Grand Tour

Rail & Natural Wonders of Alaska

24 August to 7 September
USA

As the Aleutian Islands cross over the 180 degree longitude line, Alaska is in fact the westernmost, northernmost, and easternmost state. It is rugged and wild with glaciers, countless rivers and lakes, majestic mountain peaks, some active volcanoes, and nearly 34,000 miles of tidal shoreline. North America’s highest peak at 20,320 ft, Mt. McKinley (or Denali), is located in Alaska.

Our tour is designed to cover both of the fascinating railways in Alaska – a sort of “clear Alaska” – including the legendary Alaska Railroad and the White Pass & Yukon Railroad (WP&YR). Along the way in addition to amazing scenery we should see some extraordinary wildlife including bears, eagles and whales.

On the Denali Star and Coastal Classic trains we will travel ‘GoldStar’, which includes:

  • Confirmed seat in the upper-level observation car
  • Complimentary coffee, soda, or tea served at your seat
  • Priority seating in the lower-level dining room showcasing original Alaska artwork
  • Meals included (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
  • Private outdoor upper lever viewing deck – the only one of its kind!
Tour Highlights
  • Stunning scenery
  • Amazing wildlife
  • Some of the world’s best rail journeys
  • Goldstar service on Denali Star and the Coastal Classic trains

Tour Manager: Phil   phil@ptg.co.uk

Day 1 Monday 24 August We depart London in the mid-morning for the long flight to Vancouver where we will clear Canadian customs. We stay in a hotel near the airport. For those arriving early you can take a very good ‘Sound Transit’ light rail direct from SeaTac Airport to downtown Vancouver – maybe take the frequent ‘Seabus’ for a fifteen minute trip over the water to relax in a café or visit the large new real ale pub and enjoy the views of this lovely city. Those wanting to see more of Vancouver are advised to add days on at the end of the holiday. It is also possible to join the holiday in Seattle or Fairbanks.

Day 2 Tuesday 25 August It’s an early start to catch the Amtrak Cascades Talgo train direct to Seattle, a very attractive four hour journey. There is an opportunity to take breakfast or refreshments in the café coach during the journey before we arrive in Seattle mid-morning where we have a break for a few hours. We then take the local ‘Skytrain’ system for the journey to the airport and check in for the Alaska Airlines flight north to Fairbanks. We chase the setting sun on this flight so enjoy the views. A bus will meet us at the airport and drive us into town, where we check in to our hotel for two nights. There is an option to join the tour today.

Day 3 Wednesday 26 August (B) Today is a free day for acclimatisation and your own exploration of Fairbanks. Its central location makes it the focal point for the tiny villages scattered throughout the surrounding wilderness, and Fairbanks is a staging point for North Slope villages such as Barrow and the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay. Yet it still retains its down-home “frontier” feel. Fairbanks is called “the Golden Heart of Alaska”, a reference to the character of her people as much as to the location in Alaska’s interior, or to the discovery of gold in 1902. Because it is just 188 miles south of the Arctic Circle (above which the sun neither sets during the summer solstice, nor rises during the winter solstice) during our stay the night will be very short indeed. You may feel up to a visit of the Pioneer Park, a heritage theme park where there are museums, an old ship and an old-time saloon. We should also be able to ride the narrow gauge Tanana Valley Railroad in the park.

Day 4 Thursday 27 August (B, L, D) We have a morning departure on the Denali Star, the premier train of the Alaska Railroad. We travel south all the way to Anchorage. The train is an excellent way to travel in sheer luxury in ‘GoldStar’ accommodation. A large upper deck open-air balcony allows great photo opportunities and is an extremely popular part of this tremendous journey, and the time will fly by despite the long journey. As we head south on our way to Anchorage, we hope for a nice sunny day with the chance to clearly see Mount McKinley, America’s highest mountain, during the afternoon.

Day 5 Friday 28 August (B) Anchorage to Whittier and Spencer Glacier, (09:45 departure, 21:15 return arrival)

Today we make a round trip to Whittier and Spencer Glacier on the “Glacier discovery”. The Glacier Discovery Train travels from Anchorage south along Turnagain Arm. After the stop at Whittier we continue to Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop, a backcountry paradise developed in partnership with the Chugach National Forest Service. A well-maintained 1.3 mile gravel path leads from the tracks to the edge of Spencer Lake and a spectacular view of massive Spencer Glacier, and a U.S. Forest Service Ranger is on site to provide narration along the way. Another option is to stay on the train a bit further to Grandview (additional cost) as this has some appeal as Bartlett Glacier and Trail Glacier come into view. Many consider this the most scenic stretch of track, as the train winds along the Placer River Valley and amid the alpine meadows of Grandview. The return journey back to Anchorage is also via a stop at Whittier to allow another look around this small town, time for fish and chips even!

Day 6 Saturday 29 August (B) Today is a free day in Anchorage to explore at your own pace. Also today there will be opportunity to take a special train from Anchorage to Palmer for the Annual state fare. This train only runs five days a year so for the railfans one not to miss.

Day 7 Sunday 30 August (B, L, D) Today we make a round trip to Seward on the Coastal Classic. The Coastal Classic train is a local favourite that winds through the stretch of wilderness between Anchorage and Seward. A string of massive glaciers visible from the track enriches the journey and then the fantastic climb up Moose Pass offering superb views. This train travels to the shores of Resurrection Bay for convenient connection to Kenai Fjords National Park where whale watching, sea kayaking, tidewater glacier viewing, fishing, and dog sled rides take place. On arrival we join a Kenai Fjords catamaran tour for a few hours and hope for some really close encounters with the local wildlife!

Day 8 Monday 31 August (B) This morning we fly with Alaska Airlines from Anchorage to Juneau, the Alaskan capital city. The flight takes around one hour and forty minutes. We will have a free afternoon in Juneau. Take a trip up the Mount Roberts tramway and enjoy the stunning views from way above Juneau and almost certainly you’ll get to see some of the majestic Bald Eagles flying around this area. Don’t miss the Red Dog bar for dinner in the evening for a real local experience.

Day 9 Tuesday 1 September Today we take the Alaska Marine Highway sailing from Juneau to Skagway via Haines. The sailing takes around four hours (which may include a short stop in Haines) and should allow great views of this beautiful part of the world and gives us a mid day arrival in Skagway. The town will still be busy with tourists off the huge cruise ships before their evening departures. We will stay at the ‘Westmark Inn’ which is right in the centre of town and only a very short walk from the station and the shops. The local ‘Skagway Brewing Company’ does great food and drink, and also try some Thai food at the really popular ‘Starfire’ restaurant, all right in the centre of town.

Day 10 Wednesday 2 September Today is a free day in Skagway and gives everyone a chance to explore this amazing town, highly recommended is the peace and tranquillity of the walk to Smugglers Cove, you may even see whales from there. There are plenty of activities to check out once in town

Day 11 Thursday 3 September Today we have a chance ride the regular Skagway – Fraser steam train (extra cost). Baldwin Steam loco 73 should be the power and this locomotive makes a fine sight and sound climbing the terrific grades up towards the Summit and beyond into Canada. We will turn on the loop just south of Fraser station for the awesome decent back into Skagway.

Day 12 Friday 4 September We will leave early on train number 1 which runs the full length of the railway from Skagway to Carcross. The line north of Carcross is out of use and unlikely to ever open again. Train 1 is the first train of the day out of Skagway and it may be pulled by one single ‘Alco’ loco. The main station in the town centre is known locally as the “depot”, and the depot is known as the “shops” – all very confusing! As we leave town the steep climb really starts and we pass the small stops at Denver and Glacier where hikers leave and join the train. As we pass through the trees keep your eyes peeled for bears; small cubs can occasionally be seen clinging to the trees as the train passes by. At Gulch we pass the old disused cantilever bridge and then approach the summit which is the US / Canadian border. (The actual customs facilities are further inland as this is such a remote area.) The train then continues over a rocky area past Gateway before arriving at Fraser. Canadian customs will pass through the train during this stop. Train 1 is the only train of the day north of Fraser as it follows a series of lakes before arriving at Bennett. After a break of around forty-five minutes a packed lunch is served on the train. The final section of the journey is alongside more lakes to the small town of Carcross. On arrival here we will have time for an ice cream in Canada and then return to Skagway. We have an early evening arrival back in town.

Day 13 Saturday 5 September Today is a free morning in Skagway and then very sadly we say goodbye to this magical little town which we have been privileged to stay in for four days. We take the mid day train to Fraser where we do an easy transfer onto a connecting bus to Whitehorse where we spend one night.

Day 14 Sunday 6 September (B) The final day today and there may be time to visit the Copperbelt Railway where narrow gauge Austrian built locomotives pull tourist trains around the woods. Or possibly ride the diesel powered vintage tram car from Lisbon if it is running along the waterfront. A mid-day transfer to Whitehorse airport for the flight to Vancouver (14:30 with Air North) precedes our return flights back home from Vancouver. Alternatively, travel by train across Canada (see below) and fly back to the UK from Halifax.

Day 15 Monday 7 September Arrive London

Return via Canada by train option

Wish to travel a considerable amount of the journey home by train? Join the Canadian at Vancouver for the three and a half day journey from Vancouver to Toronto. After a twenty-four hour break (longer possible) it’s a five hour journey to Montreal, and then forward on the Ocean on a twenty-three hour journey to Halifax. Flights from Halifax to UK take under six hours!

Internal flights from Seattle to Fairbanks, and Anchorage to Juneau are included in the main holiday price.

Hotels

Vancouver – Airport Hotel (1 night)
Fairbanks – Regency Fairbanks (2 nights)
Anchorage – The Voyager Inn Anchorage (4 nights)
Juneau – Westmark Juneau (1 night)
Skagway – Westmark Skagway (4 nights)
Whitehorse – Whitehorse TBC (1 night)

Flights

Direct flights from London to Vancouver. Indirect flights from other UK airports.

Article by Katlyn Turner

5 Reasons Visiting Alaska Should Be At The Top Of Your Bucket List

Alaska consistently tops lists of the most beautiful states in America. Therefore, it’s no wonder that 1.8 million tourists visit the state every year. It provides some of the best views, most unique wildlife, and the most delicious food in the United States. However, that’s just the beginning. Alaska has so much more to offer. Check out these five reasons why the natural wonders of Alaska need to be added to your bucket list.

The Northern Lights

You will never find anything more beautiful than the Northern Lights. Although the Northern Lights occur year-round, summer’s constant daylight makes them impossible to see. However, the Earth’s tilt generates long-hours of darkness in Alaska during the winter and allows you to see the most amazing sights in the entire world. There’s absolutely nothing like the thrill of seeing the aurora borealis light up the sky and simply taking all of the colors in. The best place to see the Northern Lights in Alaska is Fairbanks, since its right under the aurora oval where auroras are more commonly seen.

Alaska Is One of the Only Places to See Real Glaciers

Alaska has about 100,000 glaciers across the state just waiting for you to explore. It’s actually one of the few places in the entire world where you can also have immediate access to a glacier. These icy figures are extremely beautiful and will simply wow your entire travel group. They’re also constantly in a state of movement which

Alaska Has No Sales Tax So You Can Shop ’til You Drop

Most people think that Alaska is all about the great outdoors; however, the state also has some amazing shopping opportunities for those of us that like to shop ’til you drop. Since Alaska has one of the lowest tax burdens in the United States and no sales tax, the state’s malls are full of eager shoppers. Anchorage 5th Avenue Mall is the area’s most premiere shopping destination followed by the Dimond Center and Tikahtnu Commons. These shopping centers are absolutely massive and allow you to find all the souvenirs you need to impress your friends or brag to your coworkers. Some of the best things to hunt for while you’re shopping include beautiful native Alaskan art, ulu knives, wine, and beer, or Alaskan jade.

The Beautiful Wildlife

Alaska is home to some of the most beautiful wildlife in the world. Kodiak, Alaska’s largest island is home to the world’s largest bear species – the Kodiak Brown bear. Haines, Alaska also has the world’s greatest concentration of bald eagles and other popular wildlife species include caribou, moose, and grizzly bears. If you’re a fan of marine life you can also head to Kenai Fjords National Park for a chance to watch the whales migrate in fall, take an ice fishing trip, or catch Salmon swimming upstream.  

An Escape from the City

Alaska is a place where you can truly explore the world’s greatest scenes. Known as “The Last Frontier”, the state has some of the best scenic views that give you everything from wildlife and mountains to oceans and greenery. However, the best thing about Alaska is how remote it is. There aren’t a lot of people which allows you to really enjoy the state without traffic, noise, or city life. There are even areas around the state where you won’t get service, allowing you to really disconnect from everyday life and relax on your trip.

If you’re looking for a place that’s absolutely beautiful and relaxing, yet still has the thrill of an adventure, then Alaska is the place for you. Be sure to add the state to your bucket list and visit in 2019.  

Place(s) available
Holiday Prices (per person)
  • 14 day holiday Vancouver to Whitehorse: £3,490
  • 12 day holiday Fairbanks to Whitehouse: £3,290
  • Flight costs from/to UK are confirmed at time of booking and are estimated at between £700 and £1,200 depending on how early you book.

Options

  • Single room supplement: £790 (main hotels), POA (alternative hotel)
  • Steam Train Journey on WPYR: Approx £125
  • Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop tour: £25
  • Kenai Fjords Wildlife Cruise: £150

Deposit

  • £500 (plus any flight costs if you are booking your flights through PTG)
  • Balance due 60 days before departure

Price includes

  • Rail and road travel and activities as outlined in the itinerary (the two wildlife cruises and the steam train are extras as above)
  • Good quality hotel accommodation
  • Gold star upgrade on Denali Star and Coastal Classic trains
  • Services of our Tour Manager (tour is escorted from Vancouver to Whitehorse)
  • Meals as shown in the itinerary B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner

Flights

Direct flights from London to Vancouver. Indirect flights from other UK airports.

 

Online Booking
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We recommend you also check the FCO website for the latest travel advice https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice