Adventures on the Alaskan Railroad's Little-Known Flag Stop Train

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From just a few hundred miles below the Arctic Circle in Fairbanks, all the way down to the coastal city of Seward 467 miles south, the Alaska Railroad offers up wilderness from the comfort of a cushioned chair. But why end there? It's also the perfect platform to launch an adventure. Simply pull the flag and you're on your way. From mid-May until late September the Hurricane Turn train operates along a 56-mile stretch of rail from Talkeetna to Hurricane Gulch as a flag-stop train, meaning it will let you off anywhere you ask. When you want to get picked up, just stand next to the rails waving a white flag. Most riders are homesteaders that use the train to access their properties, but you will see a few savvy adventurers with camping or fishing gear. “This stretch of track has long been a secret kept by the residents of the state, the fishing and rafting are some of the best we have,” says Warren Redfearn, the long-time conductor of the train. Here are a few recommended stops.

Places to Pull the Flag on the Hurricane Turn Train

Mile 266.7: Fishing

At mile 266.7 is the 4.5-mile long Indian River, home to salmon, rainbow trout, graylings, and dolly vardens. The water is fresh and clear, with a canopy of green lining the riverbanks. It is possible to fish — either fly or spin — for days during the week without seeing anyone. The train will drop you, and whatever gear you want to bring, right next to the river. From there you can pitch your tent, start searching for the perfect fishing spot, and relax. 

Rafting at Mile 264.4

Just a few miles down the tracks, at mile 264.4, the Indian River joins the Susitna River, offering close to 40 miles of rafting through state park land where the chances of seeing a moose are higher than seeing another person. The trip can be done in one day — about nine hours — but why rush? “The fishing is ridiculous with numerous backwaters and lagoons to stop at,” says Redfearn. “You could spend two to three days exploring the river, camping in the middle of nowhere, all the time basking in the views of Denali Mountain.” The river will deposit you right in downtown Talkeetna.

Mile 248.5: Mountain Biking

This is the former home of the Curry Hotel, a luxury destination in the middle of nowhere that burned down in 1957. Now a large spot of level ground, the stop is used as a camping site for rafters and the occasional hiker. Directly east is an old mining road that winds and weaves close to thirty miles, to remote Stephan Lake, hidden deep inside the Talkeetna Mountains. “The trail is rough climbing out, you will walk your bike a few times, but once you get above the Susanna drainage, the terrain is beautiful,” says Billy FitzGerald owner of Denali Trekking. You could easily be on the trail for days on this out-and-back trip.

Flying into Backcountry; Walking to the Train

The area surrounding the train tracks, like much of the state, is pure wilderness. One of the best ways to experience it is on foot. Denali Trekking will fly you into Plover Lake. Once there they will guide you back to the railroad through the high alpine tundra where grizzly’s, wolves, caribou, and moose are the only residents. There are no trails to follow, only a compass heading leading you west until you finally site the railroad tracks four days later. “The remoteness of the land will amaze you,” says Billy FitzGerald.

Talkeetna

Your beginning and end point, the town of Talkeetna, is a worthy destination on its own. Just 2.5 hours north of Anchorage, this place sits in the shadow of two mountains: Foraker (17,400 feet) and, North America's highest, Denali (20,320 feet), and has solid food options (like Mountain High Pizza), live music, and bars.