It’s a weird feeling being in a locomotive and suddenly trying to bring the train to a stop; I actually do know this feeling. I’ve been in the engineer seat before while cars illegally passed through the downed crossbucks as I continuously and simultaneously blew the horn and pulled the brakes. It’s just physics, trains and their subsequent train cars take a long time to stop; they aren’t like an automobile.
I know all of this because I actually worked for the Railroad in my first job out of college, and we had to become licensed to operate a train even though I was simply in the Accounting Department!
My years at the railroad were really special to me, and it explains my love of train trips. I’ve ridden them all over the world and love the slow mode of travel seeing the landscape roll by.
There are many Alaska Railroad tours, but there is only one that stops over and over again on purpose. The Hurricane Turn Train is one of the few flagstop trains left in the US; it stops for anyone (typically locals) waiting along the tracks. It’s a lifeline for serving the remote community near Talkeetna. This is why I think it is the best train route the Alaska Railroad offers is the Hurricane Turn Train. It was by far my favorite train tour I’ve ever been on. It might not have been the most scenic or modern, but it was the best train travel experience I’ve had because it connected you with locals and local life. It was authentic travel through a seldom seen and experienced part of Alaska. Most people stick to the well worn tourists routes in Alaska, but the real magic happens when you get off that tourist trail and really get to know remote Alaska.
Tips for Planning Your Hurricane Turn Train Tour
Who Should Go On This Train Tour?
If you are a traveler who enjoys having local experiences, then the Hurricane Turn train is the way to go. You can be as engaged as you want with the locals – it’s up to you. Everyone I talked to was very welcoming and by simply heading to the baggage car every time we stopped – I was able to meet the people getting on and off. However, if you want to simply stay in your seat and watch the wildlife go by, you can do that to. There’s still plenty of chances to interact with the train crew and locals that way too!
Food and Drink
Most of the Alaska Railroad Routes include dining cars, but not the Hurricane Turn Train. Instead, you can bring food with you – the more the better! I saw people bringing on coolers for a whole day of feasting!
And the best part is that there are tons of great restaurants in Talkeetna that are happy to provide meals to take on the train with you. My favorite is Roadhouse Café and Bakery. Incredible food and baked goods are churned out at this famous café on the main drag. Just make sure you call a day ahead to order a sack lunch if you want to take it with you on the train. The summer months are super busy so better be safe than sorry!
You may even bring your own alcohol on the Hurricane Turn Train! Please note, this is not allowed on any other Alaska Railroad routes, just the Hurricane Train Route.
Where to Sit
There are only a few cars on the entire train, and it’s all open seating – so feel free to move around! There is traditional seating as well as a dome car where you get a more expansive view. You are also free to hang out at the ends of the cars and get some open-air views and pictures. When the train stops to let people on and off, you may also go back to the baggage car and watch the loading and unloading. This was my favorite place to be; it’s where all the fun flagstop action happens.
What to Bring
I suggest bringing a camera, snacks, fishing pole/license, picnic gear, hiking gear, binoculars, coolers, and white flag! It all depends on what you plan to do and if you plan to get off. At the very least, bring a camera, binoculars, and food/snacks are necessary!
If you are planning a hike, don’t forget these things
If you are getting off the train and staying in the wilderness longer to do some hiking, be sure you are prepared with essential this essential hiking gear!
And don’t forget your bear spray (you are in Alaska after all!)
How to Get Off and On a Flagstop Train
When you get on the train make sure you tell the conductor where you want to stop – providing a milemarker is helpful but not necessary. Also let them know what day you want to get picked up if you are doing a multi day wilderness outing. If you want to get off and have a picnic, but don’t know where to do that, just tell Conductor Warren what you want to do and he’s happy to suggest places. If you get off to have a picnic like I did, let the crew know you want picked up the same day. Have a white cloth of some kind and wave it to flag down the train as if it were a taxi!
Hurricane Turn Train Map
This is an out and back route. The train starts in Talkeetna around 12:45PM and travels to Hurricane Gulch, turns around and returns to Talkeetna around 7:15 PM
How to Buy Tickets
It’s $104 to ride the Hurricane out to the turn around and back. Train Kids ride free with adult ticket purchase
Buy Tickets Here at Alaska Railroad Website
Hurricane Turn Schedule
Don’t get caught up on time, and don’t plan anything that night as return times do vary. The timeframe does change every day depending on train traffic and the number of passengers getting on and off. And that’s the beauty of it, you don’t really know what will happen on this experience, there is no script, it’s just real life playing out in front of you. Note – May and early June is when you typically see the most bears. However in September you can see more wildlife from the train because the leaves are gone.
Where to Stay in Talkeetna
The Roadhouse is not only a café – but it’s also a hotel and worth checking out (Read reviews of Roadhouse Hotel). If you are looking for something a bit more substantial, then check out Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge – a large lodge just outside of town that runs a regular shuttle into town. (Read Reviews of Talkeetna Alaskan lodge)
Or a nice in between choice is the Chinook Wind Cabins; individual lodging complete with kitchens. (Read Reviews of Chinook Wind Cabins)
How to Get the Most Out of Your Experience
Talk to the crew and the passengers, they all have fascinating stories to share. Bring food and share with people! When the train stops for pickups/dropoffs, go back to the baggage car and lend a hand! And if you want a real feel for what the Alaska wilderness is about, then consider getting off the train to hike, picnic, fish, or even camp overnight and then flag it back down!
When You are in Talkeetna, Don’t Miss the Mayor!
The town of Talkeetna Alaska has elected a cat named Stubbs for their mayor. He’s been mayor for 20 years! Stubbs, who got his name from his short tail, has an office in the Nagley General Store. I’ve been there now 4 different times over 2 years to try to visit him but no luck as has always been ‘in meetings’. So this is the best I could do.
How to Prepare for Your Trip
I suppose you can stand outside with a white cloth and practice your hailing technique! However, I suggest you just follow the Hurricane Turn Facebook page to get yourself really excited about the trip! Conductor Warren runs the page and shares daily wildlife sightings and updates on it!