In 1896, a man by the name of Skookum Jim found gold near the Klondike River in Yukon Territory, Canada. This sparked a gold rush the next year as hopeful miners, known as “stampeders,” descended upon southeast Alaska and the Yukon. Visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, Alaska to learn about this fascinating time in history.
Stampeders could reach the Klondike gold fields by sailing around Alaska and up the Yukon River, by walking overland across Canada, or by traveling to Skagway, Alaska, by boat and crossing the Coast Range mountains to Dawson City, Canada, where they’d finish the journey by river. The first route was expensive, the second was extremely dangerous and time consuming. This left most stampeders heading for Skagway and the neighboring town of Dyea. These towns ballooned from clusters of tents to real towns in a matter of months.
The first unit of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is located in Seattle, Wash. Find a visitor center in the Cadillac Hotel in the historic Pioneer Square to learn about stampeders beginning their journey north.
The heart of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park lies in Skagway, Alaska. Stop into the visitor center in downtown Skagway to learn how tens of thousands of miners continued their journey into the Yukon. It’s located in the historic White Pass & Yukon Route Railway Depot. Films, exhibits and ranger talks will give you a better picture of the town’s history.
The town itself will make you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. Colorful buildings line the streets housing shops and restaurants. Many of the buildings you’ll stroll past are from the Klondike Gold Rush, built between 1897 and 1910. A town ordinance requires any new buildings in the historic district match the aesthetic, so the entire street looks like it was plucked from more than a century ago.
Dyea Ghost Town
From Skagway, head to the next unit of the national historic site, Dyea (pronounced die-ee). You’ll drive 10 miles of stunning coastal road to reach the area that was once another gold rush townsite, but is now a nature area after the town was wiped out by an avalanche. Skagway visitor information specialist, Wendy Anderson, describes the journey to Dyea as something that “livens up the soul.” You can walk paths that follow the town’s former streets and read interpretive signs to learn more about the gold rush. You may spot brown bears feeding on spawning salmon in July and August in the Dyea inlets.
This is where the Chilkoot Trail begins in Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. What was once a trading route for the Tlingit people became a highway for miners in the late 1800s. The 33-mile trail crosses the Canadian border before ending at Lake Bennett where miners would depart for the Dawson City and the Klondike gold fields by water. To prevent famine, Canadian officials required that miners bring a year’s worth of supplies with them when crossing the border. The trail is still littered with discarded belongings miners left behind as they hiked back and forth with all their supplies, taking a good hard look at what they’d actually need as they lugged it up the pass. It’s known as the world’s longest museum.
If you’re up for a multi-day adventure, the trail can be backpacked in full. Permits are required and planning can be done at www.nps.gov/klgo/planyourvisit/planning-your-hike.htm. If you’re just interested in a day hike, many local guides offer a hike and float trip where you hike two miles of the trail and return to Skagway by river raft.
Learn more at www.nps.gov/klgo/