Spencer Whistle Stop and Beyond...

The Whistle Stop Project

The DMU traveling along Turnagain Arm

A partnership between the Alaska Railroad Corporation and the U.S. Forest Service provides the public with a distinctive travel and recreational experience found nowhere else in the United States. And the only way to get there is on the Alaska Railroad.

A new self-propelled railcar called a Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU), the Chugach Explorer, was introduced to the service in 2009. This all-in-one unit is suited for the Whistle Stop service because of its ability to stop and start in a short distance; and it is 50% more fuel effi cient, emits 72% less pollution and 75% less noise than a traditional locomotive configuration. It has the power to pull two additional railcars, or operate independently. This car is currently used on the Glacier Discovery Train.

The completed Whistle Stop project will include a series of 5 Whistle Stop stations with restrooms and other amenities.

DMU Details

  • Total cost $5.75 million
  • Top speed by design 110 mph, top speed on ARRC 60 mph.
  • 4 to 6 times the fuel economy of a passenger train
  • Two 600 hp engines for a total of 1200 hp.
  • The third engine only runs the 175kw gen set.
  • Length 89 ft
  • 90 seats upstairs, 20 seats downstairs
  • Ht 19' 10"”
  • Max wt. on rail 225,00 lbs.
  • Capable of pulling and providing electricity for two additional coach cars.
  • Two restrooms, one with wheelchair access
  • Baggage area
  • Wilderness Café
  • Wheelchair access

Whistle Stop Update

The Chugach Whistle Stop service to Spencer Glacier officially opened August 2007. The Spencer Glacier stop is the first of 5 whistle-stops planned for the future. The whistle-stop service to Spencer Glacier will be offered on the existing Glacier Discovery Train schedule.

Passengers can hop off the train at the Spencer Whistle Stop for a narrated 1.3-mile hike with a U.S. Forest Service ranger. The trail leads to Spencer Lake for spectacular glacier viewing. The area is now open to unguided and overnight use. Hikers can now explore the Spencer Lake area on their own.

There is a 2.1 mile trail that extends from Spencer Lake to Spencer Glacier. Dispersed, non-fee, camping opportunities are available along this trail. Within the Developed Recreation area, camping is available for reservation and fee at a group campsite. The group campsite has two pods, one accommodating 10 people, the other accommodating 15 people.

Get on Board!

The train conductor standing in front of the Chugach Explorer

A justifiably proud conductor in front of the Diesel Multiple Unit.

The Alaska Railroad and Chugach National Forest have worked together since 2004 to create world-class recreational opportunities for visitors of all abilities in the Chugach National Forest backcountry.  The Whistle Stop Project will eventually include five whistle stop stations, over 30 miles of new trails, cabins, and campsites in the rugged Kenai Mountains.  Since the first of the whistle stops was completed at Spencer Glacier in 2007, over 10,000 visitors have enjoyed this spectacular landscape.  To learn more about planned developments, take a look at the project’s Record of Decision.

Activities at the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop

The Whistlestop Diesel rest on the rail tracks near Portage

The DMU takes a break for a photo-op somewhere along the line.

Ride the Alaska Railroad’s Chugach Explorer from Anchorage, Whittier, or Portage, to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop . You can get tickets on-line at The Alaska Railroad.  The Chugach Explorer is an innovative, self-propelled railcar that is 50% more fuel efficient and emits 72% less pollution than a traditional locomotive.  Once at Spencer, enjoy the scenic backcountry through hiking, camping, or water-based activities.



Day hikers walking up toward Spencer Lake and Glacier

Some day-hikers along the route to Spencer Glacier

Walk the Spencer Glacier Trail with a Forest Service ranger to learn about the natural and cultural history of area. This 1.3 mile hike (one-way) takes you to a scenic overlook providing outstanding views of Spencer Glacier. For those seeking a longer hike, the trail continues another 1.8 miles to the edge of the glacier. Remember that you need to be back at the Spencer Whistle Stop no later than 4:30 to catch the Glacier Discovery Train back to Portage.



Fire ring at the Spencer whistle stop group campsite

The stonehenge-like firepit at the group campsite

To extend your stay, you can reserve space in the group campsite or venture out to dispersed sites further down the trail. The group campsite is located about 1.1 miles from the Whistle Stop. Camping in the Developed Recreation Area (see the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop map) is by reservation only and only allowed in the group campsite, (reservations at www.alaskarailroad.com). Amenities include a well, restroom, food storage lockers, picnic benches, and fire ring. You should plan to bring your own firewood because there is not much dead and down wood to gather on site, and it cannot be purchased on site.

Dispersed camping is allowed outside of the Developed Recreation Area at no charge. Nine tent pads are available on a first-come, first-serve basis approximately one mile beyond the scenic overlook. You are encouraged to use these pads to help 'leave no trace' on the landscape.

Rafting, Canoeing, Kayaking

Rafters and their guide drift across Spencer lake with the Glacier in the background

Rafters and their local guide drift across Spencer Lake in front of the glacier

Explore Spencer Lake and Placer River through a ride and float combination. Guided rafting and canoeing trips are available at the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop, but must be booked in advance at www.alaskarailroad.com. You may also bring your own inflatable watercraft, but make sure to check out the Alaska Railroad's baggage policy beforehand.

Be prepared before you arrive at Spencer, as weather can change rapidly and the area is bear country. Review the Alaska Railroad's baggage policy to see what you can bring on the train.

Beginning in 2010, cooking fuel is permitted on the Chugach Explorer. Declare it to the conductor to ensure proper storage of the fuel. Contact the Glacier Ranger District at 783-3242 for more information before you go, and pick up a bear-proof food container at our office in Girdwood.