May 2012

Photo by user
Submitted By: Dan Edens — Riding The Alaska Rails

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Exploring Alaska's railways, past and present

Railroads played a defining role in Alaska’s history, transporting supplies and gold rush prospectors around the state while spurring the formation of towns and outposts. While plenty of cargo still moves along the state’s rail lines, the trains also offer visitors a relaxing way to experience Alaska. From the comfort of a rail car, travelers can take in the state’s stunning scenery without traffic or maps. Many of Alaska’s rail routes still reach parts of the state that aren’t accessible any other way. Whether it’s a journey across the state on the Alaska Railroad, a climb into the mountains near Skagway in search of Klondike Gold Rush history on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, or following the historic path of the now-defunct Copper River & Northwest Railway, the railroads of Alaska deliver a glimpse into Alaska’s modern beauty and rich history.


Day 1 – Skagway
Arrive in Skagway via cruise ship, or by flight from Anchorage or Juneau and take a tour of the town’s many historical buildings. Built in 1898, the Mascot Saloon has been restored by the National Park Service and turned into a museum that looks into the vices - gambling, drinking, and prostitution - that followed the stampeders to the goldfields. Other National Park Service-restored buildings include Moore’s Cabin (Skagway’s oldest building) and the Bernard Moore House. The Skagway Museum also has a collection of Alaska Native baskets, beadwork, carvings and gold rush artifacts. A contemporary garden and art studio, Jewell Gardens features beautiful flowers, Alaska Grown vegetables and the chance to watch glassblowing artists at work.

Day 2 – Skagway
In 1898, Dyea was Skagway's rival. Located 15 miles away, it was the staging area for prospectors heading up the Chilkoot Trail to the gold fields. After the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad picked Skagway as a departure point, Dyea became a ghost town. It still has historic cabins and the Slide Cemetery, the burial site of 47 men and women were killed in a Chilkoot Trail avalanche. After driving or taking a shuttle or taxi over to Dyea, take a self-guided walking tour with a brochure from the National Park Service, or join a ranger-led walk.

Day 3 – Skagway
Board the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad for a chance to climb up into the mountains and take in the breathtaking views of glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles and historic sites. You’ll be able to see where prospectors...


The Alaska Railroad

With glass-domed cars that offer 180 degrees of scenery and rails that stretch from Southcentral Alaska all the way to the state’s Interior, the Alaska Railroad boasts that it’s “the best way to see Alaska.” A mix of packages and routes that includes multi-day tours and simple day trips, the Alaska Railroad offers plenty of options for both luxury travelers and budget-minded adventurers.

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Alaska Railroad

White Pass & Yukon Railroad

Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad runs between Skagway, Alaska and Fraser, British Columbia. Considered impossible to build at the time because of the rugged landscape, the 110-mile line was built in 26 months and is now an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation shared by only 36 world civil engineering marvels, including the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

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Yukon Railroad

Copper River & Northwestern Railway

The Copper River & Northwest Railway was completed in 1911 at a cost $23 million. The route was constructed to ship copper from the Kennecott mines near McCarthy to port in Cordova. The railroad may no longer be functional, but its legacy lives on in the communities it helped create and the path it carved through the Alaska wilderness, laying the foundation for several scenic roads that are still in use today.

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Kennecott Mine

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