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
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,
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. We took just the truck, not the
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!
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 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.]
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
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:
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:
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
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,
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.
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
which houses the Skagway visitor center.
The building's unique façade
has almost 9,000 pieces of
driftwood sticks arranged in a mosaic pattern.
At your service, M'am; here's another way to tour
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,
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
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
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 entry: another gorgeous drive -- Whitehorse,
Yukon to Haines, Alaska
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil