Trip Back in Time
White Pass & Yukon Railway a manmade marvel from Gold Rush days
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.