Skagway, AK

This Real Gold-Rush Era Railroad Takes Passengers Through Unbelievable Mountain Passes

Allison Burney

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Experience this unique railroad that symbolizes accomplishment in adventure and pioneering – of triumph over challenge. — White Pass and Yukon Route

My first-ever train ride spoiled me.

The landscape was so gorgeous everywhere you looked that I thought this must be the benefit of traveling by train. But the more train journeys I experienced over the following years, the more I realized this was not so. It was simply this location that made it such a memorable (and positive) experience.

Alaska is known for its rugged natural beauty, but you don’t realize what that really means until you’re there, seeing it with your own eyes. It leaves you breathless at every turn, and this is exactly what I experienced on our ride aboard the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad departing from Skagway, Alaska.

It wasn’t just the scenery that caught my attention, though. It only took a few seconds to realize that railroad construction here would have been no easy feat. The White Pass and Yukon Route was designated an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1994, and for good reason.

Alaska.org describes it like this:

Glancing down at the 10-foot-wide railroad bed carved into solid-rock mountainsides, then up at the panoramic views, you’ll be as floored by the scenery as you are by the marvel of engineering it took to carve this route through country formidable even for goats.

The terrain it conquers really is unbelievable. It hugs the edges of steep cliffs, travels up rocky mountain hillsides, over rivers and gorges and canyons on trestle bridges, and sometimes right through the mountains in pitch-black tunnels! I couldn’t believe how sturdy this century-old rail system was; but then again, it had to be for the work it was built to do!

The train route was constructed in the late 1800s to accommodate the Gold Rush stampeders who needed an easier way to travel north to the interior lake country, where they could begin a 550-mile journey on foot to the Yukon River (and the gold fields). The White Pass was one of two main trails leading to the interior, and although it was longer, it wasn’t as steep as the Chilkoot Trail.

Today, the White Pass Railroad Summit Excursion is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Skagway and takes passengers up almost 3,000 feet above sea level for a guided ride through Alaska’s gold rush history. However, the route my family took on our Alaska/Yukon adventure several years ago carried on past White Pass Summit to Fraser, B.C., totaling 27.7 miles and lasting about two hours.

The train ride provided a great way to learn more about Skagway’s history and the Gold Rush era in general. And, of course, the scenery was stunning—beautiful turquoise rivers and lakes, dark mountains, pink and purple flowers, and all different shades of green vegetation covering the mountainsides.

You definitely won’t need a postcard to remember a place like this!

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Writer & proofreader. I love travel, reading, coffee, and exploring nature. On a mission to keep learning, growing, and enjoying this adventure we call life.

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