• Nine men pose with gear at the Alaska-British Columbia border in the snow

    Klondike Gold Rush

    National Historical Park Alaska

The White Pass

Historic black and white photograph of men and horses on the White Pass Trail

The White Pass was advertised as an easier trail.  Although longer, it was not as steep as the Chilkoot and said to be good for pack animals.  Unfortunately, in reality the trail was new and many horses died along the trail the winter of 1897-98.

Photo courtesy of the George and Edna Rapuzzi Collection, Rasmuson Foundation, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

The White Pass Trail is a unit of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, and with the Skagway Historic District makes up a National Historic Landmark. Parts of the the historic White Pass trail can be seen from the Klondike Highway or from the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. Much of the old trail has been dsiturbed by the creating of wagon roads, railroads and highways, however a portion of the original White Pass Route that stampeders traveled on in 1897-1899 are still in situ (left undisturbed) today. Most of the areas are difficult to reach spread throughout the wilderness of the Sakgway River valley and into the Yukon over White Pass. It is not reccomnded that visitors attempt to hike or gain access to the original route, as it is not marked, maintained or currently used.

The White Pass was the "new" route to the Klondike in comparison to the Chilkoot Trail. In 1887 Captain William Moore, with the guidance of Skookum Jim, carved a path out of the vast wilderness of what would later become known as White Pass. Moore had a vision that Skagway and the White Pass would one day become the gateway to the gold fields of the Yukon. He was right, however his original White Pass Trail proved to be a nightmare for some during that first winter of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897-1898. Although the pass did not climb as high as the Chilkoot and did not experience the severe steep slopes of the Chilkoot it had its own struggles. Mainly the pass seeped with mud during the wet fall months of 1897, and the mass of stampeders attempting to move through muck and bogs were stalled. The mud made the trail imapssible and caused a sort of traffic jam of stampeders. People and their pack animals were stuck along the trail and some ran out of supplies. The animals, particularly horses, suffered the most. It is estimeated that 3000 horses died along the trail, and this earned the trail the the nickname of "The Dead Horse Trail." This mess eventually closed the pass until the ground and river were frozen making the pass once again a viable option for travel. Later a wagon road was created, followed by a the construction of an engineering feat, the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.

The entire story of the White pass is depicted in the Klondike Gold Rush NHP publication called, "A Wild Discouraging Mess: The History of the White Pass Unit of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park."

This publication available on-line at:http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/klgo/klondike.pdf

Johnson, Julie

2003 A Wild Discouraging Mess: The History of the White Pass Unit of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Anchorage, AK: National Park Service. (In Print)

Did You Know?

Historic photo of a busy street in Skagway, AK

No gold was ever found in the Skagway River valley. The actual gold fields were approximately 550 miles north, near the junction of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers in Dawson City. Skagway became known as the gateway to the Klondike gold fields, a bustling supply town.