Getting to Denali National park on the Alaska railroad is nearly as much fun as being there. As the train travels from Anchorage to Denali, the huge windows allow for endless viewing of nature’s unfolding masterpiece. Similarly, the return train from Denali to Anchorage brought the same emotional blend of elation and serenity.
Goldstar service passengers are seated in upper-level, luxury, full-dome rail cars, allowing us to become part of the scenery with 360º views, rather than just enjoying the view. And a private outdoor area just adds to the luxury.
With private cars complete with reclining seats and a small tended bar, the Goldstar service all includes priority seating in the dining car and your meals. But it was not cheap. The question we are often asked remains, “Was the Alaska Railroad Goldstar service worth the money?”
And the short answer is that it really depends.
The train from Anchorage to Denali
The Alaska Railway has several schedules. We took the Denali Star. The train runs in both directions with several stops as follows:
While one can purchase tickets from any starting destination to any other destination, the most popular routes amongst Alaska tourists stop in Denali. We opted to take the train from Anchorage to Denali and then days later, back to Anchorage.
If we were doing it all again, I would have flown into Fairbanks, taken the train to Denali, and finally gone on to Anchorage.
My time would have been split to include about 2-3 nights in Fairbanks, 3-4 nights in Denali, and 3-5 nights in Anchorage before journeying to Whittier cruise port to board our Alaska cruise along the interior passage.
Our train from Denali to Anchorage
While Denali is breathtaking in its own right, the 7-hour train ride between it and Anchorage is nearly equal. For us, the weather was nicer on the way back, which is why my focus seems to be on that journey. Plus, if you follow our suggestion above, you will be on the train from Fairbanks to Denali, and then from Denali to Anchorage.
Unfortunately for us, the weather never cleared quite enough for us to see Denali from the train, although many passengers do get this honor. Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America was previously named Mt McKinley, ergo the name of the national park and the region.
Images from the Anchorage to Denali train
Here are some of my favorite shots, a mix of both directions.
- Blue sky indicates we are traveling on the train from Denali to Anchorage.
- If the clouds are dominant, we are on the Anchorage to Denali train.
Adventure class vs Goldstar service
We opted for Goldstar service in both directions, however, I would make a different choice today.
Take a look at the dome car of Goldstar service, and you will see the immediate attraction to it.
Advantages and disadvantages of Goldstar service
- With the trees and mountains growing up all around us, there is really no better way to enjoy them than the dome car. Plus, the seats are comfortable, the train is relaxing, and there is an outdoor area at the back of the car.
- You are seated higher up.
- A meal is included in the dining car.
- Drinks are available in the dome car.
- If you are like me, you want clear photos. Although washed often, as we travel the roof windows get dirtier than the sides. Therefore, I stood outside for all of my photos. In fact, I spent over half the ride outdoors.
- You need to walk down a short flight of stairs on a moving train to get to the bathrooms or the dining car.
Advantages and disadvantages of Adventure Class
- The obvious advantage will be felt in your pocketbook. While I am pretty sure the incremental difference was much smaller when we went, today it costs nearly twice as much for Goldstar service.
- Adventure class cars have huge windows too, just not a glass dome top. However, the train does offer a partial dome car for all passengers to share, offering better views with a twenty-minute rotation time, so everyone who wants a turn can have one.
- High ceilings, comfortable seats, plenty of legroom, and lots of room for hand luggage make this “coach” feel quite a bit nicer than “standard”.
- Adventure Class cars are single level and most have restrooms.
- No need to climb down any stairs to get to the dining car.
- If you want outdoor photos, there are limited opportunities.
- If you suffer from FOMO, you might have a false sense that you missed out, but you didn’t.
Practical information on travel to Denali
- Other travel options from Denali to Anchorage include the bus, private flight, or private vehicles. After talking with other travelers, we believe the train to be the most relaxing and beautiful way to travel. Although renting a private vehicle is less expensive (especially for four people), it offers the flexibility to stop at some of the smaller towns along the way.
- Denali is an outdoor paradise with plenty of things to see. Unlike anywhere else we have been to in the states, I only wish we had spent more time here.
- Part of the Alaska railway system, the Denali Star runs from May to September.
- In 2017, Anchorage was named a “Best of the World” destination for 2017 by National Geographic Traveler.
Conclusion: Is Goldstar worth the extra cost?
While I loved the Goldstar service, I am still unsure if it actually was worth the extra money. And it’s certainly not needed in both directions unless you have unlimited funds. So if you want to try it out, I would get it in only your first direction.
As Goldstar, you can walk through the Adventure class cabin, and see if you agree it will be fine for the return. If not, upgrade at the train station. The risk is that it could be sold out, but the Adventure class tends to sell out first for a reason.
If you enjoyed this virtual tour from Denali to Anchorage, please share this article on social media including Pinterest:
Will you travel by train from Denali to Anchorage?
Other places to explore in Alaska:
- Juneau Whale Watching, Glaciers, and Other Juneau Cruise Port Ideas
- Ketchikan Shore Excursions: The Best Things to Do in Ketchikan Alaska
- Unique Things to Do in Anchorage: Pre and Post Alaska Cruise Ideas
- Icy Strait Point: Will You See Whales or Bears at this Alaska Cruise Port?
- 15 Free Things to do in Skagway Alaska: Excursions and Alternatives
Nice article. Two corrections…the mountain is now named Denali. And the mountain used to be named McKinley.
Thanks for catching that. It’s corrected now.
Fantastic photos!! My wife and I are going to Alaska (cruise with add-on trip to Denali) in June ’22, so I am doing some research and came across your photos/website – and am so glad I did! Breathtaking shots!
Based on the clarity of your pictures, is it safe to assume the train is traveling at a slow pace? …or do you have a very steady hand? lol. Please share any of your tips for such great photos from the train!
Our trip includes the train up to Denali (from Talkeetna/Anchorage) on one day, then bus ride back down the next day…I’m concerned that we won’t be there for long enough to be worthwhile.
Looking forward to the trip sooooo much!
Thanks for you comments. I loved every minute of our time in Alaska. To answer your questions:
I have a steady hand. Try this:
– Go to the outside platform if possible.
– Use a fast shutter speed or sports mode
– Shoot something in the distance as the foreground will be blurry. If you can, shoot things either in front or behind, rather than straight out the side of the train.
As for Denali, if I remember correctly, that train is about 7 hours (all stunning scenery – so an adventure on it’s own). Is your bus late in the day to return as it stays light past midnight that time of year? Is the cruise excursion taking you into the park at night?
Like most places we go, we didn’t feel we had enough time in Denali, and the one thing I regret was not taking the bus all the way into the park.
Hope this helps.
I wrote more on Denali and on our entire cruise and all the ports. Just search for Alaska.
Absolutely beautiful. I wonder if any of the plans include overnight in Denali? Plan to take wife, 18 yo and 16 yo from warm weather — they will love it.
You need overnight in Denali. I think we stayed 3 or 4 nights. Remember, it’s a day to get there and another to get back, and so much to see.
Oh wow! That glass ceiling looks definitely worth it!
I sure thought it was.
Hi Rhonda, beautiful pictures. I really wanna visit Alaska, too bad it’s far from my country. I hope I can visit there someday. Keep up the good work!
LOL – unless you are in north-west Canada, Alaska is far from you. It was about 18 hours of fly time for us, and worth the long travel. Of course, living in New Zealand just about everywhere is far.
I am in heavenly bliss right now. I waited to read you blog last because Alaska is number on on my ticket list, so I wanted to savor it. This post, gahhhhh, I am loving every single picture you posted. I cannot wait to get up there.
Rhonda, thanks for posting to Life Thru the Lens each week. I really appreciate it so much.
Lisa @ LTTL
Alaska looks absolutely beautiful and epic! The photos look great and I think summer is the best time to go. The whole experience was topped off with the glass ceiling scenic train ride. Amazing 😊👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻@ knycx.journeying
For me, summer is the only time to go. I am not a fan of winter anywhere, Alaska would be way too extreme for me.
Sandy N Vyjay
Oh my gosh! The beauty surrounding you is bedazzling. The glass roofs are a wonderful idea. They make you feel so much closer to the nature.I loved all the photographs. Truly amazing. The train looks so romantic, I am fascinated and would like to ride on it.
The glass ceiling was like being outside in terms of the view, without the elements blowing in our faces. Plus there was an outdoor area, so spent quite a bit of time out there too.
I absolutely love these pictures. This is the kind of scenery which makes me happy – and gasp in amazement at the natural beauty of it all. I have never seen those carriages with glass roofs either – fabulous. I’ve shared this on Facebook too, so others can see!
Yes, same for me, happy and in awe of nature.
I recently saw a documentary about Denali NP and it looked so amazing and stunning. It’s like you are really alone on this planet, alone with nature (and wild animals). The train ride with the glass roof seems really cool to do and at least you can see everything around you much better!
When we were hiking at Savage River, we were alone, but most of the other destinations there require a bus trip, something that was probably left out of your video. Don’t be me wrong, it is magical, and I would go again if I had the opportunity.
Pat --Mille Fiori Favoriti
An Alaska cruise is on my bucket list! This train ride looks like a wonderful addition to see the interior of the state.
I know some of the cruises do it as an optional add-on, but we did it independently. If I were to do it over, I would fly to Fairbanks and take the train in only one direction.
Oh, this is so spectacular! We went to Alaska last year and some of the people on our boat took this trip. We didn’t have it in our package but now that I see how beautiful it was I regret it. I didn’t realize they had a panoramic train on this route. We traveled in one in Switzerland I it was heavenly.
Absolutely gorgeous photographs! I grew up with train travel and have always preferred this mode of travel. Would love to take this train trip… and also one across Canada. Such beautiful scenery.
My kids have been on plenty of trains, but unfortunately they did it in the electronic age, so they only half enjoyed the scenery and the ride.
Oh, heavens these photos are amazing! I love them all, really I do. The long train ride sounds so neat. I would love to do that someday. Shoot, I’d like to Alaska….in the summer. 🙂 My favorite of these is the snow capped mountains with the river/lake in the foreground. That photo would make an excellent postcard, calendar image, or Alaska travel literature or websites.
I appreciated you taking me along your trip down memory lane. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride! 🙂
Summer is the only time I would like to visit Alaska. If it wasn’t for their winter, I think I would want to live there.
What a beautiful trip. Your photos are stunning. I would love to go here 🙂
Alex | Life Well Wandered
That train ride looks AMAZING! Lovely photos–I really want to go one day!
It is probably the best train ride we have done to date
What a nice train ride!! Lovely sceneries, and I love the glass ceiling!
What a wonderful journey and pictures.The views are stunning
It was really amazing.
Thank you for that amazing train ride. So happy to know that world is still there. I forget sometimes.
Yes, it’s still out there, just a bit harder to find.
Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
One thing I regret about our Alaskan trip a few years ago was that we didn’t get to Denali. This looks like a greatno hassle way to get there.
You can’t go everywhere. There are so many places to see. Same for me, we regret not going to Fairbanks.
Incredible scenery. I don’t blame you for upgrading to the glass ceiling car. I would as well!!
It was well worth the extra money.
What a cool adventure! I’ve only been on a train like that twice. It was so much fun! I certainly didn’t have the kind of view though. WOW!
The view on this train was like being outside without the elements blowing in your face. It was incredible.
I definitely love the glass ceilinged train car. Spectacular views! Whittier is where my next novel is based — though I changed the name to Cheery Bay. Anywhere that there’s a 200 town residents living all together in one apartment building is one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” things. I have beta readers telling me I should change the setting ‘coz it’s too unbelievable. lol
We missed that apartment unless it is the huge one that is now abandoned and bears are frequently found roaming the old hallways.
The ruined one is called the Buckner Building. The one where everyone lives is the Begich Towers. Both built in ’56 by the Army as barracks and officer quarters. And the 2 mile tunnel into the town plays a big role in my story. See great pics here: http://gizmodo.com/the-alaskan-town-living-under-one-roof-1678831641
Buckner Building is the one we were in, and of course, we drove through the tunnel. We didn’t have to wait too long to get through, but our driver was quite familiar with the area. Let me know when your book comes out. 🙂
L. Diane Wolfe
I love the depth on those photos. We’ve always talked about taking a train ride across Canada, which I’m sure would also be gorgeous scenery. (The train from Edinburgh to Inverness was wonderful.)
Lydia C. Lee
Wow – looks beautiful. I guess it was the wrong season for the Iditarod?
I am a warm weather traveller, so I will probably never see the Iditarod.
artmusedog and carol
Wow! So beautiful ~ lovely photos and what an adventure for you ~ love train trips ~ wonderful if it is Pet Friendly?? ~ thanks,
Wishing you a Peaceful week ~ ^_^
I have no idea if it is pet-friendly. We have always opted not to have pets because we travel so much. I don’t remember seeing any dogs, but maybe they had a special pet-friendly car.
Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
wow! incredible views
What great shots of a great place to visit. I would have paid more for the better view. Wow, that’s impressive.
Have a fabulous day, Rhonda. 🙂
I think you get here one day.
gorgeous images. I so want to visit Alaska but will never make it.
Never say never.
Wow, super amazing. Those views are so stunning and you captured them perfectly. Thanks for sharing such amazing photos.
You are amazing! How do you find the time, energy or money to do all that you do! Good for you! Loved the pictures!
LOL – It makes it easier to have a partner who loves to travel too. Plus we both only need the internet, so our lives continue as we travel.
What an amazing experience to see Alaska on a train, your photos are out of this world beautiful!!!
Paul F. Pietrangelo
I would love to take a train ride throughout Canada but after finding the cost of this ride, I decided to fly. But I still enjoy riding on a train. There is one through the Rockies that I might take. See ya Rhonda.
Train travel isn’t always too bad. We took the train last year from Seattle to Portland and if I remember correctly it was quite affordable.
Paul F. Pietrangelo
Small train rides are very affordable but the one I was talking about, one that would go from Windsor to Toronto, Toronto to Vancouver threw the plains and the mountains with sleeper cars. It would be expensive but you know, I might still do it. The Rocky Mountaineer train i a good one to take. Check it out
See ya Rhonda.
This is all the wow. I love the glass train carriage and what stunning landscape
Alaska is that way, simply, wow.
Alex J. Cavanaugh
You got some impressive shots from a moving train. Really like the one of the car with glass ceilings.
wow!This must be an unforgettable train ride.I love to travel in such a train which has cars with glass ceilings.Beautiful views along the journey!
I am so glad we upgraded to the cars with all the glass. It really enhanced the experience.
looks like lovely scenery, good that you went at that time of year as I know there’s snow everywhere in winter.
The trains don’t run in the winter and it’s not a time this summer loving travel would head to Alaska anyway.
Wow – the scenery is just stunning!
Jim, Sydney, Australia
These photos are spectacular.
I agree I think you took the best option too that Dome Cars look amazing you can see everything from them well worth the upgrade brilliant views.
Have a dometastic Sunday 🙂
For that view, I’d upgrade!
It looks like you did choose the best option! What spectacular views!
I’ve always wanted to travel by train. The glass tops are pure genius. Sorry you didn’t see Russia 🙂
I’d love to take a scenic train ride some day! classic way to travel.
Hi Rhonda .. what a great trip you’re doing .. and I love the views – reminded me of my mother’s and my trip across the Rockies in a similar train .. the Rocky Mountaineer from Lake Louise (I think!) across to Vancouver, before we went over to VI to see a cousin of my mother’s .. and obviously me too!
Cheers – and I’d love to be with you!! Hilary