2015  HIKING, CYCLING,

& RV TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Denali AKA Mt. McKinley

 

   
 
Runtrails' Web Journal
 
Previous       2015 Journal Topics       Home       Next
 

   DAY TRIP TO SKAGWAY, ALASKA
FROM WHITEHORSE, YUKON

MONDAY, JUNE 8

 
"Skagway owes its birth to the Klondike Gold Rush [1897-98] . . . Today, tourism is   
Skagway's main economic base. Within Skagway's downtown historical district
false-fronted buildings and boardwalks dating from gold rush days line the
streets. The National Park Service, the city, and local residents have
succeeded in preserving Skagway's gold rush atmosphere."
 
~ The Milepost, 2015 print edition, p. 667-8
 
 

What a fun, beautiful day! Now we can say we've been in Alaska this summer, although it was for only a couple hours.

We knew we wanted to visit Skagway this trip since we didn't go there in 2012. We originally thought we'd take the passenger ferry from Haines when we're there later this week, since it's only a few miles away via water.

You can see the proximity of the two Alaska towns on the map farther below. Skagway is the northern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway's southeastern ferry system that begins in Seattle.


One of numerous beautiful lakes along this hilly, curvy route

Jim came up with a better idea, though -- he suggested we go down to Skagway from Whitehorse today. It's a gorgeous 98-mile drive on the South Klondike Hwy., plus about five more miles from our campground south of Whitehorse.

It was a great idea because we got to see spectacular scenery along the road and seven grizzly bears. We would have missed all that on the ferry. In addition, we could take the dogs with us in the truck.

Note that another popular way to visit Skagway besides 1) driving this route yourself, 2) riding on a tour bus, or 3) cruising up the Lynn canal is to 4) take the White Pass & Yukon Route via train. There are no ugly routes to Skagway!

THE ROUTE

CA 2 took us through part of southern Yukon, far northwestern British Columbia, and a few miles of southeastern Alaska:

You can see a larger version of that map on The Milepost website

[ Note the location of Haines, AK in the lower left corner of the map. That's where we're going tomorrow -- but about twice the distance by road on a different route with the RV.]

SCENERY GALORE

It was a cool, partly sunny day for a drive, with a fair amount of wind along the Klondike Hwy. when we got out to take pictures or walk the dogs.

The snow in the mountains and near the road at the higher elevations made it seem more chilly. We loved this route, especially going south because we could see more snow on the mountains in that direction:

 


Jeep caravan heading north

As you can see on the map farther above, the road follows several large sub-alpine glacial lakes and streams. The turquoise and blue colors were vibrant, coordinating beautifully with the light and dark greenery, blue skies, and white clouds:

 

 

There were lots of waterfalls and glaciers in the BC and US sections of the road, unusual lichen-covered lava rocks in the tundra north of White Pass, and glimpses of the White Pass-Yukon railroad:

 

We even saw a little "desert" in Carcross:

 

The high point on the South Klondike Hwy. is at White Pass, elevation 3,292 feet.

This is also the boundary between British Columbia and the United States, although U.S. customs is farther south and BC customs is farther north in more hospitable territory.

From there, the road drops down an 11% grade through a canyon and over a creek on a suspension bridge to Skagway, which lies at sea level:

 

Soon after we turned off the Alaska Hwy. onto the South Klondike Hwy. we saw a mama grizzly bear and her three cubs on Jim's side of the road but we didn't get any good pictures of them.

We had better luck a few miles farther down the road when we spotted another mama grizz right by the side of the road, this one with two cubs. Jim stopped again and took several photos. Although he was still facing the sun, these came out better:

 

We didn't see any more wildlife the rest of the way.

There was minimal traffic on the road, so we could easily stop the truck to take photos whenever we wanted. We saw a few large trucks, several large tour buses, a bunch of little tour buses, a few RVs, and several cyclists in a group.

THE TOWN:  BOOM TO BUST TO BOOM AGAIN

There were plenty of people walking around Skagway, however, because two large cruise ships and a ferry were docked in the bay. Here are two of the vessels:

Despite all the tourists it was easy to walk and drive around town and we were the only ones in the Indian restaurant where we had spicy chicken curry for lunch.

In its short-lived heyday during the Klondike Gold Rush Skagway's population swelled from about zero to over 20,000 people.

The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park was established to preserve and interpret the history of the gold rush in 1897-98. There is a nicely landscaped park between the harbor and town buildings that commemorate the event, and several buildings in the historic district.

 


Centennial statue depicting a Native American guide (L) and gold miner (R)

Since the routes to the Klondike also went through British Columbia and the Yukon to Dawson, Yukon, Congress also established units in these two Canadian provinces, making this the only U.S. International Historical Park. Cool,  huh?

Another one of Skagway's major tourist attractions is the White Pass and Yukon Route (WP&YR) railway.

The rail line was begun during the short-lived gold rush as an alternative route to the difficult Chilkoot Trail. After the stampede died the line was extended to Whitehorse to transport ore and freight to and from that city to Skagway's port.


The train depot in Skagway

I'm not sure if the railway still transports freight or just people.

I do know that a popular tourist activity is riding the train from Skagway to White Pass and back, or going all the way to Whitehorse. The rail line is in close proximity to the South Klondike Highway most of the way between Skagway and Whitehorse, so I also know it has to be a beautiful ride.

These railroad cars are on exhibit in the Gold Rush Historical Park. A caboose is on the left. A 10-foot rotary snow blade is on the right. Although White Pass is only 3,292 feet elevation it usually gets a lot of snow. This snow plow used to clear the path through snow and drifts up to and through the pass:

The Klondike Gold Rush didn't last long and within a couple of years the population of Skagway dwindled from about 20,000 people to only about 500 hardy souls.

Current year-round population is still less than 1,000 but, like many other Alaskan and northern Canadian tourist towns, that increases in the summer with seasonal business owners and their employees. In addition to the activities listed above, visitors love to walk up and down the streets and browse in the museums and shops:


A good place to start is the Arctic Brotherhood (AB) Hall,
which houses the Skagway visitor center.


The building's unique faade has almost 9,000 pieces of
driftwood sticks arranged in a mosaic pattern.


At your service, M'am; here's another way to tour the town.

 

We aren't avid window shoppers but I managed to spend at least half an hour in a well-stocked quilt shop called Rushin' Taylor's Quilt Alaska.

I wanted to find a small wall hanging with an Alaskan motif (moose, bears, mountains, or such) to stitch while we're living in our RV. With my sewing machine, iron, and quilting supplies in storage in Virginia, I can't tackle anything very complicated while we're wandering around North America.

There were so many choices of quilt patterns and kits in this shop that I had sensory overload. This is just one corner of the shop:

It took a while but I finally narrowed my choice to a pretty fireweed wildflower design by McKenna Ryan:

Fireweeds are ubiquitous in our favorite northern states and provinces, including AK, CO, BC, and YT. The early ones we've seen so far on this trip have been very short versions by the roadside. We'll see taller fireweed blooming soon.

While I was lost in the wonder of beautiful fabrics and quilts, Jim discovered the Klondike Doughboy store a couple doors away.

He saved his plate-sized piece of Alaskan fry bread until I came back so I could taste the sugary treat, too.

CUSTOMS X2

Customs into the U.S. and back into Canada was easy without the camper! Even if we'd been searched it would have been much simpler in just a passenger vehicle.

Both border agents looked quickly at our passports, asked us where we live (always harder to explain since we're fulltime RVers!), asked to see in the back seat (Casey loved that), asked if we had weapons, tobacco, or alcohol, asked how long we'd be there, how we got there (driving vs. cruise ship, I suppose), and that's about it.

 
Approaching U.S. customs a few miles north of Skagway

We asked the U.S. agent about what foods we can't take to Haines, Alaska tomorrow from Canada  and he said uncooked poultry products (including eggs), lamb products, peppers, and fresh corn. Dairy products are OK currently. (Verboten items change often, based on what diseases, like bird flu, are a problem at the time.)

We didn't know if we should load up on any foods in Whitehorse, since it has larger grocery stores than we'll find in Haines, but we decided to take our chances at the Haines IGA store.

We used up our chicken breasts last night for supper and we'll have omelets tonight to use all the remaining eggs. We don't have much produce left. See how that works?

 
Old mine relic


Scene going northbound

We spent only a couple of hours in Skagway. It was interesting but we enjoyed the scenery on the way to and from the town more than the town itself. After we got back to Whitehorse we got ready for our trip to Haines tomorrow. Jim rode his bike and I took the dogs to Miles Canyon for a hike.

We've enjoyed our time in the Whitehorse area and might come back again to see and do some different things.

Next entryanother gorgeous drive -- Whitehorse, Yukon to Haines, Alaska

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

Previous       Next

2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

-