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The famous Alaska Railroad turns 100 this year. Here’s what it’s like to ride to North America’s northernmost train station

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Conductor and clerk welcome passengers aboard an Alaska Railroad train.Conductor and clerk welcome passengers aboard an Alaska Railroad train.

John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

  • The Alaska Railroad was completed three decades before Alaska became a state.
  • It stretches from Seward to Fairbanks, the northernmost passenger train station in North America.
  • With its glass dome and views, it’s considered one of the most scenic train rides in the US.
Known as the “backbone of the Last Frontier,” the Alaska Railroad rolls its way from the coastal communities of Southern Alaska, 470 miles into the state’s wilderness. This year, it’s turning 100 years old.A blue and yellow Alaska Railroad train in spring.An Alaska Railroad train in spring.

Glenn Aronwits/Alaska Railroad

The railroad has been around longer than Alaska has been a state. President Warren G. Harding celebrated the completion of the Alaska Railroad’s main track in July of 1923, driving a “golden spike” in the ground at Nenana.President Warren Harding driving the last spike on Alaskan Railroad at Tanana River.President Warren Harding driving the last spike on Alaskan Railroad at Tanana River.

Library of Congress

Today, the route carries both freight and passengers, being one of the few mixed trains in the US.Conductor and clerk welcome passengers aboard an Alaska Railroad train.Conductor and clerk welcome passengers aboard an Alaska Railroad train.

John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

A ride in “Adventure class” during high season costs up to $199 from Seward, where the railroad begins, to Anchorage. Going north from there will run you another $269 for 12 hours of travel.Adventure class seating on an Alaska Railroad train.Adventure class seating on an Alaska Railroad train.

Glenn Aronwits/Alaska Railroad

For a more luxurious experience, passengers can upgrade to the “Goldstar service,” which comes with an upper-deck seat under a glass dome ceiling and meals in the dining car. These tickets run $489 from Anchorage to Fairbanks, including three meals, from May to September.GoldStar service seating on an Alaska Railroad train.GoldStar service seating on an Alaska Railroad train.

Glenn Aronwits/Alaska Railroad

Among the breathtaking views is Denali, North America’s tallest peak at 20,310 feet above sea level.Denali Mountain, Alaska.Denali Mountain, Alaska.

Sherri Cassel/iStock/Getty Images Plus

The menu includes local delicacies, like reindeer sausages and reindeer bolognese sauce, according to charmed passengers’ reports.Breakfast in an Alaska Railroad's dining car.Elk sausages for breakfast included in the Alaska Railroad’s GoldStar service.

Glenn Aronwits/Alaska Railroad

Speaking of elks and moose, the animals are a common sight from the trains’ passengers’ windows and in between the tracks. To keep them off the tracks, Alaska Railroad uses a pilot car in front of the train. Employees also shoot shotgun shells to scare them away.Moose walking between railway tracks in Alaska.Moose walking between railway tracks in Alaska.

Dieter Hopf/imageBROKER via Getty Images

In the winter, only two lines run: The Hurricane Turn, from Anchorage to Hurricane, and the Aurora, from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Those trains operate with flagstop service, in which passengers can wave the train down to stop from almost any spot along the tracks and hop on, allowing people to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.Alaska Railroad's Aurora Winter Train.Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Winter Train.

Justin Low/Alaska Railroad

Heavy snowfall can make crossing Alaska during winter quite a feat, even for trains. In January, an avalanche caused the derailment of two locomotives of a freight train. It took more than two days for the railroad’s workers to get the track back in business.An avalanche clean-up on the Alaska Railroad's track.An avalanche clean-up on the Alaska Railroad’s track.

Alaska Railroad

Rotary snow plows, which kind of look like the sandworms in director Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Dune, are among the many ways the Alaska Railroads fights its way through heavy snowfall. Plows like these have been used since the 1890s.Historic Alaska Railroad's snow blower.Historic Alaska Railroad’s snow blower.

Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Alaska’s economic development is closely tied to railroads. Anchorage, its largest city, got its start in 1914 as the railroad’s headquarters, which is still housed there.Alaska Railroad Corporation building in Anchorage, Alaska.Alaska Railroad Corporation building in Anchorage, Alaska.

John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Alaska Railroad’s trains travel all the way north to Fairbanks, which is considered the northernmost passenger train station in North America.Fairbanks Alaska train station in winter.Fairbanks Alaska train station in winter.

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To get to Denali National Park, trains cross a scenic bridge spanning Hurricane Gulch. It was built using more than 100,000 rivets, is 915 feet long, and 296 feet high.Alaska Railroad's Denali Star Train on the Hurricane Gulch Bridge.Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star Train on the Hurricane Gulch Bridge.

John Combs/Alaska Railroad

Thanks to their awe-inducing views — of 3,000-foot mountains towering over the ocean, wildlife, and backcountry wilderness — Alaska Railroad’s trains are regularly included among the most beautiful train rides in America, alongside Amtrak’s Coast Starlight from Seattle to Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon Railway.Alaska Railroad's Discovery Train at sunset.Alaska Railroad’s Discovery Train at sunset.

Ian Merculieff/Alaska Railroad

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