Chilkoot Trail | Alaska Hotels | Camping | Things to See & Do
During the Klondike Gold Rush, Skagway (first
spelled Skaguay) was the gateway to Canada and the Yukon
River system for most of the adventurers who traveled
north to seek their fortunes.
The town still capitalizes on the 1898 stampede, but
now as a tourist center with an outstanding heritage
restoration.Skagway is reached by road, and from the sea.
Alaska ferries arrive daily during the summer months,
augmenting the population by thousands of cruise ship
passengers who disembark for a few hours to walk around
the town and to shop.
Some highway travelers arrive by the car ferries.
Other visitors arrive on the Klondike Highway, coming
from Whitehorse or points south via the Alaska Highway. A
special feature of the summer season in Skagway is the
scenic railway ride up the White Pass, on the original
Klondike Gold Rush route.
Because Skagway is a slim piece of flat land squeezed
between high mountains and the Lynn Canal, there are very
few miles of road. The longest drive in the area is down
the road to the site of the disappeared town of Dyea (dye-ee). Here at the mouth of the rushing Taiya River is
the start of the historic Chilkoot Trail and the Chilkoot
Slide Cemetery. Skagway's visitor center is the office of
the Klondike National Historic Park, on Broadway, a short
walk from the ferry terminal and all motels.
White Pass Trail
The Klondike Highway follows one of the two main
routes from the port of Skagway to the Klondike gold
fields, taken by thousands of prospectors and adventurers
during the Klondike Gold Rush, beginning in the winter of
This is the White Pass route, and the modern highway
is a far cry from the muddy, treacherous trail which
climbed the extremely steep mountainside, resulting in
the death of hundreds of pack horses as they carried the
prospectors' supplies to the summit of the White Pass.
The White Pass trail was the trail of choice for the
more prosperous prospectors who had the financial
resources to buy horses for the trip up the slope. Horses
were a great help in transporting the ton of goods was
required for each prospector by the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police for entry into Canada. The trail was so
rough and so deadly that most of the 3,000 horses that
worked the trail perished on the steep slopes. Some died
from exertion, others fell off the narrow trail into the
The White Pass Railway replaced the trail when it was
constructed and opened in 1900. Much of the blasting was
accomplished by men hanging by ropes from the rock
ledges. The scenic summer railway trip takes tourists
along this historic route, although the year-round
railway service between Skagway and Whitehorse was ended
more than a decade ago.
The other "poor-man's" route was the Chilkoot Trail which began at the town of Dyea at the head of Taiya
Inlet. This trail followed an old Indian passage from
tidewater to Lindeman and Bennett lakes: the headwaters
of the Yukon River. The first part of the trail was wet,
running through swamps and bogs. The tree line ended near
Sheep Camp, with snow visible throughout the year.
Pictures taken during the stampede show hundreds of men
struggling up the ice steps of the Chilkoot Pass,
carrying their supplies -- over and over again -- to get
their ton of goods up to the Canadian border.
A snow slide in March of 1898 killed more than 100
stampeders as they struggled up the pass. The slide
cemetery at Dyea is a memorial to these prospectors who
never realized their Klondike dreams.
The Chilkoot Trail was replaced by the White Pass and
Yukon Railway in 1900. By the end of the year Dyea ceased
to exist. The wood from the buildings was taken away to
construct another town.
Today, the trail is a mecca for hikers from around the
world and a living museum of the Gold Rush era. Thousands
of people walk the trail each year, to experience a
scenic and historical adventure. Transportation is
available from the Canadian end of the trail, for the
return trip to Skagway.
Early History - a rowdy town and Soapy Smith
A narrow wedge of land pushes from the Lynn Canal into
the mountains, leading to the White Pass. Skagway was the
transition point for over 20,000 Gold Rush stampeders in
1897 and 1898, and it was the most uncontrolled and
lawless town in North America. The prospectors were held
hostage by Jefferson (Soapy) Smith and his band of
rogues, cutthroats, crooked gamblers, thieves and
murderers, as they took advantage of Skagway's location
as the gateway to the Klondike.
A notorious con man from Colorado, Soapy Smith was
shot and killed by Frank Reid, the surveyor who laid out
the Skagway town site. Their graves are in the Gold Rush
Cemetery. Soapy Smith's grave is marked by a simple
The rowdy town was the jumping-off point for the two
preferred trails to the Klondike: the White Pass and
Chilkoot trails. After the main stampede of 1897 and
1898, the White Pass and Yukon Railroad was blasted up
the White Pass, linking Skagway on tidewater with
Whitehorse on the Yukon River. While the railroad ceased
operations in 1982, a special summer tourist train began
operating in 1988 and is a highlight of many visits to
Most visitors to Skagway arrive on cruise ships which
stop here during summer months. Others come to hike the
Chilkoot Trail, a 32 mile (51.5 km) walk along the
historic route of the gold rush stampeders. This 3 to-5
day hike attracts thousands of people each summer. It's
possibly the best way to relive the days of the Trail of
'98, following the path which starts in the Dyea forest,
climbing up through the Chilkoot Pass, and hiking above
the tree line to Lindeman and Bennett lakes and the
launching spots for thousands of boats and rafts in the
spring of 1898. Visitors can easily spend two or three
days in Skagway, reliving the history of the Trail of
'98, visiting the restored buildings of the Gold Rush
era, and hiking on several local trails. An excellent way
to experience the 1898 ambiance is to see "Skaguay In the
Days Of '98," performed nightly in the downtown dance
hall at 6th and Broadway. It's been running for more than
The visitor center for the Klondike Gold Rush National
Historical Park, and also for the town of Skagway, is at
Broadway and 2nd Avenue, downtown. Walking tours leave
here daily at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. There's a lecture on the
Chilkoot Trail at 4 p.m. and ranger talks at 10 a.m. An
excellent 30-minute film narrated by Hal Holbrook, with
tinted photos from the Gold Rush, is shown on the hour
during summer months.
The Alaska Marine Highway terminal is at the foot of
Broadway, within sight of the National Park visitor
center. For schedule information, call (907) 983-2941.
The Bus Depot is at 3rd Avenue and Spring Street, in the
Westmark Inn, (907) 983-2241. White Pass bus service
includes runs to Whitehorse, and via Haines Junction and
Fairbanks and Anchorage.
Things to See & Do
Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park offers walking tours of the historic downtown district
centered on Broadway. Included on the tour are several
significant buildings such as the Arctic Brotherhood
Hall, the Mascot Saloon, one of 80 saloons and breweries
which opened to quench stampeders' thirsts, and Capt.
William Moore's Cabin, Skagway's original house (1888).
Dyea, Skagway's sister town on Taiya Inlet, a
few miles from downtown, is now an empty space with only
memories of its role in the stampede. The Slide Cemetery
at Dyea is an impressive memorial to the 60 victims of
the spring avalanche in 1898 that covered the Chilkoot
The Trail of '98 Museum, on the second floor of
City Hall, with artifacts of the Gold Rush, should be an
essential part of your visit.
The White Pass and Yukon Railroad offers an
unforgettable scenic train trip over the White Pass. The
track parallels the trail used by thousands of stampede
adventurers, and it's easy to see while climbing the
steep mountainside how hundreds of horses and men lost
their lives trying to make the ascent. The train leaves
the down town depot twice daily, at 8:30 a.m. and 1:00
p.m., during the summer visitor season, which lasts from
early May to late September. The ride takes three hours,
and the current rates are $78 per person.
Skagway RV and Camping Parks, P.O. Box 324,
Skagway AK 99840, (907) 983-2768
These two campgrounds in Skagway are parts of the same
operation. Pullen Creek RV Park is next to the Alaska
State Ferry dock and the city's Pullen Creek Park, a
short walk from the Klondike National Historic Park
office and the downtown area. It has electrical and water
hookups, showers, and a dump station. Hanousek Park,
located on Broadway, is also within walking distance of
downtown, with electrical and water hookups, wooded RV
and tenting sites, showers, fire pits, and dump station.
Where to Stay