When the 110-mile White Pass and Yukon railroad opened in 1900, it carried thousands of people from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse in Yukon, Canada on their way to seek their fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush.
these miners were replaced by cruise ship passengers as the White Pass and Yukon Route became one of the
most popular day tours in southeast Alaska.
board the historic, narrow-gauge train with cameras, not gold pans, and marvel
how it climbs 3,000 feet in just 20 miles with steep grades of almost 4%,
cliff-hanging turns of 16 degrees, two tunnels and numerous cantilever bridges
and trestles. But these days, a growing number of outdoor adventurers are
booking passage after discovering the railroad also provides easy access to a
pristine mountainous wilderness.
three great adventures made possible with a ticket on the White Pass and Yukon
At Mile 6
of the railroad is this bright red caboose which hikers can reserve through the
US Forest Service and spend a night or
two. Inside there are five bunks, a table and a stove. Outside are commanding
views of the surrounding Sawtooth Mountains and a 4.5-mile trail that leads to Denver
Glacier and Upper Elway Falls.
Station at Mile 14 of the White Pass and Yukon Route is little more than a
sweeping curve in the tracks and a trail sign. But through the trees is a trail
that leads to another US Forest Service cabin and then into the Laughton
Glacier amphitheatre. This is as dramatic a place as any in Alaska, a powerful
blend of craggy Sawtooth Range peaks and the fingers of ice that spill out of
them to form the glacier at the bottom. Combining the train ride with the
1.5-mile hike to stay at the remote cabin makes this slice of Alaskan
wilderness accessible to almost anybody.
This is the most famous
trail in Alaska and one of the most popular, with more than 3,000 hikers
following the historic route every summer. It was the same route used by the
Klondike gold miners in the 1898 gold rush, and walking it is not so much a
wilderness adventure as it is a history lesson. The 33-mile trek includes the
Chilkoot Pass, a steep climb up to 3,525ft, where hikers scramble on all fours
over loose rocks and boulders. Scattered along the entire route are reminders
of the gold rush, a huge steam boiler, rusty tin cans, tools and a lone boot.
completion of the White Pass and Yukon Route put the Chilkoot out of business, and
for many the highlight of the hike is reaching the railroad’s historic Lake
Bennett Depot at the end. Here travellers feast on beef stew and apple pie and
then board the trail for a ride back to Skagway. Experiencing the Chilkoot and
returning on the White Pass and Yukon Route is probably the ultimate Alaska
trek, combining great scenery, a historical site and an incredible sense of
Jim DuFresne is co-author of Lonely Planet’s
The article 'New riches along the White Pass and Yukon Route' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.