White Pass & Yukon Railroad

We’ve all been to wonderful places that bring memories flooding back to us. Places of awesome beauty, like the Canadian Rockies. Places of great excitement like the Grand Ole Opry. Even a quiet spot under a tree at Grandma’s house. Here’s one of the places I remember from my own past.

After visiting every state in the union, eight Canadian provinces and territories, and several Mexican states, one of the most beautiful and spectacular places I’ve been is White Pass, leading from Skagway, on the coast of Alaska, up to a chain of lakes in British Columbia that form the headwaters of the mighty Yukon River. In 20 miles miles, it rises from sea-level at Skagway to 2,864 feet at its apex.

Covering some of the roughest terrain imaginable, the first section was built in just under a year from Skagway to Bennett, British Columbia. Amazing how engineers and workers over a century ago could build something so quickly with none of today’s technology and equipment. It would probably take us five or ten years today.

Although an earlier blog discussed the town of Skagway, I felt this lovely railroad and the terrain it covers merited a separate post. It’s been seven years since I was there, and I’m still in awe of it.

As you can tell from the steam and smoke escaping the engine in the photo above, it’s pulled by a 19th century steam engine. The cars are of that era also, lending authenticity to the whole experience.

The route roughly tracks the Skagway River. At least I think that’s the name of it, but after Googling everything I could think of, I’m not certain. Anyhow, it’s a lovely river that in many places runs through a deep canyon hundreds of feet below the level of our rails. Across the canyon, we could see the Klondike Highway which ran more or less parallel to our route and at about the same elevation.

The steep drops from the rails to the canyon bottom were spectacular, as was the view of the river below. As we rode along, I kept trying to imagine the people heading for the Klondike gold rush up this route before any road or railroad was built, along with imagining what it would have been like to work on building the railroad. My hat is definitely off to anyone involved in those activities.

Once we got through the pass, the terrain opened into broad valleys and plains, which lasted all the way to Dawson City, Yukon, where the gold rush took place. We were ushered off the train and onto buses once we exited the pass, and the bus ride was pretty tame compared to the train ride.

If you’ve never been to Skagway and taken this train ride, put it on your list of vacation places to go someday. You’ll be glad you did.

Ø What are some of the places you remember from childhood—or maybe from last year?

Ø What do those places mean to you?


clip_image003David N. Walker is a Christian father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of that career was spent in Texas, but for a few years he traveled many other states. He started writing about 20 years ago, and has six unpublished novels to use as primers on how NOT to write fiction. Since his retirement from insurance a few years ago, he has devoted his time to helping Kristen Lamb start Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp and trying to learn to write a successful novel himself.


About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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12 Responses to White Pass & Yukon Railroad

  1. Sounds like a “cool” place. I love train rides because you can relax and watch the whole world go by. Even riding through run-down or industrial areas (often train routes) is filled with things to be fascinated about.

    Amazing that they could build something so quickly. As you said, these days we’d still be doing cost-escalation-risk-reward studies and working out who was going to be the “official hotdog of the White Pass Railway.”



  2. David, I’m so sorry to chime in late but I’ve been slammed with a lot of deadlines. I was so excited when I read your post. My husband and I went to Alaska and Yukon in May of this year. We did a 13 day cruise-tour. We took the White Rail Pass from Skagway, had a miner’s lunch in Bennett and then spent two days exploring Dawson and the Yukon River. We would love to go back to Dawson and spend more time there. The history of Alaska and the Yukon goldrush really intrigued us and of course I came home with lots of books. I bought a video of the White Rail Pass but haven’t view it yet. We’re waiting for a blizzardy winter day.


    • Kate, that sounds exactly like the trip my wife and I made in 2004. Hope you didn’t have the 95 degree+ weather we had at Skagway, Whitehorse and Dawson with their un-airconditioned hotel rooms. Other than that, we loved our tirp.

      Since your trip was so much more recent than ours, maybe you’ll post something about Dawson or the trip down the Yukon to Eagle.


  3. Jillian Dodd - Glitter, Bliss and Perfect Chaos says:

    I’ve never been to Alaska. I hate the cold, but it looks so beautiful. I think the train ride might freak me out. I have a little thing about crashing of a bridge and plummeting to my death. (I’m kinda afraid of heights!) I can’t believe all the places you’ve been. Thats amazing!!


  4. Enjoyed this post, David. When I was there 20 years ago, we traveled the Klondike Highway from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Skagway. It was beautiful too, but your post makes me wish I’d taken this train ride.


  5. Karlene says:

    Beautiful post, and memories. The ocean, Olympic Peninsula, Rain Forest. The woods, water and mountains bring me home. But there is no finer memory that driving through the Redwoods with the windows down and the heat of the sun and the forest floor kissing your senses. Warmed earth. Pine needles baking. Wonderful.


  6. Well David, I thought I’d pop over to the WWBC and voila! There you were.

    What a beautiful place. I’ve traveled to many places, but not there. It does remind me a little bit as you said of the Canadian Rockies which far surpass our Colorado Rocky Mtns. Sorry, but true.

    But then I was just visiting Coleen Patrick’s blog and there was a picture of Ireland, which was one of our family’s favorite trips. So really, there’s beauty everywhere.

    Now I want to take a vacation. Well, thanks for the mental one David!


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