Taking The Train From Chicago To Alaska: Route, Tips And What To Expect

Ready to embark on an epic cross-country train journey from the Windy City to America’s Last Frontier? Here’s everything you need to know to travel by rail from Chicago to Alaska.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: To travel by train from Chicago to Alaska, you’ll need to take Amtrak to Seattle or Vancouver, then transfer to the Alaska Railroad which goes to Anchorage, Denali National Park and Fairbanks. Prepare for a multi-day journey covering over 3,500 miles.

Chicago to Seattle/Vancouver by Amtrak

Amtrak Routes and Duration

Traveling from Chicago to Seattle or Vancouver by Amtrak is a scenic and convenient way to explore the beautiful landscapes of North America. Amtrak offers two routes for this journey: the Empire Builder and the Coast Starlight.

The Empire Builder route takes you through the heartland of America, passing through cities like Minneapolis, Glacier National Park, and Spokane. This route is known for its breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains and the Columbia River Gorge.

The journey from Chicago to Seattle or Vancouver typically takes around 46 hours.

The Coast Starlight route hugs the west coast of the United States, providing stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains. This route takes you through cities like Portland and Sacramento, offering a unique blend of urban and natural scenery.

The journey from Chicago to Seattle or Vancouver on the Coast Starlight route takes approximately 51 hours.

Accommodations and Dining

Amtrak offers a variety of accommodations to suit every traveler’s needs. From comfortable coach seats to private sleeping accommodations, there are options available for all budgets. The Superliner Roomette is a popular choice, offering a cozy space with two seats that convert into a bed at night.

When it comes to dining, Amtrak offers a range of onboard dining options. Passengers can enjoy meals in the dining car, which features a menu with a variety of delicious options. There is also a lounge car where passengers can grab snacks and beverages throughout the journey.

It’s worth noting that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be some changes to onboard services and dining options. It’s recommended to check the latest updates on the official Amtrak website for the most up-to-date information.

Scenic Highlights

The journey from Chicago to Seattle or Vancouver by Amtrak is filled with scenic highlights that will leave you in awe. As the Empire Builder winds its way through the Rocky Mountains, you’ll have the opportunity to witness stunning vistas and breathtaking landscapes.

Glacier National Park is a standout highlight along the Empire Builder route. With its towering mountains, pristine lakes, and abundant wildlife, it’s a nature lover’s paradise. Make sure to have your camera ready to capture the beauty of this national park.

On the Coast Starlight route, the Pacific Ocean steals the show. As the train hugs the coastline, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of the ocean, sandy beaches, and rugged cliffs. The journey also takes you through the Cascade Mountains, offering picturesque scenes of lush forests and cascading waterfalls.

For more information on the scenic highlights along the Chicago to Seattle/Vancouver route, you can visit the official Amtrak website at www.amtrak.com.

Seattle/Vancouver to Alaska by Alaska Railroad

If you’re planning a trip from Seattle or Vancouver to Alaska, taking the Alaska Railroad is a fantastic option. The scenic route offers breathtaking views of mountains, forests, and glaciers, making it an unforgettable journey.

The Alaska Railroad is a popular choice for travelers looking to explore the stunning landscapes of the Last Frontier.

Alaska Railroad Routes

The Alaska Railroad offers several routes that will take you from Seattle or Vancouver all the way to Alaska. The most common route is the Coastal Classic, which runs from Anchorage to Seward. This route takes you along the scenic coastline, offering stunning views of the Kenai Peninsula and Chugach Mountains.

Another popular route is the Denali Star, which takes you from Anchorage to Fairbanks. This route is perfect for those looking to explore Denali National Park, as it offers incredible views of the park’s rugged wilderness and stunning wildlife.

Additionally, the Glacier Discovery route runs from Anchorage to Whittier, where you can take a cruise to explore the breathtaking glaciers of Prince William Sound. This route is a great option for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Connecting from Amtrak to Alaska Railroad

If you’re starting your journey in Seattle, you can take an Amtrak train to reach the Alaska Railroad. The Amtrak Cascades service connects Seattle to Vancouver, where you can then catch a connecting train to Alaska.

This seamless connection allows you to enjoy a scenic train ride from the United States all the way to the Last Frontier.

It’s important to note that the Alaska Railroad operates on a seasonal schedule, with the majority of services running from May to September. It’s advisable to check the schedule and make reservations in advance to ensure a smooth and hassle-free journey.

Passenger Cars and Services

The Alaska Railroad offers a range of passenger cars to accommodate different travel preferences. From standard seats to luxury dome cars, there’s an option for every traveler. The dome cars provide panoramic views of the stunning landscapes, allowing you to immerse yourself in the beauty of Alaska.

Onboard services include dining cars, where you can enjoy delicious meals prepared with locally sourced ingredients. The Alaska Railroad also offers baggage services, so you don’t have to worry about lugging your suitcases around.

Throughout the journey, knowledgeable and friendly staff will provide commentary, sharing interesting facts and stories about the areas you pass through. They are always happy to answer any questions you may have and ensure that your trip is enjoyable and informative.

For more information about the Alaska Railroad, you can visit their official website here.

Key Destinations in Alaska


Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, is a must-visit destination for travelers taking the train from Chicago. This vibrant city offers a unique blend of urban amenities and natural beauty. Visitors can explore the stunning coastal trails, visit the Anchorage Museum to learn about Alaska’s rich history and indigenous cultures, and indulge in delicious seafood at local restaurants.

Anchorage also serves as a convenient starting point for various outdoor adventures, such as fishing, hiking, and wildlife spotting.

Denali National Park

Denali National Park is a breathtaking destination that should not be missed on a train journey to Alaska. Home to the tallest peak in North America, Mount Denali, this national park offers unparalleled opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.

Travelers can take guided hikes, go camping, or embark on a scenic bus tour to witness the park’s diverse wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, and moose. The park’s stunning landscapes, including glaciers, tundra, and snow-capped mountains, provide a truly awe-inspiring experience.


Fairbanks, often referred to as the “Golden Heart of Alaska,” is another key destination along the train route from Chicago. This vibrant city is known for its colorful history, rich culture, and unique attractions.

Visitors can soak in the healing waters of the Chena Hot Springs, witness the incredible natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights, or explore the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum to learn about the region’s fascinating past.

Fairbanks also offers opportunities for outdoor activities like dog sledding, riverboat tours, and gold panning.

Planning Your Train Trip

Embarking on a train trip from Chicago to Alaska is an exciting adventure that allows you to witness the breathtaking landscapes of North America. To ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey, it is important to plan ahead. Here are some essential tips to help you prepare for your train trip:

Booking Tickets

Booking your train tickets in advance is highly recommended, as this popular route tends to fill up quickly. You can visit the official website of Amtrak, the national railway company, to book your tickets online.

It is advisable to choose a flexible ticket option that allows you to make changes to your travel dates if needed. Additionally, consider opting for a sleeper car for added comfort during the long journey.

When to Go

The best time to embark on a train trip from Chicago to Alaska is during the summer months, from June to August. This is when the weather is most favorable, with longer daylight hours and milder temperatures.

It is important to note that the train route operates seasonally, so be sure to check the schedule in advance and plan your trip accordingly.

Packing Tips

When packing for your train trip, it is important to pack light and bring only the essentials. Opt for comfortable clothing and shoes, as you will be spending a significant amount of time on the train. Don’t forget to bring a small bag or backpack for day trips and excursions during the journey.

It is also recommended to bring some entertainment, such as books, games, or a tablet, to keep yourself entertained during the long hours on the train.

Activities En Route

While the train journey itself offers stunning views of the North American landscape, there are also many activities and sights to enjoy along the way. Keep an eye out for wildlife sightings, as the route passes through scenic regions where you may spot bears, moose, and other animals.

Take advantage of the train’s observation cars, which provide panoramic views of the passing scenery. Additionally, make sure to strike up conversations with fellow travelers and learn about their experiences and recommendations for stops along the route.

Tips for Riding the Rails

Prepare for a Long Journey

When taking the train from Chicago to Alaska, it’s important to prepare yourself for a long journey. This scenic route covers thousands of miles and can take several days to complete. Make sure to pack plenty of comfortable clothing, pillows, and blankets to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Consider bringing books, magazines, or other forms of entertainment to keep yourself occupied during the journey.

Bring Food/Water

While the train does offer dining options, it’s always a good idea to bring your own food and water on board. This way, you can have snacks and drinks readily available whenever you feel hungry or thirsty. Pack some sandwiches, fruits, and snacks that can be easily stored and enjoyed during the trip.

Don’t forget to bring a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the journey.

Charge Devices

During a long train ride, you’ll likely want to use your electronic devices to pass the time. However, it’s essential to have a plan for charging them. Trains usually have charging stations available, but they can be limited.

To ensure you have enough power, consider bringing a portable charger or power bank. This way, you won’t have to worry about running out of battery and can enjoy your devices throughout the journey.

Get Up and Move Around

While the train ride may be comfortable, it’s important to avoid sitting in one position for too long. Take breaks and get up to stretch your legs and walk around the train. This not only helps prevent stiffness and discomfort but also allows you to explore different parts of the train and enjoy the scenic views from various angles.

Take advantage of the observation cars and open-air platforms to fully immerse yourself in the journey.


Traveling by train from Chicago to Alaska is an epic adventure across prairies, mountains and the rugged Alaskan frontier. With thorough preparation and realistic expectations, the multi-day journey on Amtrak and Alaska Railroad rewards travelers with stunning scenery, unique experiences and memories to last a lifetime.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see America the old-fashioned way. Grab your tickets, pack your bags and get ready for the ride of your life aboard the trains to the Last Frontier.

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