Trip Back in Time

White Pass & Yukon Rail­way a man­made marvel from Gold Rush days

Where Alaska - - Content -

WP & Yukon Rail­way an en­gi­neer­ing marvel.

The el­der Alaska rail­road by sev­eral years (the Alaska Rail­road on the state main­land be­gan in 1903), the White Pass & Yukon Route Rail­way be­gan in 1898, built to run right up the mid­dle of Broad­way, Sk­ag­way’s main street.

Founded in the mid­dle of one of the last great gold rushes, WP&YR be­came es­sen­tial for ea­ger gold seek­ers want­ing to tra­verse the steep rocky ter­rain in com­fort and ease. It took the la­bor of over 35,000 work­ers and $10 mil­lion in in­vest­ments to lay the rails from sea level to the 2,865 foot sum­mit of the White Pass and be­yond to White­horse, Yukon.

White Pass & Yukon Route Rail­way is a tri­umph of hu­mankind’s en­deav­or­ing spirit; truly a man­made won­der of steel and tim­ber. Built in the frenzy of the Klondike Gold Rush as a way to ma­neu­ver men and goods over the Coast Moun­tains to and from the gold fields near Daw­son City, Yukon, the WP&YR has with­stood the tests of time and now is a mar­quee ex­pe­ri­ence of Alaska.

One hun­dred six­teen years later, a new breed of ea­ger people ar­rive in Sk­ag­way ev­ery sum­mer day. Tourists from all over the world visit the small port city, nes­tled in a nar­row val­ley at the head of the Lynn Canal, and the WP&YR is there to show them the amaz­ing scenery that the White Pass holds.

Stretch­ing 67.5 miles of the orig­i­nal 110-mile route from tide­wa­ters in Sk­ag­way to Car­cross, Yukon, there are in­cred­i­ble scenic views of the Coast Moun­tains and rich Klondike Gold Rush his­tory seem­ingly steeped in ev­ery mile of this nar­row gauge rail line. Touted as “The Scenic Rail­way of the World,” the WP&YR was blasted out of the craggy moun­tains in only 26 months; along sheer cliffs, past bone- chill­ing wa­ter­falls, through tun­nels and across bridges, in sight of awe-in­spir­ing moun­tains and icy glaciers. Dur­ing the sum­mer months, White Pass & Yukon Route car­ries over 380,000 tourists along a jour­ney that re­traces the steps of the gold rush Stam­ped­ers and the “Trail of ‘98”.

White Pass & Yukon Route of­fers sev­eral daily train ex­cur­sions, May through Septem­ber. Be sure to check their web­site, www. wpyr.com, for spe­cific dates and times of oper­a­tion. All ex­cur­sions are fully nar­rated by tour guides giv­ing com­men­tary about the his­tory of Sk­ag­way and the Klondike Gold Rush, along with point­ing out the sights and ideal times to have your cam­eras ready. Af­ter tick­ets are col­lected, an an­nounce­ment is made (this is not for the faint of heart) to stand on the ex­te­rior rail­car plat­forms as the train rolls by cliffhang­ing drops of 1,000 feet!

The most pop­u­lar ride up the rails is the White Pass Sum­mit Ex­cur­sion, a three-and-a-half hour, 40-mile round trip from Sk­ag­way to the Sum­mit of the White Pass (pass­ports are not re­quired).

An­other op­tion is a 27-mile train tour to Fraser, Bri­tish Columbia, where Canada Cus­toms is lo­cated (pass­ports are re­quired), and is the first place out­side of Sk­ag­way where the WP&YR rails meet the Klondike High­way. At Fraser, his­tor­i­cally a stop for steam en­gines to take on wa­ter, pas­sen­gers dis­em­bark the train and board buses for a pleas­ant con­tin­u­a­tion of their jour­ney. Both the Sum­mit and Fraser Ex­cur­sion are ADA-ac­ces­si­ble.

Dur­ing the sum­mer sea­son on Mon­days and Fridays, there is the Fraser Meadows Steam Ex­cur­sion. A unique, 54-mile round trip pulled by one of two orig­i­nal vin­tage steam en­gines that WP&YR op­er­ates from Sk­ag­way to Fraser Meadows; an au­then­tic ride on his­toric rail equip­ment and is not to be missed. Pass­ports are re­quired and this ex­cur­sion is not ADA-ac­ces­si­ble.

The White Pass & Yukon Rail­way trav­els from sea level to 2,865 feet and took just 26 months to

com­plete in 1898.

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