Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: September 2023
Skagway is situated in southeastern Alaska along the Pacific coast. It served as an important port during the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s where many prospectors started their journey, taking the route along the Chilkoot or White Pass to reach Dawson City in the Yukon. Today it’s a popular spot to learn more about the history of the gold rush and to enjoy the mountainous landscape.
We spent the past few days in Dawson City, the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush. It was time for us to start making the drive back towards Edmonton along the Alaska Highway. But first, a day trip to Skagway was in order to complete our history lesson of the Klondike Gold Rush.
From Whitehorse it’s about a two and a half hour’s drive to reach Skagway. There are several points of interest along the way though. The first of which is Emerald Lake, located along the Klondike Highway in southern Yukon. The lake gets its turquoise-green color from sunlight reflecting off deposits of marl, a white calcium carbonate, that have settled on the shallow bottom of the lake.
Our next stop was at the Carcross Desert. It’s known as the world’s smallest desert, except it’s technically not a desert as its climate is not considered dry enough. These sand dunes were created during the last ice age and are the remnants of silt and sediment that were deposited on the bottom of a glacial lake that eventually disappeared with the melting glaciers.
We also stopped at Carcross to check out the small community before hitting the road again. From there it’s about an hour to reach the Skagway-Fraser border crossing. There were some additional overlooks along the way, but we planned to hit them up on drive back. Instead we just admired the scenery from the car. As we neared the border, we passed at least 30 tour buses that were heading in the opposite direction. This was only a preview of what was waiting for us when we reached Skagway.
We had a relatively smooth time crossing the border into Alaska as there wasn’t much traffic on the road. From there it’s a super short drive to reach Skagway. As we approached the town, the cloudy skies cleared and made way for some sunshine. We found a spot to park on the edge of town and headed out to explore on foot. We walked towards the Visitor Center of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which consists of over 20 historical buildings.
After spending the past couple of weeks exploring the rugged wilderness in the Yukon, we were a bit overwhelmed by just how many people there were walking around. It turns out Skagway is a popular stop for cruise ships. We made our way through the crowds to check out the Visitor Center Museum. The museum contains a few exhibits that provide more information about the Klondike Gold Rush and the different routes prospectors took to reach Dawson City.
Most prospectors started their journey in southeastern Alaska. From there the only way to reach the Yukon was to head up and through the mountains. There were two main routes, both of which required carrying a year’s supply of food to enter into Canada. The first was along the White Pass, which starts at Skagway. It’s also known as Dead Horse Trail, which should give you some indication of just how treacherous it was (and in case you’re wondering, yes, it got its name from the thousands of horses who died from the rough conditions on the trail). Eventually it became un-passable. The second route was along the Chilkoot Pass from Dyea, which is shorter, has a higher elevation gain and was considered steeper than the White Pass.
We didn’t spend long at the museum, but we were already over the crowds. Instead we decided to check out some of the trails. We walked over to the Trail Center to get some ideas.
The park ranger recommended the Lower Dewey Lake Trail (4.8km loop, rated moderate), so we decided to give it a whirl. The trailhead is located just past the railroad depot on the other side of the train tracks. After crossing a footbridge over a small creek, we found the access point. It’s pretty much a steady climb up a series of switchbacks through the forest to reach the start of the loop around Lower Dewey Lake. Along the way there’s a couple of viewpoints through the trees of the town and harbour.
The trail splits off and connects with a few other trails, but is well signed at each junction. After passing a city reservoir, we got our first glimpse of Lower Dewey Lake.
The next portion of the trail circles around the lake and features five picnic areas along the way. We hiked clockwise around the loop, starting with the western side of the lake, which is reputed to be more rugged. There were a lot of mushrooms among the moss, which gave us a good opportunity to slow down and take some pictures.
There were also several viewpoints of the lake. Once we reached the other side of the lake, the terrain levels out considerably and the path is relatively flat.
After we completed the loop around the lake, we followed the main path back to the trailhead. We ate a quick bite to eat in the car and then headed over to the Moore Homestead, which is part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. The historic house contains a few panels that provide more information about the family and what life was like during the gold rush, along with details about how the house was later restored. Many of the rooms have been restored based on photographs taken by the Moore family in the early 1900s.
It was now later in the afternoon and the streets and sidewalks were noticeably less busier. We went for a stroll through the downtown to admire the buildings and views from the valley.
We then hit the road again. Once we crossed the border into Canada, we stopped at a few overlooks in Fraser, British Columbia. This section of the Klondike Highway passes through a sparse subalpine landscape of lakes and misshapen and stunted vegetation. Fraser has no businesses or permanent residents. It once served as one of the stations along the White Pass and Yukon Route railway that was built during the gold rush to connect Skagway and Whitehorse.
Once we passed through Carcross, we turned off the Klondike Highway and headed east. And so we began the drive back towards the start of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek.