Interested in an Alaska family adventure? If so, have you considered Alaska Railroad?
My husband and I rode Alaska Railroad from Fairbanks to Denali to Anchorage to Seward in June 2021. We did not take our kids on this trip, but we have been traveling with our kids for 17 years and saw plenty of families on board. We definitely got a good idea of what a typical train ride with kids is like.
Train trips in Alaska can be long (4-8+ hours). But if you have traveled by airplane with your kids, you’ll probably find that traveling on Alaska Railroad is easier and more fun.
Here are my top tips for riding Alaska Railroad with kids.
Why ride the train?
You’ll get a lot more personal space on Alaska Railroad than in a car or on a plane. In our experience, legroom was generous, and many seats on the train recline.
Furthermore, your assigned seat is just a “home base.” Passengers are encouraged to walk through the train cars and you’re welcome to sit in any unassigned seat. In the less-expensive Adventure Class, seats in the bistro car and the dome car in Adventure class are always unassigned.
Nobody has to drive when you ride the train. Parents can give their full attention to kids, the incredible scenery, or other enjoyable activities.
Finally, riding Alaska Railroad feels like an adventure. Few families regularly travel by train, so it will hopefully feel like a fun vacation day.
Things to Do
Here are a few ways to keep your kids (and yourself) entertained on Alaska Railroad.
- Explore the cars – After you get settled and the train is moving, walk around and check out the other cars. In Adventure Class, you are free to explore every car except the GoldStar cars. Find the dome car, the bistro, the charging station, and the bathrooms.
- Watch for wildlife – We spotted bears, moose, bald eagles, and caribou from the train. The engineers will often announce where to look, but trains are long, and timing is everything. Keep your eyes open for wildlife.
- Watch the scenery – We saw spectacular glaciers, waterfalls, mountains, rivers, and more on our train trips. Scenery won’t keep most kids occupied for long, but there is always something interesting to see out the windows on Alaska Railroad. Your train conductor will usually announce when an interesting feature is coming up.
- Play a game – You’ll find tables for card games in the bistro and in some other cars too. You can stay in the bistro as long as you want if there are empty tables around you.
- Buy a treat – Need an easy morale booster? Give your kids $2-5 each to buy a snack at the bistro. This will get them out of their seats and it’s something you can’t do in a car or on a plane.
- Visit the dome car – The Adventure class dome car has a glass ceiling for better views. Seats are unassigned here, so you can bounce back and forth between your seat and the dome car as long as there is space.
- Read a good book – My husband and I each read an entire book on the 8-hour trip from Denali to Anchorage. If your kids like to read, make sure to stock up at the library or bookstore before your trip.
- Draw/Write/Color – The ride is fairly smooth and there is lots of scenic inspiration out the windows for kids (and adults) who like to be creative on paper.
- Watch a movie – There is plenty of time on most Alaska Railroad trips to do all the things on this list and watch a favorite movie or TV show too. Download the movie or episodes onto your own electronic device before your trip and pack headphones.
Electronic devices make long travel days easier. You can put a lot of quiet miles behind you while your kids watch a movie or play a video game.
Here’s what you need to know to make the most of your electronic devices on your journey.
- There is NO WIFI. In 2021, there was no onboard WiFi for passengers. Without it, our data was spotty to non-existent. This is good news for parents who want their kids to disconnect now and then.
- Download movies, music, podcasts… Downloading content in advance will ensure that your family can enjoy digital entertainment with or without mobile data. Most popular streaming services will let you download content to your devices through their apps.
- Look for electrical outlets on board. A few seats in Adventure Class have outlets in the wall. You’ll also find outlets in the space underneath the dome car in Adventure class. I recommend that you pack portable chargers so you can stay at your seat and keep devices charged.
You can buy meals and snacks on the train or you can bring your own sandwiches, snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks onto the train.
Trains typically have two dining options: the full-service dining car and the bistro. We tried both.
In the full-service dining car, you’ll receive a menu with several options. Your server will take your order and then bring your meal to your table. You can relax and enjoy the scenery while you dine. If you’ve read books or seen movies that feature train journeys, this is probably the dining experience you imagine.
GoldStar passengers receive complimentary meals and drinks in the full-service dining car.
The bistro is more casual. You can buy drinks, sandwiches, personal pizzas, candy, and more at the counter. Then eat your food at booths in the bistro car or take it back to your seat.
For families in Adventure Class, I recommend that you bring your favorite snacks or sandwiches on board – especially if you have special dietary needs or picky eaters. But save a little room in your budget for a meal or snack from the bistro because buying a treat on the train is part of the fun of riding Alaska Railroad.
You can check your luggage or keep smaller bags with you on the train. On our trains, nearly everyone checked their bags and there was plenty of overhead storage space for carry-on suitcases.
Some hotels near Denali National Park and at other destinations will pick up your luggage from the station and deliver it directly to your room. If your hotel participates, just tell the agent at the train station where you are staying when you check your bags and your bag will be tagged for that hotel.
This service was so convenient when we arrived at Denali National Park. The train station is just a short walk from the visitor center. It was only noon and we were excited to hike trails near the visitor center before taking the shuttle to our hotel.
At other times, it may be more convenient to keep your luggage with you – especially when you are scheduled to arrive at the end of the day.
On our train trip from Denali to Anchorage, we arrived after 8 PM and were eager to get to our hotel. If we had kept our bags, we could have been among the first out of the station. Since we checked our bags, we waited 30+ minutes for our bags to be unloaded from the train.
Related: 8 Tips for Packing Light
GoldStar vs Adventure
Wondering if upgrading to GoldStar is worth the splurge? Here’s what you get when you choose GoldStar Service.
- Upper deck seats and glass dome ceilings for every passenger
- Access to upper-level outdoor platforms
- Complimentary meals in a full-service dining car
- Private bar with complimentary beverages
You might also have a better chance at spotting wildlife from GoldStar cars. Train engineers usually spot bears, moose, bald eagles, and other animals first and then make an announcement. The animals often ran away by the time the back cars passed by.
We rode Adventure Class, and were happy with our choice. The cars feel older and less luxurious. Upper deck dome seats are not reserved. Meals and drinks are not included. However, Adventure Class fits our travel style and budget. We were comfortable on every leg of our trip.
We loved riding Alaska Railroad and we recommend it for families. To make the most of your train trip, be sure to pack favorite snacks, pack games and books, and download movies onto your electronic devices in advance. Be sure to explore every open car once you’re on board.
Visit alaskarailroad.com to start planning your train trip through Alaska today.
Disclosure: Alaska Railroad provided us with complimentary train tickets and meals for the purpose of review. But sponsored or not, Alaska Railroad was our first choice for experiencing Alaska. All opinions are my own.