White Pass & Yukon Route

Relive the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush with a unique excursion through the White Pass Summit departing from Skagway. Enjoy spectacular scenery while learning about the incredible journeys, hardships and fates of thousands of gold prospectors.

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1 White Pass & Yukon Route Marquee in Skagway, Alaska

On August 16, 1896, gold was discovered in the Klondike region of the Yukon and soon 100,000 prospectors surged towards Skagway, Alaska, as part of the Klondike Gold Rush. When this marquee was first painted on the train station in 1898, only 4,000 had harvested any gold. By the time the train route was finished in 1900, the rush was just about over and most of the gold diggers who survived had gone home penniless. Anecdotally, my great grandfather was one of the unlucky ones.

231 2nd Skagway, AK 99840
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2 Trainman at Historic WP&YR Depot in Skagway, Alaska

If you travel extensively, you can smell when a location has been designed just to collect tourist money versus present a genuine historic experience. The WP&YR excursion train ride through the White Pass Summit seemed like the former when my wife bought tickets. However, when we arrived at the Skagway Depot, I saw this trainman before climbing aboard and then enjoyed the 40 mile journey as the coach car rattled, swayed and climbed through history.

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3 WP&YR Caboose Platform in Skagway, Alaska

Imagine reading a headline from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1897 exclaiming gold had been discovered in the Canadian Klondike. With dreams of riches dancing in your head, your adventure begins on a steamer. After arriving in the Port of Skagway, you must carry a ton of supplies through 40 miles of a treacherous mountain pass. Then you board another boat at Bennett, British Columbia, for a 70 mile ride down the Yukon River. If you survive, you discover most of the land has been claimed and the gold is gone. This hideous ordeal was the inspiration for building the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad to accommodate prospectors.

231 2nd Skagway, AK 99840
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4 Train Turning Through Coastal Mountains in Skagway, Alaska

As the WP&YR chugs along the White Pass route through the stunning coastal mountains, most tourists elect to enjoy the marvelous views from the comfort of their window seats. Those determined to photograph the excursion jostle for position outside on small platforms between the parlor cars. You know where I was standing for the whole ride.

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5 Cantilever Steel Bridge in Skagway, Alaska

When the Cantilever Steel Bridge was built in 1901 about 1,000 feet over the raging waters that flow through Glacier Gorge, it was the world’s tallest cantilever bridge. It was decommissioned in 1969 when a new tunnel and bridge replaced it.

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6 White Pass Terrain in Skagway, Alaska

In 1897, when a Seattle newspaper announced gold had been uncovered in the Yukon, early prospectors chose one of two passes for their six-hundred-mile journey. This White Pass scenery looks so beautiful from the window of the train excursion. However, between 1897 and 1898, it was called “The Dead Horse Trail.” Over 3,000 horses died while gold speculators struggled through mud, falling rock and a bitter winter.

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7 Black Cross Rock in Skagway, Alaska

Over 450 tons of explosives were used to carve out narrow passageways through the rugged Coast Mountains of the Tongass National Forest. Unfortunately, all of that blasting cost two workers their lives. They were buried under 100 tons of rock in an accident at this 10.4 mile marker called Black Cross Rock.

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8 Men Who Built the WP&YR Railroad in Skagway, Alaska

Nearly 35,000 men helped to build the WP&YR railroad starting in Skagway, Alaska, in May of 1898 until the rails stretched over 40 miles to Bennett, British Columbia, in July, 1899. This incredible feat was the vision of a railroad contractor named Michael Henry plus Sir Thomas Tancrede who secured funding of $60,000 per mile of track from investors in London.

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9 Tunnel Mountain in Skagway, Alaska

At mile marker 16 of the White Pass & Yukon Route is the wooden Tunnel Mountain. For one mile, you are in total darkness while the train chugs, rocks and creaks along. It is reminiscent of an amusement park ride. The tunnel was built during a bitter winter when temperatures reached 60 degrees below zero. It is hard to imagine the dedication required to work under those harsh conditions.

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10 Rotary Snowplow #1 Blades Close Up in Skagway, Alaska

These ten enormous blades on Rotary Snowplow #1 cleared up to 12 feet of accumulated snow. It was built by the Cooke Locomotive and Machinery Company during the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad’s inaugural year in 1898. Although it was retired and put on display next to the Skagway depot in 1965, it has been called back to service twice: the most notable occasion was when Skagway had a record snowfall of 126 inches in November of 2011.

Broadway and 1st, Skagway, AK 99840
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11 White Pass & Yukon Route Logo in Skagway, Alaska

This modern version of the White Pass & Yukon Route is in the historic Skagway depot. Instead of the slogan “Gateway to the Yukon” it should be “The Little Railroad that Could” because it has a fascinating history of reinventing itself. First built against incredible odds in the late 19th century to serve prospectors, it converted to transporting other metals and ores after the gold rush until the Great Depression ended that business. However it grew again during World War II as a transportation resource for building the Alaska Highway. After the war, it switched to providing intermodal freight traffic until it shut down in 1982. Six years later it opened again as a tourist attraction for arriving cruise ships.

231 2nd Skagway, AK 99840
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