Last we left you hanging, we had just departed Fairbanks after some RV blogger shenanigans playing in the midnight sun. An amazing and memorable experience that now seems like decades ago.
It was now time to turn our adventure southward again, but not without a stop at Denali National Park first.
Fairbanks to Denali, Denali to Anchorage – Adventurer Class aboard the Denali Star
For our return trip south, we opted to try the Adventurer class on the Alaska Railroad.
The ride is only 4 hours to Denali, and then another 8 to Anchorage – we figured we could slum it out in economy class in segments.
Unlike the GoldStar cars we rode in on the way up north, the Adventurer cars are single level, with one of them having a small dome level on top that is shared public space for scenic views.
There is a bistro car for snacks (which were not overly gluten free friendly) and passengers can pay for meals in the GoldStar dining car if there is room.
The seating is typical train style, however unlike GoldStar the seat backs have no tray table – making getting any work done quite inconvenient. There’s also no power ports anywhere to be found for keeping electronics charged up (same goes for GoldStar seating).
We did take over a dining table in the bistro when it wasn’t busy to get a little work done.
The Alaska Railroad is a tourist train – with narration the entire way. After you’ve heard it once, it actually becomes quite distracting on the return trip. It would be nice if they had a quiet car for commuting passengers (with maybe some tray tables?).
Overall, if we were to do this portion of the trip again – we’d definitely do the GoldStar service one way for the experience. But we’d probably find alternate transportation on the way back – such as one of the many shuttle bus services.
Costs for Adventurer Class service from Fairbanks to Denali, then Denali to Anchorage: $234 per person. The GoldStar service on our way up was $401, so the savings is definitely nice. All and all, we paid $1270 for our roundtrip rail service from Anchorage to Fairbanks.
Denali National Park
We honestly weren’t sure about incorporating Denali into our trip. We had gotten mixed recommendations on it, given how finicky McKinley can be (it hides most of the time).
Also, there’s very few options for exploring the park – with the most accessible being riding a school bus over dirt mountain roads for many hours.
Beyond mile 14, you can not drive your own vehicle (except with very rare special permits).
However, when we received an invitation from our friends Tim & Denise of TaylorBaseCamp.com (aka ‘Gone With the Big Dogs’) who we had met in the deserts this last winter – it was a no brainer to stop in.
Tim & Denise have lived in Alaska for many many years and used to live in a bus conversion while they were building their house. They now part time RV down south in the winter with their two lovable Bernese Mountain Dogs (in a Class-C named ‘Zefyr’ – because they ALSO rode the California Zephyr to find their RV.)
He retired from the road maintenance department of the park, and she ran a small business and was affectionately known as the ‘The Fruit Lady’ who brought fresh produce to locals up from Anchorage. They have amazing stories to tell, and we knew we’d get a unique perspective on the area through their eyes.
We ended up not taking one of the bus tours into the park during our way too short 3-night stay (why on earth did we not book longer here???). The weather was actually pretty hazy with smoke in the area from all of the nearby forest fires, so visibility would be quite limited anyway.
However Denise did take us on a drive up that open first 14-miles, including a dog sled demonstration and a hike along Savage Creek – and we saw more wildlife than we could have imagined!
They are amazing hosts, and completely spoiled us during our stay. To top it off, when they heard The Snowmads were in the area, they immediately extended a parking invitation for them to stay too.
Denise & Tim encouraged us to book a rafting trip down the Nenana River – which Kristin & Jason eagerly joined us for. We all opted for the ‘scenic wilderness’ tour by Denali Outdoor Center – in which we basically just had to hang on and enjoy the view, while our guide did all the work.
Whitewater rafting and paddling it hella fun, but we were all in the mood to concentrate on taking in the views instead.
We were super sad to board our train back to Anchorage where we’d meet up with our RV rental, and many hugs were shared with Denise & Tim on the platform.
We will be seeing these guys again, hopefully this winter?
Follow our Summer 2015 Alaskan Adventure:
- Planning Our Great Alaskan Adventure
- Phase 1 – Alaskan 2015 Adventure: Amtrak Train Travel from St. Louis to Vancouver, BC
- Phase 2 – Alaskan 2015 Adventure: Touring Vancouver, BC
- Phase 3 – Alaskan 2015 Adventure: Northbound Cruise to Alaska
- Phase 4: Alaskan 2015 Adventure – Alaska Railroad GoldStar Service to Fairbanks
What’s Up Next? Still lots of Alaskan stories to catch you up on – including our week exploring the Kenai by RV rental , and then joining in the 4th of July festivities in Seward before boarding our one-way southbound cruise back to Vancouver (where I type this from). We’ll spend a week in Vancouver exploring around, and then we fly out of Seattle on July 23 back to St. Louis. We’ll be there while we await our bus being ready for us to move back into.
Bus Update: Master Tech RV continues to send us lots of updates on the bus renovation project. All of the windows have been removed, the Precision Temp Jr. hydronic system is mostly installed and decisions on our new generator and awnings have been made. They’ve also been doing some minor body work on the aluminum and generally getting as much work done before the re-paint job begins and things become inaccessible.