As you chug northward on the Alaska Railroad, keep an eye out for black bears and ambling moose, said Chris Erskine in the Los Angeles Times, and also for crystalline waterfalls and other wonders of the 49th state. The rail line begins in the tiny seaport of Seward, continues up to Anchorage, courses through Denali National Park, and finally comes to an end after 500 miles, in Fairbanks. The route slices through the heart of the state, and into some places accessible only by rail. The railroad does not offer overnight travel, so the only way to see the entire length is through a series of day trips. But almost all the stops are “camera-ready and bountiful beyond belief.”

At 6 p.m., our eight-car train pulled away from the depot. “Known for its easy pace,” the state-owned train meanders through the wilderness, “stopping for animal sightings or glacier views.” Both the first-class and cabin accommodations exude an “elegant, retro feel.” On the first night, I got off at Anchorage, a city of about 300,000, and in the morning knocked about the modest downtown. A highlight was Mulcahy Stadium, where a $5 admission bought a seat to watch “some of the best college players in the nation” compete in the Alaska Baseball League. A little south of Anchorage, in Girdwood, the Silvertip Grill serves “slabs of reindeer lasagna as big as small appliances.”

Another “only-in-Alaska venue” was Bird Point, the site of extreme tidal changes that cause bore tides. Whales sometimes follow a wave rushing up an inlet, and seals frolic along. Only 60 places in the world have these dramatic tides. Next stop was Denali National Park, home of Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest peak. On the final leg, we headed toward the Arctic Circle. Mountains gave way “to meadows and thick rolling forest.” The rail line followed the course of the Nenana River for the first two hours, and snaked its way past the coal-mining town of Healy. Fairbanks, though, turned out to be a disappointment—not much to do. All the white-bearded males looked like “descendants of Santa Claus.”