White Pass and Yukon Railway – Gateway to Klondike Gold

White Pass RR-5

Skagway, Alaska

Gold! The word reverberated around the world. Between 1896 and 1899, tens of thousands of would be prospectors found their way to Skagway, Alaska and from there the going got tough. One of the two best routes to Yukon gold, the White Pass Trail, was steep and narrow. So many pack animals died, the trail took on a more sinister name, Dead Horse Trail. Prospectors died of starvation or exposure as well. Shocked by all the loss of life on the way to the Yukon, the Canadian government required all travelers on the trail to carry a year’s supply of provisions. No one could do that in a single trip so prospectors created partnerships and ferried supplies up the trail, taking turns, one partner remaining at the top guarding provisions while others brought up more. Of course, the more people in the partnership, the more goods needed to be carried up and over the pass.

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There is no shortage of scenery along the route into Canada.


The trail meandered in a brutal climb up to the top of the pass and near the top lies the border between the United States and Canada. The trail climbs nearly 3000 feet (914 m) in less than 20 miles (32 km). Upon reaching the Yukon River, prospectors had to find a way to sail down the Yukon River to Dawson City, a boomtown built to support the needs of the prospectors. Seeing an opportunity to make money off the in-rush of prospectors, an international coalition built a railroad. The 110-mile (177 km) railroad was completed in 1900, a year after the gold rush ended.

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The United States-Canada border is marked with flags.


The railway closed down in 1982, but it reopened again in 1988 during the summer as a tourist excursion railroad. Today, around 400,000 travelers ride the rails from Skagway up steep grades, through tunnels and over trestles. The bulk of the travelers on the White Pass and Yukon Railway arrive in Skagway by cruise ship. From a day trip with stops in Canada to a four hour excursion that travels only to the White Pass Summit, tourists can choose to spend a full day as guests of the WP&Y or spend time in Skagway and an afternoon riding the rails. Excursions that stop in Canada require that passengers have a valid passport on their person. The White Pass Summit route does not require a passport. Even though the train does cross the border into Canada, passengers never leave the train so no Customs stop is necessary.

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A tour guide provides a running commentary about sights along the way and conductors are available to answer questions.


Passengers are treated to a narrated tour along the way. The scenery is beautiful and the tracks parallel the White Pass Trail. Glimpses of the trail along the way give tourists an idea of the hardships endured by the prospectors as they carried nearly a ton of supplies up and through the pass. At the top, a siding allows the engine to decouple from the lead car and go to the other end of the train where the last car becomes the lead car for the trip back to Skagway. Dress warmly if you want to take photos unencumbered by reflections from the windows which don’t open. Photographers can step out onto the platform on either end of each car, but there is only room for a couple of people at a time. Share the platform with others who would also like to take photos of the gorgeous scenery along the way. I submit for your pleasure, a gallery of images taken from the platform on our trip into Canada on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. Click on an image to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner


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