By Steve Hites
The map of the railroad shows general characteristics of the route from Skagway to Bennett. Use the numbers to follow points of interest along the way. For further information about your location, railroad milepost markers are set up alongside the tracks at window height and are placed exactly one mile apart. Stations and points of interest also are marked with signs. Now that you’re set, enjoy your ride on the “Scenic Railway of the World.”
1 (Mile 0) • White Pass Co. Wharf/Broadway Cruise Ship Dock/Ore Dock. The “Summit Excursion” departs from these docks and the WP&YR depot daily during the summer. Newsies in 1898 costumes usually greet the ships and give the train a send-off. Look for restored Steam Engines No. 73 and 69, which pull some trains from the docks to town, or takes special steam excursions to Bennett and Fraser. Diesel engines will take most trains up the mountain.
2 (Mile 0.3) • Skagway, Alaska, USA / White Pass Depot. “Gateway to the Klondike.” A city of 10-20,000 in 1898, Skagway’s downtown Historic District retains the flavor of the era. On 2nd Avenue stand the new and old White Pass depots. The new one serves as a company office and passenger terminal. Trains heading to Fraser, Bennett and Carcross leave from here. The old depot was restored by the National Park Service and serves as the Visitor Center and headquarters for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
3 (Mile 0.5) • Pullen House Grounds. One time “Best Hotel in Alaska,” run by the plucky Harriet Pullen who owned pack horses on the White Pass Trail in ‘98. President Warren G. Harding gave a brief speech here on his Alaskan tour of 1923. Mrs. Pullen’s grave rests above the tracks on the hillside.
4 (Mile 2.0) • White Pass Shops. All narrow gauge repairs and maintenance of engines and rolling stock are done here. New metal shops building replaced old roundhouse destroyed in the fire of 1969. Older buildings were constructed by the U.S. Army during its World War Two operation of the railroad.
5 (Mile 2.5) • Gold Rush Cemetery. Outlaw Soapy Smith and town hero Frank Reid, who shot it out in ‘98, are buried here along with many other stampeders and early day residents. A quick eye will catch the “Largest Gold Nugget in the World” chained to a tree for protection from thieves by early tourist promoter Martin Itjen.
6 (Mile 5.8) • 5A Bridge & Denver Glacier Trail. A favorite local hike for many years, U.S. Forest Service trail leads three miles to an old hunting cabin and then to the bottom of the receding glacier. The caboose serves as a U.S. Forest Service cabin. Railroad crosses East Fork of Skagway River.
7 (Mile 6.9) • Rocky Point. An excellent view down the lower valley to Skagway. The town, wharfs and ships tied in port can be seen in the distance with Mt. Harding and Harding Glacier forming a dramatic backdrop. The Brackett Wagon Road of ‘98 crossed the railroad in the narrow cut at Milepost 7.
8 (Mile 8.6) • Clifton. Passing siding and section shack. A section gang lived in a two-story building here for many years. Name derived from large rock ledge overhanging the north switch. Sign below tracks identifies Brackett Road. The “On to Alaska with Buchanan” sign on the far wall of the canyon was painted by a Buchanan Boys tour group from Cleveland which operated in the late 1920s and 1930s. Highway skirts the canyon above the rock.
9 (Mile 9.0) • 9A Bridge & Pitchfork Falls. Easy to miss unless you’re quick with a camera pointing toward the mountainside. A landmark on the Trail of ‘98, the falls were once an excursion stopping place.
10 (Mile 10.4) • Black Cross Rock. During blasting of the right-of-way on August 3, 1898, a 100-ton granite slab buried two railroad workmen. The cross was set on the rock to mark the site, a memorial to the more than 30 men killed during construction of the WP&YR.
11 (Mile 11.5) • Bridal Veil Falls. Across the valley, several dozen cataracts can be seen in peak runoff season. The water comes down off the Mt. Cleveland glaciers, goes under the highway, and tumbles down to the Skagway River.
12 (Mile 11.5) • White Pass City. Below sprang a gold rush tent town on the White Pass Trail in ‘98. Other views of the townsite, now covered by brush, can be had from the “High Line.”
13 (Mile 12.8) • High Line View. Several good breaks in the trees afford views of the 15 Mile High Line on the opposite mountainside. Michael Heney, WP&YR construction contractor in ‘98, called this the “weak link” in the survey route. Blasting out the narrow roadbed required men hanging from ropes off the smooth rock faces, and his grade crossed many wintertime snowslide chutes. Rotary snowplows kept the line open year-round in the age of steam. Now bulldozers, with help from Rotary #1, perform the annual snow removal ritual each spring.
14 (Mile 14.1) • Glacier Station. Passing siding and site of former section house. Once two water tanks quenched the thirsts of steam engines on the uphill trains here, spaced so as to water a lead locomotive and the “helper” engine at the same time. A U.S. Forest Service hiking trail by the south end of 14A Bridge winds up to Laughton Glacier, where a NFS cabin offers overnight shelter. To reserve the cabin see park rangers at the Visitor Center. Tickets can be purchased for Glacier, but remember to let the conductor know to stop the train.
15 (Mile 15.0) • Glacier Loop High Line. Enjoy the sensation of “Flying by Train.” View back to Glacier and the tracks below. Look for moose that sometimes feed in the valley. The track here was blasted across solid granite faces.
16 (Mile 16.0) • 15C Trestle & Old Tunnel. The engineer sounds his whistle to alert passengers to one of the high-point views of the trip. The railroad spans across “Glacier Gorge,” a yawning chasm in the cliffside, and then buries into Tunnel Mountain. With all the obstacles in the way, the 1898 construction required only this one tunnel.
17 (Mile 17.0) • Inspiration Point. Have your cameras ready! A lofty look at the Pacific Ocean. On a clear day the unparalleled view sweeps down to Skagway, with Mt. Harding showing across the bay, and the distant Chilkat Range beyond Haines, some 45 miles away. Excursions in the steam era stopped here for photos and to read the plaque on the monument at trackside dedicated to the 3,000 pack animals that died in the mad stampede of ‘98. The plaque has been relocated to the depot.
18 (Mile 18.6) • Steel Bridge. When constructed in 1901, this bridge was the tallest steel cantilever in the world. It replaced a dizzying switchback which had been necessitated by the depths of Cutoff Canyon; trains had to head up the gorge and then back uphill across a timber trestle to the summit.
19 (Mile 18.8) • 19A Bridge/Tunnel & Trail of ‘98. New locomotives and heavier tonnage brought about the new bridge and tunnel in 1969. Excellent photo opportunity of train on “horseshoe” curve across the bridge and entering tunnel. Be ready as the train emerges into daylight for a view down the upper reaches of Dead Horse Gulch on the Trail of ‘98. As the track curves out of 19 Tunnel, travelers can peer over the cliffside at the visible remains of the White Pass Trail. Primarily a route for horses and pack trains, the Skagway trail competed against the Chilkoot Trail from Dyea to Lake Bennett in 1897-98. A sign marks the trail and several bleached horse skulls offer mute testimony to the hardships of the stampede.
20 (Mile 20.4) • White Pass Summit/International Boundary/Summit Lake. A narrow notch brings the railroad up to White Pass, elevation 2,865 feet above sea level and Skagway. Two flags fly during the summer on a rise to the west to mark the boundary between the United States’ Alaska and Canada’s British Columbia. White Pass station once boasted a detachment of North West Mounted Police sent to “show the flag” and hold the line on their rule that each stampeder have a ton of gear and supplies before entering the country — enough to live unaided in the North for a year. A sliver of B.C. divides Alaska and the Yukon at the top of Southeastern Alaska. The Yukon is about 25 miles down the tracks on Lake Bennett. The end of the line is 90 miles away in downtown Whitehorse alongside the Yukon River. The Summit Excursion turns around here at White Pass — the engines will switch to the back of the train and then take us back down the mountain. The train to Fraser keeps going. To the west of the railroad is Summit Lake, one of a series of headwater lakes in the Yukon River system.
21 (Mile 23.0) • “Top of the World”. Stunted trees, glacial boulder fields and pothole lakes contrast with lush forests on the coast only a few miles away. In winter the White Pass Summit country can be a raging hell or a scene out of “Dr. Zhivago” with vistas of white peaks and valleys. Excellent cross country skiing.
22 (Mile 28.0) • Fraser, B.C. Long a water stop for the rotary fleet battling the pass, Fraser had a balloon loop track in the meadow south of Bernard Lake, and engines and plows were turned here. The old two-story water tank building remains, the last such structure on the railroad. Canadian Customs and a Yukon Highways
maintenance facility appear to the west. This is the bus transfer point — either the beginning or the end of the rail portion of your journey between Skagway and Whitehorse.
23 (Mile 30.5) • Portage. Several fishing cabins and “boxcar homes” line the stream between two lakes. Famous view eastward toward Teepee Valley and distant lakes as you ascend Log Cabin hill. Gold discovered on Lake Atlin in ‘98 caused a major construction shutdown when rail workers left en mass for the new diggings, taking most of the company’s picks and shovels. Most returned upon discovering the claims were already staked out.
24 (Mile 32.0) Log Cabin. Tracks cross the Klondike Highway at site of Log Cabin, a tent city in ‘98 and Mounted Police Customs house. At one time a substantial depot and section house were here, but now only two small sheds remain at the south siding, which is the highest point on the railroad at 2,916 feet above sea level. There’s no log cabin. Chilkoot Trail hikers walk eight miles up the tracks to Log Cabin from Lake Bennett to catch a ride.
25 (Mile 34.0) Thirty-Four Flats. Meadows here are large and populated with beaver on the north end and occasionally by wandering caribou or moose. If you don’t see an animal, remember they aren’t usually about at the height of the day.
26 (Mile 36.5) Beaver Lake. Beaver lodges can be observed at the lake’s edge. Tracks begin high above the lake and drop to lake side at the north end. Visible at Mile 39.0 is Lake Lindeman. A tent city of 10,000 camped here during the gold rush, but the rapids to Lake Bennett wrecked many hastily built boats.
27 (Mile 40.6) Bennett. The winter of ‘97-’98 found 30,000 stampeders camped here on the shores of the lake, named after New York Herald editor James Gordon Bennett. The ice broke on May 26, 1898, and 7,000 homemade boats set sail down the lake to float down the Yukon to Dawson City. The railroad arrived in June of ‘99, and after constructing permanent facilities, operated a station/eating house until 1982. The old depot still stands, as does the old Bennett Church on the hill above the lake. Trails lead to the church, campsites and old graveyard. This area is now part of Canada’s new Chilkoot Trail National Park. The trail ends here.
For highlights along the route between Bennett and
Carcross, consult the “All Aboard” train guide on your rail
While braking on the WP&YR in the 1970s, local balladeer and historian Steve Hites scribbled this train guide for our “esteemed rag.” Steve has written and recorded many songs about the North and has entertained thousands. He also operates the Skagway Street Car Tour.