Published: Jan 28, 2016
Last Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Climbing aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway is among many travelers’ favorite things to do in Skagway, especially when visiting from an Alaskan cruise. Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the White Pass & Yukon Route (WPYR) railway gives present-day visitors a chance to step back to a time when ambitious men and women crossed the treacherous Yukon, hoping to find gold and build their fortunes.
Stunning views from the White Pass Railroad. (Photo by naturesdawn / CC BY)
The journey begins in downtown Skagway, a short walk from port (about 3 or 4 blocks). Passengers climb aboard vintage carriages, decorated in 19th century style. As the train embarks on its ride to White Pass Summit, a guide details the rich and interesting history of the Klondike Gold Rush, telling tales of the brave men and women who traversed the Klondike Trail many years ago.
Inside a Passenger Carriage on the WP&YR Railway. (Photo by tomsaint / CC BY)
During the ride, passengers encounter awe-inspiring views of mountains, glaciers, gorges, and waterfalls. The railway also passes human-built wonders including picturesque trestle bridges and mountain tunnels.
From tidewater to the Summit of the White Pass, the elevation gain is 2,865 feet and the distance is about 20 mile
Passenger carriages include restrooms and complimentary bottled water
Many White Pass & Yukon Route Railway carriages are wheelchair accessible
The Skagway White Pass Railroad Summit Excursion is our most popular Skagway excursion and train tour. Take an unforgettable journey aboard the “Scenic Railway of the World” to the White Pass summit. This trip is 3 hours roundtrip, passport NOT required.
The Skagway Bennett Scenic Railroad Journey includes a trip on the White Pass railroad and a stop for lunch at the restored 1910 Bennett Station House (which is only accessible via train and hiking trail). This trip is 8 hours roundtrip, and passports ARE required.
The White Pass and Yukon Route Railway was built in 1898, during the Klondike Gold Rush. Before the railroad was built, prospectors weren’t allowed to cross the Canadian border at White Pass summit without one ton of supplies. This required many trips back and forth along the treacherous Klondike Trail, from Skagway to White Pass. The railway was built to make the journey easier.
Train headed to White Pass in 1899. (Image Source)
During construction, the railroad faced many roadblocks, literally and figuratively. 450 tons of explosives had to be used to reach White Pass summit. Meanwhile, local crime bosses threatened the railway’s completion, culminating in an exciting shootout on Juneau Wharf. (Learn more on the tour!)
The first passenger car rode the railway in 1898 and was also the first train to operate in Alaska. Over time, the railroad expanded from Skagway to White Pass to Bennett, British Columbia and then even further to Whitehorse.
Modern train entering a tunnel along the WP&YR railway. (Photo by ThreeIfByBike / CC BY)
After the gold rush, the route became a popular mode of transport for mining companies. However, when the Great Depression struck, railway usage was extremely limited. Government investment in Alaska during World War II revived the railway, and it operated until 1982. In 1988, the railway was designated a Heritage Railway and became a popular destination for Alaskan tourists.