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White Pass Train: Climb the Mountain to Canada!

White Pass Train from Skagway
White Pass Train from Skagway

Imagine the thrill of riding a historic train, winding through the majestic landscapes of Alaska, and climbing up to the Canadian border. Welcome aboard the White Pass Train, where every turn brings history alive, and each moment is an adventure waiting to be uncovered. Whether you’re a travel enthusiast, a cruise lover, a history buff, or simply someone who delights in the romance of train travel, this journey promises to be a captivating experience.

This by far was the best shore excursion in Skagway, I would dare say it was the best cruise ship excursion for Alaska. This is the best way to see the mountain passes heading to Canada, and travel the "railroad made of gold", as it was known by. For me the best part was to see nature, to see the geological changes along the way, looking and finding mountain goats on the cliffs as we rode by. It is not necessary, but I brought my binoculars with me. I used them when looking at the mountain goats standing on the cliffs, but other than that I did not use them. Everything was so beautiful, even in the fog.

Starting the White Pass Train Ride in Skagway, Alaska

Your adventure begins in the charming town of Skagway, Alaska. Known for its Gold Rush history and picturesque scenery, Skagway is the perfect starting point for the White Pass Train journey. 

This train ride is very common for cruise ship passengers. The cruise lines offer shore excursions that will have the train ride included. If you are visiting Skagway, but not on a cruise ship, book tickets as early as possible as tickets sell out quickly. You can book online with the White Pass Yukon Route Railway.

The train only runs during the summer months, or after most of the snow melts and when cruise ships dock in Skagway.  Back in the day the trains would have the snow scrappers on the front of the trains, to push the snow off the tracks. This train is recognized as a civil engineering landmark by the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Where to Catch the Train

Old Train Cars at Skagway Train Depot, Spirit Lake is in the Yukon Terriroty
Old Train Cars at Skagway Train Depot, Spirit Lake is in the Yukon Territory

The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway departs from the Skagway Depot, conveniently located in downtown Skagway. The depot is easily accessible whether you’re arriving by cruise ship or exploring the town on foot. Be sure to arrive early to soak in the vibrant atmosphere and the anticipation of fellow travelers.

Duration of the Train Ride

The train ride to the summit takes approximately 2.5 to 3 hours for the round trip. As you ascend the rugged mountains, you'll pass through breathtaking vistas, cascading waterfalls, and lush forests, making each minute a feast for the senses. You will even notice glaciers high up in those mountains. This is the perfect place to take a photo to show the beauty of Alaska.

You will be riding in vintage railcars, some are vintage, and some were built in recently, but have that old time charm. You will feel like you are back in the early 1900’s heading to the high country.

Fun fact, did you know that 3 of the train locomotives that were used on this route are at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge Tennessee, and 1 locomotive is located at the Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock North Carolina.

Ticket Information

Tickets for the White Pass Train can be purchased online or at the Skagway Depot. Prices vary depending on the season and the type of excursion you choose, but a standard adult ticket typically starts around $146-149, children's tickets are about half that price. It's advisable to book in advance, especially during peak tourist season, to secure your spot on this unforgettable journey.

If purchasing through the cruise line, you will be paying extra. Somewhere around $200 or more depending on what version of this train ride you do. Purchasing with the cruise line may cost more, but at times it is worth it if you worry about not getting back to the ship on time. Cruise purchased excursions that have delays will force the ship to wait for you to board the ship, where if you venture out on your own and are delayed the ship will not wait on you. Personally, do whatever makes you feel comfortable.

History of the Train Route

Beautiful view from White Pass Train
Beautiful view from White Pass Train

The White Pass Train isn’t just a scenic ride; it's a journey through time. This historic route was carved out during the Klondike Gold Rush, a period brimming with tales of adventure, hardship, and the relentless human spirit. This route in addition to the Chilkoot Trail were the main ways into the Yukon Territory. One of the best things about taking this train is learning the history and hearing the stories that these mountains saw first-hand.

Gold Miners and Their Quest

In the late 1890s, thousands of gold-seekers flocked to the Klondike region, driven by dreams of striking it rich. The White Pass Trail, infamous for its treacherous conditions, became one of the main routes for these determined miners. The construction of the railway in 1898 provided a safer and faster alternative, forever changing the fate of many fortune hunters.

The Tragic Story of Dead Horse Gulch

Near Fraser British Columbia
Near Fraser British Columbia

One of the most poignant tales from this era is the tragic story of Dead Horse Gulch. The steep and hazardous terrain claimed the lives of numerous pack animals, whose bleached bones could be seen scattered along the trail. This somber reminder of the past adds a layer of depth and reflection to your journey.

An Interesting Anecdote

Legend has it that when the railway was completed in 1900, a unique celebration took place. According to historical accounts, the first train to reach the summit carried a golden spike, symbolizing the triumph of human ingenuity over nature's formidable challenges. This golden spike is now a cherished artifact, embodying the spirit of perseverance.

In Recent Years

This is now a tourist train. Shutting down in 1982 for commercial use, it opened back up in 1988 as a heritage tourist train. Later in 2018 it was purchased by Carnival Corporation & plc (Yes, the parent Company of Carnival Cruise Line). The Yukon Route that started in Carcross Yukon and went to Whitehorse Yukon, was shut down and never reopened.

Arriving in Fraser, British Columbia, Canada

View of area near Fraser British Columbia
View of area near Fraser British Columbia

As the train climbs higher, you'll eventually reach the summit at Fraser, British Columbia, Canada. Here, at the top of the mountain, you're greeted with panoramic views that are nothing short of spectacular. Near the train stop is Bernard Lake, but one of the things that is most interesting while arriving, is noticing the lack of trees, and the few trees you see, how the limbs are only on one side of the tree. This is because this is actually Alpine Tundra, and the crazy wind prevents limbs from being on the other side of the trees. You have climbed from sea level to 2851 feet.

There is not a real town in Fraser, only a few places to live that are for only the Canadian Border Service Agents and some Yukon Highway workers., As route 2 continues on into the Yukon Territory not too far away. 

Options for the Return Journey

You have a few delightful options for your return journey to Skagway:

Taking a bus into the Yukon from the White Pass Train
Taking a bus on into the Yukon from the White Pass Train
  • Ride the Train Back Down: Enjoy the return trip on the White Pass Train, where you'll have the chance to see the incredible landscapes from a new perspective. The descent offers equally stunning views, ensuring the adventure continues until the very last moment. Just remember this takes extra time traveling the route back down, where some tourists elect to take a bus down the mountain to save time and money. Round Trip train rides are more expensive.

  • Take a Bus Back Down: For a different experience, you can opt to take a bus back down the mountain. This option allows you to explore the area further and provides additional opportunities for sightseeing and photography. This is Route 2, also known as the Klondike Highway. The walk from the train stop to the buses to take you back down the mountain is just a few steps away. As you descend the mountain you will pass through the border area at the Alaska border. This is a great option for those that want to do the train but are trying to be budget friendly.

  • Bus Tour into the Yukon Territory: For those seeking an extended adventure, consider taking a bus tour into the Yukon Territory. This excursion will take you deeper into the wilderness, offering a glimpse of the vast and untamed beauty of the region. After the tour, the bus will bring you back to Skagway, completing your epic journey.

Future dog sledder at Caribou Crossing in Carcross
Future dog sledder at Caribou Crossing in Carcross

My trip included going into the Yukon territory, with a stop in Carcross, and the little area past Carcross called Caribou Crossing Trading Post, where you could do many activities like dog sledding, gold panning, shopping, petting farm animals and they have a taxidermy building that is neat to see. You can also grab a bite to eat while there. This is a great place to visit if you have kids, but there is something here for the whole family.

Fun fact, did you know the northernmost desert is located just north of Carcross? It is, and on some bus tours you will drive by it for a quick glimpse and also Emerald Lake that is nearby. Spirit Lake is also nearby, but I did not get a look at it on this trip.

You will notice that those areas of the Yukon look nothing like Fraser BC, more trees and beautiful landscape fill the Yukon. It is funny to notice those differences in an area that is not that far away from each other.

If the train price is out of your budget, check out the bus ride up and back down the mountain. You will be on the opposite side of the mountain, but still traveling up to Fraser British Columbia, and hearing the tales of the gold miners from the past, white still seeing some beautiful nature. If you purchase the tickets with Viator they will cost around $60 per person. Cruise Line bus shore excursions will cost more.


old unused train trussell, viewed from the White Pass Train
old unused train trussell, viewed from the White Pass Train

The White Pass Train journey is more than just a ride; it's a passage through history, a celebration of nature's grandeur, and an invitation to embrace the spirit of adventure. From the moment you board in Skagway to the time you reach the summit in Fraser, every mile is filled with wonder and excitement.

So, whether you're a seasoned traveler or embarking on your first great journey, the White Pass Train offers an experience that will ignite your imagination and leave you with memories to cherish for a lifetime. Ready to climb the mountain to Canada? Book your tickets today and let the adventure begin!

Don’t forget to share your experience with me! Tag your photos with #WhitePassTrain and #cruisealaska to join a community of fellow adventurers who have discovered the magic of this incredible journey.

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