Reed Travel Features
ANCHORAGE -- In Alaska, the majority of which is wilderness,
drivable roads are at a premium.
There are cities that are accessible only by air or by
Even the capital, Juneau, has no road links with the outside, a
fact that has contributed greatly to periodic cries for the state
to designate a new capital.
Because of the difficulties in moving around, Alaskans have
become air oriented; one out of every 60 residents is a pilot,
about six times as many as in any other state.
But because there are so few of them, perhaps, those highways
and ground transportation services that are available are
Rail has played a large part in the development of Alaska from
territory status to statehood.
The Alaska Railroad has been, and continues to be, a huge and
important player in the business of hauling not only goods and
material but also tourists.
Most visitors probably do not take the time to focus on the fact
that those immensely popular, private, domed rail cars into Denali
National Park each summer, the McKinley Explorer of Holland America
Line-Westours and the Midnight Sun Express of Princess Tours,
simply are hooked to regularly scheduled Alaska Railroad
The front portion of each of those trains, in fact, comprises
several standard, forward-facing, reclining-seat carriages.
The dining facilities and other on-board amenities might not be
as fancy as those offered by the two giant tour companies, but the
transportation is more modestly priced and is well supported by
hikers, backpackers, campers and sightseers.
The Alaska Railroad is the only state-owned, state-operated rail
service in the U.S., and it offers both straight transportation and
The service operates daily year-round between Anchorage and
Fairbanks, through the park, and daily in the summer between
Anchorage and Seward, with reduced frequency mid-September to
For details, call (800) 544-0552.
Another railroad with particular significance to visitors is the
White Pass & Yukon, a unique narrow-gauge service linking
Skagway with Canada's Yukon Territory.
The track was hewn out of the White Pass mountainside, through
tunnels and over wooden trestle bridges, at the tail end of the
last century in order to transport gold prospectors into the
Klondike -- and their riches out.
It traces the route taken by thousands of miners in the Gold
Rush of 1898, from the community at the head of the Lynn Canal into
the interior of Canada.
From the comfort of their heated carriages, today's visitors can
conjure up visions of the hardships endured by those hopeful and,
ultimately, mostly disappointed gold seekers almost a century
Many never made it over the top of the 2,800-foot pass.
Some died of frostbite and exposure, others from falls, still
others from sheer exhaustion.
Some, of course, were shot to death by the lawless types drawn
to the area not so much in search of gold but by the pickings
available from their more vulnerable brethren.
The king of all of the crooks was Soapy Smith, a con man and
gangster, past whose grave the line runs.
Call (800) 343-7373 for information.
There are, of course, opportunities for motorcoach highway tours
in Alaska in the summer.
Many tour operators based in the Lower 48 offer motorcoach
packages in Alaska and the Yukon.
Seattle-based Gray Line of Alaska has been in business for half
The firm boasts a comprehensive program of tours ranging from
one to 13 nights from the Inside Passage ports in the south to the
oil fields of the Arctic north and from Anchorage in the west to
Fairbanks and the Yukon in the east.
For information, call (800) 544-2206.