Lonely Planet Magazine (US) - - Easy Trips - VIA THE AU­RORA WIN­TER TRAIN

» Com­bin­ing re­mote win­ter land­scapes of pris­tine white snow, fas­ci­nat­ing galleries and mu­se­ums, and the best light show on earth, this trip cap­tures the best of a win­ter in the Last Fron­tier. Fol­low­ing a key route of the his­toric Alaska Rail­road, the jour­ney cuts to the heart of Alaska, but you’re never far from the com­forts of mod­ern life: In­sta­gram-wor­thy break­fasts, cozy spa­ces and cen­tral heat­ing (most of the time).


Be­gin­ning in An­chor­age, ac­cli­ma­tize with a plate of Ko­diak Bene­dict, a twist on tra­di­tional eggs Bene­dict served with fresh Alaskan king crab cakes, from the Snow City Cafe

( snowc­i­ty­cafe.com). Next, fa­mil­iar­ize your­self with Alaska Na­tive cus­toms and art with a stop at the Alaska Na­tive Her­itage Cen­ter, a 26acre fa­cil­ity that shows how peo­ple have sur­vived (and thrived) in the re­gion for thou­sands of years ($24.95; alaska­na­tive.net).


Be­fore set­ting off on the train, make a stop at 6th Av­enue Out­fit­ters

( 6 thav­enue­out­fit­ters.com), a lo­cal out­fit­ter that’s the per­fect place to pick up a cozy down jacket. Next, you’ll board the train to Fair­banks at the An­chor­age Rail­road De­pot, the Alaska Rail­road’s ( alaskarail­road.com) cen­tral hub. The rail­way’s iconic blue and yel­low trains snake north and south from here, cov­er­ing 482 miles be­tween Se­ward, on the south­ern coast, and Fair­banks, near the Arc­tic Cir­cle.


Drop your bags at your as­signed seat and stake out a spot on the Vista Dome Car, which gives pas­sen­gers a 360-de­gree view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Set­tle in for a show: sub­arc­tic mead­ows cov­ered with snow, craggy hori­zons blan­keted with ice, and tiny rail­side towns. Keep your eyes peeled for moose or elk against the frigid land­scape.


Fair­banks can see less than four hours of day­light dur­ing win­ter, but you didn’t come here for a tan. Make your first stop at the Univer­sity of Alaska’s Mu­seum of the North

($12; uaf.edu/mu­seum), an igloo- and-au­rora-in­spired struc­ture fea­tur­ing some of Alaska’s finest ex­hibits on the di­ver­sity of its peo­ple, wildlife and land­scapes.

Stop in at LULU’s Bread and Bagels ( lu­lus­bagels.com), a pur­veyor of warm­ing baked goods. The rose­mary bread is in­cred­i­ble, and the steam­ing quiche is cer­tain to thaw those frozen fin­gers.


In Fair­banks, keep your eyes on the skies.

This is where you’ll have your best chance to see the night sky light up in the green and red hues of the north­ern lights (Fair­banks can see an av­er­age of 240 such spell­bind­ing events in a year). In­crease your chances by hang­ing around for a few days, and check the Univer­sity of Alaska’s Au­rora Fore­cast ( gi.alaska.edu /Auro­raFore­cast) for nightly up­dates. In the mean­time, head to the Alaska House Art Gallery ( thealaska­house .com), a log house on the south side of town that spe­cial­izes in indige­nous art, and a great place to stock up on sou­venirs.


Although you can see the north­ern lights in town, the best view­ing is in the out­ly­ing hills, away from the light pol­lu­tion. The Chena Hot Springs Road fol­lows the Chena River 56 miles out of town, and it’s dot­ted with pull-offs, view­points and places to ex­plore. Any of these will pro­vide fine north­ern lights view­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

7 De­frost with a fi­nal stop at Chena Hot Springs Re­sort ($15 ad­mis­sion to hot springs, pool and hot tubs; chenahot­springs.com), the near­est hot springs to Fair­banks. Dis­cov­ered by gold min­ers in 1905, the springs quickly be­came the state’s busiest soak­ing spot. The hot springs emit a steady stream of wa­ter at a pip­ing hot 165°F, but don’t worry: it’s cooled be­fore you can take a dip.

– Alexan­der Howard

S TAY Built in 1916 by wealthy restau­ra­teur Arthur Wil­liams as a way to lure his fu­ture wife up to Alaska (spoiler: it worked), the Alaska Her­itage House B&B in Fair­banks is on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places. The an­tique-filled rooms harken...

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