Thursday, July 14, 2022

Cruise up for a wild scenic ride on White Horse, Yukon Pass rail trip

We've taken this spectacular rail journey several times -- late summer, fall and recently, when snow can
still be seen, with wildflowers. White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad from Skagway is a stunning trip. We recommend booking passage on Norwegian Cruise Line's Bliss for the key Alaska stops.  



SKAGWAY IS known perhaps best for its rugged rail ride deep into Yukon territory. We've found the best way to ease into this spectacular beauty is from an equally spectacular ship, and Norwegian Cruise Line's Bliss is a favorite. It offers pampering preparation for a traverse of dangerous mountain passes, with lively commentary on the daring souls who explored the region in search of adventure and riches. 

All aboard, as the train pulls into the Skagway station
for a trip into Alaska's wilderness -- still chilly in summer.
IT'S DIFFICULT to imagine our forefathers blasting a train track through the granite rock of Alaska's spectacular White Pass in the winter freeze of minus 60 degrees.
All heads are turned toward spectacular scenery.
 But they did!
We followed in their footsteps -- the easy way -- on a recent cruise to Alaska with a stop in Skagway.
Our gear included binoculars, protein bars, bottled water and  winter coats.  We weren't carrying the pick-axes and dynamite our ancestors needed, and we rode no hungry horses.
Instead, we viewed Skagway from our Bliss balcony while slipping on winter coats. We were glad for them -- as we left our cozy stateroom to answer the "all aboard" call and ride the spectacular iron rail.
SKAGWAY IS on Alaska's panhandle, a compact city in the state's southeast, along the popular cruise route the Inside Passage. It's home to early gold-rush-era buildings, carefully preserved as part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. There's the Red Onion Saloon, established in 1898 as a bordello for lonely miners and today a popular downtown saloon. This colorful and lively place houses a museum that preserves the seamy history of the town.
So have a wee nip there, then head for the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, which accommodates thousands of Skagway cruise visitors each year.  It combines scenery with history in comfy cars driven by vintage locomotives and provides an entertaining morning or afternoon to give you a great overview of the city's past and important place in Alaska's development. 
NCL's Bliss stops in stunning Skagway, after
visiting Ketchikan and Juneau. The ship's unique
rounded floor to ceiling windows in comfy
 lounges offer spectacular views of Glacier Bay. 

Picturesque Skagway is home to sled dogs and mushers,
beer makers, glass blowers, fishermen and wood carvers.

IF YOU HAVE not been to Skagway, you'll want to make this stop, even if for only a day on a cruise. We've visited a half-dozen times, and recommend NCL's sleek and inviting Bliss which makes all the important Alaska stops, departing from Seattle. Once in Skagway, traverse the steep Chilkoot trail to see sweeping mountain views as you climb from ship to train toward Canada.

THERE'S PLENTY  to do in Skagway if you're here for several days: dog sledding, gold rush history and an interesting main street with restored buildings. We left our "Blissful" comforts and Skagway behind, to climb past gorgeous falls, gulches, canyons and riverbeds white with winter's snow, heading to White Pass Summit's international boundary between U.S. and Canada.

As spring comes, the mountains green up and on the curves,
passengers can view the impressive length of the train.

A lively commentary describes the building of this legendary railroad and the brave men who cut grade on Tunnel Mountain and other foreboding hills to accommodate determined, even frenzied gold miners.
THE HISTORY dates to 1896 when George Carmack and two Indian companions, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie, found a few golden flakes in Bonanza Creek in the Klondike.  Although their discovery barely filled the spent cartridge of a Winchester rifle, it triggered a stampede for riches.  The Klondike gold Rush was on.

A detail of the massive snow plow
used by the train in winter.
Our knowledgeable guide didn't 
sugarcoat this colorful episode in history.  It had its tragic side. More than 30 men were killed during the building of 110 miles of track and many horses and pack animals plunged to their deaths or starved in the bitter cold and treacherous pathway.
NOT ALL miners thought to bring proper horse feed or treat their faithful pack animals with care. Some of the work took place in dead of winter when heavy snows blocked the 16-degree turns and temperatures plunged to minus 60 degrees.
WE ENJOYED the cars' names -- they're all christened after lakes and rivers in Alaska, Yukon and British Columbia.  Most are at least 40 years old.  Lake Tutshi, vintage 1893, which starred in the 1935 movie, "Diamond Jim Brady," or Lake Lebarge, which carried Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the same trek we took -- back in 1959. The oldest car is Lake Emerald, built in 1883 and still traveling the line.

Snow melt provides gushing streams; the train tour offers
stunning views of the gullies and ravines on the route.
 Along the route, there's plenty of history -- of the vigorous miners who dared the dangers of the pass in search of their fortune and other enterprising souls whose luck was not with them. Various shady characters tried to cash in on the miners, including George Brackett, a one-time construction engineer who built a 12- mile toll road up White Pass canyon. This worked for a brief time, until angry miners tossed the toll gates down a ravine making his road  a failure. But clever Brackett made out well, eventually, when White Pass and Yukon Railroad Company organized and paid him $110,000 for the a right-of-way.
Safely back from a thrilling
rail ride, "Keller and Cookie"
head back to NCL's Bliss.

On our return back towards Skagway with its quaint pastel buildings, we took a last look at the Sawtooth Mountains and admired the bright colored flora: golden arnica, pink fireweed, purple monkshood, scarlet columbine, lavender geranium, white yarrow and the deep red berries of the mountain ash. Soon, NCL's Bliss welcomed us home.

For more information or to book an NCL, 866.234.7350.
To book the rail excursion: 1 800 343-7373;


All eyes are on the horizon as an orca pod is spotted.
UP NEXT: Juneau is the place to be if you're looking for superb marine-life viewing. There's much more to Alaska's capital city than Sarah Palin. We take readers on a wild and chilly  whale and dolphin watching tour. It's good fun and a serious boat ride deep into the Gastineau Channel and Alaskan panhandle.  The air is crisp, the sun shines bright and the whale-watching boats are back in business  with Juneau Tours and Whale Watch. You're in for an exciting whale watching tour, one of the best we've experienced in looking for whales on several continents. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly!



1 comment:

  1. Cincinnati SailorsJuly 15, 2022 at 3:04 PM

    We're in Skagway now and thanks to a cancellation, were able to book this trip. On our way now. Terrific timing. Thanks.