanks. The 150 mile long Nenana River is a tributary of the Tanana River, and also serves as the eastern boundary for Denali National Park. Rafters from Denali Park who choose the “whitewater” rafting option will travel down this exciting canyon section with class III and class IV rapids. As you leave the gorge and Denali National Park behind, you will cross under the George Parks Highway at Windy Bridge. This 215 foot long highway bridge is the highest in Alaska. About 10 miles after leaving the Denali train depot, you will arrive at the small Alaska mining community of Healy.

Healy has just under 1000 residents, and the main employer is the Usibelli Coal Mine, the only active coal mining operation in Alaska, producing over 2 million tons of coal annually. About half of this is shipped to Seward via the Alaska Railroad for export, while the rest is used in state. You will also pass by the large white structure of the Healy Clean Coal plant which was completed in 1997. The plant has been dormant since 2000 due to legal and operating issues, although recent progress has been made to restart the plant.

You will continue to follow the Nenana River for the next 30 miles, crossing to the east side of the river near Ferry. During the next section, you will see what might be described as large outdoor movie theater screens. These are actually part of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System at Clear Air Force Base… one of only three in the world. From Clear it is less than 20 miles to the town of Nenana, located on the confluence of the Nenana and Tanana Rivers.

Nenana was originally an Athabascan Village, later an Alaska Railroad construction camp, and today remains an important hub for delivering goods up and down the region’s waterways, including the Yukon River. As you roll through town, you can see the black and white striped tripod that is used in the Nenana Ice Classic, a popular contest to guess when the river ice will break free in the spring. In recent years, winners have split a pot of over $300,000. As you head out of town you will cross over the Tanana River on a 700 foot long steel bridge, one of the longest single span bridges in the world, as well as the site where President Warren G Harding drove in the final ceremonial gold spike in 1923 commemorating the completion of the Alaska Railroad.

Fairbanks is just over 50 miles away, and along the way you will roll through part of the historic gold mining districts that surround Fairbanks. Much of this area was served by the original Tanana Valley Railroad… a narrow gauge railroad that operated from 1905 to 1917, before declaring bankruptcy and being purchased by the Alaska Railroad.

As you arrive into the Fairbanks depot, you have reached the northern end of the mainline of the Alaska Railroad… the northernmost railway in North America. Many hotels like Pike’s Waterfront Lodge and the River’s Edge Resort offer shuttles from the depot, and there is typically a line of taxis waiting as the train arrives. Enjoy your stay in the “Golden Heart” city… cruise on a sternwheeler down the Chena River, try your hand panning for gold, take a city tour, or visit the excellent museum at the University of Alaska. If you are looking to head further north, local tour operators will take you to the Arctic Circle (120 miles to the north), or all the way to the Arctic Ocean in Barrow or Prudhoe Bay. You can read more about Fairbanks here, and just let us know if we can help you with booking Fairbanks hotels, tours or trips to the Alaska Arctic.