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Juneau, Inside Passage, Skagway, White Pass & Yukon RR

Alaska, Yukon, and Across Canada (Part 2 of 3)

Juneau, the Inside Passage, Skagway, and the White Pass & Yukon RR

By Robert & Kandace Tabern, Email:

Trip Taken: May 25-29, 2014
Published: March 6, 2015

The second portion of our trip included stops in Juneau, Skagway, Carcross, and Whitehorse
(Map designed by Robert & Kandace Tabern)

We hope you enjoyed the article that we wrote last month covering the first portion of our trip to Alaska, the Yukon, and across Canada by rail. The first article (released in late January 2015) focused on the initial four days of our journey, including time in Fairbanks, a road trip on the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle, a day in Denali National Park, and a trip on the Alaska Railroad between Fairbanks and Anchorage. This month’s article will focus on our time in southeast Alaska, through British Columbia, and into the Yukon on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. Finally, next month’s article (April 2015) will focus on the last few days of the trip on VIA’s Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto.

When we last left you, we were staying at a hotel in Anchorage for one night; Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska. Unless your connection takes you through Anchorage, we highly recommend that you do not spend a lot of time here on your trip. It really had the feel of any mid-size city in the “Lower 48”; all of the traffic and stoplights didn’t even make you feel like you were in Alaska. Unless you are looking for the conveniences of a bigger city, try and spend more time in Fairbanks… it’s a lot smaller and more scenic… and will put you more in touch with nature and wildlife… what one really pictures as “Alaska”.

Mike Pace (left) and Kandace Tabern (center) pose for a picture in downtown Anchorage
(Robert Tabern photo)

After just a brief overnight in Anchorage, we headed out to the airport to catch a relatively quick flight on Alaska Airlines to Juneau, the state’s capital. Flying is really the only practical way to get between these two cities. The flight time is less than two hours; if you were going to attempt to drive, you would have to spend almost 22 hours on the road and drive more than 800 miles. If it’s not cloudy, most of the flight between Anchorage and Juneau is very scenic; you follow the Pacific Ocean coast line and pass above the Chugach National Forest, plus Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.

Flying from Anchorage to Juneau, Alaska on Alaska Airlines
(Robert Tabern photo)

After arriving in Anchorage on Alaska Railroad, our next real destination was Skagway, the origin of the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. However, as we were planning the trip, we found that the price of a flight between Anchorage and Skagway was ridiculously high, at least on the dates we were working with. We discovered it was a lot more economical to fly from Anchorage and Juneau, and then meet up with an in-progress group tour that would take us on a boat into Skagway.

Kandace Tabern poses for a picture in downtown Juneau, Alaska
(Robert Tabern photo)

We arrived into Juneau in the middle of the day, and had about an hour to walk around the downtown area and grab some lunch. We were actually not very impressed with downtown Juneau, as it seemed to cater very heavily to cruise passengers, with way too many t-shirt shops and jewelry stores. After a few slices of pizza, it was time to meet up with the bus that was part of a tour package associated with Alaska Fjordlines, Inc.  Joining the tour in mid-progress, we missed the narrated downtown bus tour. However, we did still get to do the side-trip to Mendenhall Glacier.  Unfortunately, the tour only gave you one hour to see the beautiful site buried deep in the Tongass National Forest. One could spend the whole day here, in our opinion! If we ended up doing the complete tour with the company, we would have been a little disappointed that you are given three hours (way too much time!) in the tourist trap that is downtown Juneau, while only one hour to explore the glacier and national forest landscape.  With the hour allotted, we had enough time to hike out to two overlooks, take some pictures, and explore around the visitor center/museum. We really did not have much time to do anything else, nor take the hike which would have taken you closer to the base of the glacier.



Photos from our visit to Mendenall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest
(Robert Tabern photos)

After our visit to Mendenhall Glacier, we caught the tour bus which proceeded about 20 miles north on Alaska State Highway 7. This road connects Juneau with Yankee Cove; this is where the highway ends and you have to take a boat up the last part of the Inside Passage to travel farther north. Along the highway we spotted a mother bear and her cubs. This was really cool!  Unfortunately, the highway was a busy road and the bus could not stop very long – so a couple of quick pictures and that were about it. It looks like the bears were oblivious to all of the traffic as they were snacking on some dandelions.

A bear, seen along the side of the road near Juneau, Alaska (blurry due to being on a moving bus!)
(Robert Tabern photo)

At Yankee Cove, we ditched the bus and got on the boat that was owned by Alaska Fjordlines. It would take us on a three hour ride up the Lynn Canal (Inside Passage) to Skagway. Robert sometimes gets sea sick and isn’t a huge fan of boats, however the whole three hours we spent with Alaska Fjordlines became one of the major highlights of the trip. The boat is a 65-foot long, 48 passenger, high-speed catamaran.




Various pictures of the "Fjordland", the boat that we took from Yankee Cove, Alaska to Skagway, Alaska
(Robert Tabern photos)

We learned from the owner/captain that it was custom built for the waters of the Lynn Canal and specially designed for viewing wildlife up close. And that we did!!  We really lost count of all of the whales and orca that we spotted during our time on the water. It was just amazing! This is a complete five-star operation and a must-do for anyone who is planning a visit to the southeast arm of Alaska.





Photos of various sea life, as seen from the deck of the boat between Yankee Cove and Skagway, Alaska in Lynn Canal
(Robert Tabern & Mike Pace photos)

Alaska Fjordlines is owned and operated by Glen and Alison Jacobson. They started their boating business as a water taxi between Haines and Skagway in 1990. In 2001, they expanded their service running the Fjord Express to Juneau. The whole experience remains family owned. On the evening we were along, one of Glen and Alison’s daughters was along for the ride and to help out passengers. She actually had an underwater camera; with a monitor on the boat, we were actually able to see whales and orca under the sea swimming. There was even a microphone broadcasted back to the deck so we could hear some of the sounds the animals were making.  Again, a complete class act… and one of the most memorable aspects of our whole 15-day vacation.

Passengers on the tour have the choice of taking the Alaska Fjordlines boat to either Haines or Skagway from Juneau. It seemed to us like half of the passengers got off the boat in Haines, and the other half stayed on until we reached Skagway. Because of the way the mountains and the ocean are positioned, Haines and Skagway are less than 20 miles from one another by boat, but it would take you more than 10 hours to drive between them. How interesting is that!  No wonder why the ferry service that the Jacobson family operated was so popular. Obviously, we stayed on until Skagway, as that was where we would be spending the next three nights.

A view of the port at Haines, Alaska on Lynn Canal
(Robert Tabern photo)

We spent two days and three nights in Skagway, Alaska during our trip. Our hotel was the Historic Skagway Inn... it served as an old brothel during the late 1800's. In fact, the guest rooms at the Inn are named after the former "ladies of the night" who used to call the residence home. The entire hotel is tastfully decorated in a brothel theme with old clothes and historic items in the rooms and hallways. Each morning they provided us a tasty breakfast and any directions or suggestions we needed for sightseeing for the day. We would highly recommend the hotel to everyone... it was a nice change from your traditional chain motel. We got lucky and due to not a lot of people staying there - got free upgrades to larger rooms.


Some view of the Historic Skagway Inn - Skagway, Alaska
(Robert Tabern photos)

One of the best tips we can give you about Skagway is get away from the center of town during the day and then come back and explore in the evening. We learned this from our local hosts at the Inn. See, about 95 percent or more of Skagway's visitors arrive on cruise ships. I think every day we were in town there were three or four in port. From about 9:00am to 5:00pm you will be over-run by thousands of cruise ship passengers flocking to fudge and jewelrey shops and t-shirt shops that line the main street. We stayed in the main area of Skagway just long enough to take a walking tour provided by the National Park Service and then advoided the downtown strip until the cruise passengers were back on the boat. It seems like a real interesting relationship the town and the National Park Service has with the cruise industry. With such a large volume of passengers arriving by cruise ship, the town would no doubt be dead if it wasn't for it being a major stop on almost all cruise lines. And, the businesses have paid to restore or reconstruct a lot of the old shops, saloons, etc. that once lined main street. Where else can you go to a National Park that has a fudge, t-shirt, and diamond gold watch shop in it?  But again, what would the National Park look like if it didn't have the money coming in from these businesses. So, sorta a love/hate relationship I guess you could say. We thought it was a little tacky, but still looked pretty much authentic.

The main area of downtown Skagway, Alaska
(Kandace Tabern photo)

After a tour of the town on our first day, we hired a taxi/driver service called "Dyea Dave" to take us around and show us some of the outskirts of the town. See, there were actually TWO gold rush towns that were built in the area. You had Skagway and then Dyea. Both were around the same size and featured trails to get over the tall mountain peaks (separating the United States and Canada) and on to the gold fields in the Yukon. People who came into Dyea would take the Chilkoot Trail and people coming into Skagway would take the White Pass Trail. Eventually, the trail from Skagway would be relaced by the railroad... the White Pass & Yukon Route. With the convenience of the railroad, almost everyone came into Skagway and no longer took the Chilkoot Trail anymore. Dyea became a ghost town overnight. We ended up having a private one-on-one tour of the Dyea town site from Elizabeth, a National Park Service Ranger. We spent most of the afternoon of our first day in the Skagway in the area with her exploring the remains of the town site of Dyea, including the remains of an old saloon.



Some scenic and historic views in the former town site of Dyea, Alaska, in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
(Robert Tabern photos)

On our second day in Skagway, we rented a car and decided to "chase" the White Pass & Yukon Route a bit. Now, if you are looking to book rental cars... this is something you need to do way in advance. Avis is the only chain rental car agency in town and they have limited cars. There was actually quite a long line of people waiting for rental cars -- and we even arrived 15 minutes before they opened. I guess it's a popular thing for cruise passengers to also come in and rent a car for the day to explore some of the area. Also be aware that even the most economic car is going to cost you over $100.00. But, it can be worth it, as you can get some great shots of the White Pass & Yukon Railroad Line. This was also the only chance on our trip to get the "Welcome to Alaska", "Welcome to the Yukon", and "Welcome to British Columbia" highway signs. We made a round-trip drive between Skagway and Whitehorse, Yukon, where we would be spending the next night. We spent the day touring some of the sites off the railroad line that we would not see the next day if we did not have a vehcile.






Some views of the drive between Skagway, Alaska and the Yukon
(Robert Tabern, Mike Pace, and Kandace Tabern photos)

Now on to our next train... the White Pass and Yukon Route!!  A little history first though... The railroad began construction in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush as a means of reaching the goldfields in Canada. With its completion in 1900, it became the primary route to the interior of the Yukon, almost eliminating the Chilkoot Trail and other routes. The route continued operation until 1982. In 1988, it was partially revived as a tourist railroad. Today, the railroad is a subsidiary of Clublink and operated by the Pacific and Arctic Railway and Navigation Company (in Alaska), the British Columbia Yukon Railway Company (in British Columbia), and the British Yukon Railway Company, originally known as the British Yukon Mining, Trading, and Transportation company (in Yukon), which use the trade name White Pass and Yukon Route. The White Pass and Yukon Route is a Canadian and U.S. Class II Railroad, using 3 feet narrow gague railroad. At one time, the tracks linked the port of Skagway, Alaska, with Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon. While the tracks are still there, there is currently no rail service anymore between Carcross, Yukon and Whitehorse, Yukon, however there has been recent buzz about restroting the entire route so passengers can ride the entire route. (For more information on this, check out this link to a 2012 newspaper article). Another interesting feature about the White Pass and Yukon Route is that it is an isolated system and has no direct connection to any other railroad. Equipment, freight, and passengers are ferried by ship through the Port of Skagway, and via road through a few of the stops along its route.

If you are planning a trip, you should note that there are a couple of different options that the White Pass and Yukon Route offers to passengers. It seemed like the most popular option was a simple roundtrip ride between Skagway, Alaska and White Pass. This seemed like the most popular option because it fit in with the cruise ship's schedule and still allowed those coming to Skagway to enjoy some of the other sites in town. Plus, since White Pass is right at the United States-Canada border, someone without a Passport could still ride this train. We decided that if we were going to do this trip, we wanted the full experience -- and ride every inch of track possible. So, we took the full excursion all the way to Carcross. Again, the end of the usable track is in Carcross... so that meant having to board a bus to get to Whitehorse. But, the cool thing about our trip in my eyes is that we were actually using the White Pass & Yukon as actual "public transportation" too - to get from Skagway where we arrived by ship - to Whitehorse, where we would be spending one night and then flying down to Vancouver to catch VIA's Canadian to continue our trip. Below, enjoy a collection of some of our photos from the trip with a brief explanation of some of the sights. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Boarding the train at the White Pass & Yukon Depot in Skagway, Alaska  (Robert Tabern photo)

Mike Pace and Kandace (in the distance) waiting inside the White Pass & Yukon Route station in Skagway, Alaska (Robert Tabern photo)

Outside the White Pass & Yukon Route station in Skagway, Alaska (Robert Tabern photo)

Another view outside the White Pass & Yukon Route Station in Skagway, Alaska  (Robert Tabern photo)

You begin climbing in elevation almost right after leaving the station in Skagway  (Robert Tabern photo)

The view high in the mountains after 30 minutes after leaving Skagway... still in Alaska!  (Robert Tabern photo)

The conductor looks out of the open vestibule area of the train at the tracks below we were just traveled (center, left) (Robert Tabern photo)

The train passes through a tunnel just before reaching White Pass Summit, Alaska (Robert Tabern photo)

Yes, it's cold!  It's late May 2014 and there is still snow and ice near the approach to the White Pass, Alaska (Robert Tabern photo)

Approaching White Pass Summit - with the flags of Alaska, the United States, Canada, British Columbia, and Yukon Territory (Mike Pace photo)

And there it is! We are leaving the United States and entering Canada. In 20.4 miles, the train gains 2,888 feet in elevation!  (Mike Pace photo)

An interesting shot here; a National Park Service Ranger (right) hands off narration duties to a Parks Canada Ranger (left) at the border. (Robert Tabern photo)

A look at the interior of our car. Our only complaint about the whole trip was you were not allowed to move between cars. (Robert Tabern photo)

The train makes a stop at the Lake Bennett Station; everyone gets off and has a group lunch in the station (Robert Tabern photo)

Another view of the station in Lake Bennett where everyone gets off to have lunch (Robert Tabern photo)

Mike Pace and Kandace (left) enjoy their meal in the crowded lunch room at Lake Bennett Station (Robert Tabern photo)

Robert and Kandace together on the rear of the White Pass & Yukon Route Train at Lake Bennett Lunch Stop (Mike Pace photo)

Some beautiful views from inside the train of Lake Bennett after the lunch stop (Kandace Tabern photo)

Enjoying some views of Lake Bennett from the open air platform (Mike Pace photo)

The train makes its descent into British Columbia and into the Yukon Territory (Robert Tabern photo)

The train crosses one final bridge before arriving in the Carcross, Yukon Terminal  (Mike Pace photo)

Kandace Tabern outside the Carcross White Pass & Yukon Route Depot (Robert Tabern photo)

Some displays inside the White Pass & Yukon Route station in Carcross, Yukon  (Robert Tabern photo)

After a three hour layover in Carcross, a motor coach takes you the rest of the way into Whitehorse
(Robert Tabern photo)

We hope you enjoyed the second part of our journey across Alaska and Canada. The third and final part of this article will be released on Train Web sometime in April. This article will cover a trolley ride in Whitehorse, our time in Vancouver, ride across Canada on VIA's "Canadian", and our ride back home to the Chicago area on Amtrak's "Lake Shore Limited". Stay turned for the third and final installment of our big rail/boat/driving trip to the Northland


Mendenhall Glacier/Tongass National Forest | Alaska Fjordlines (boat from Juneau to Skagway) | The Historic Skagway Inn

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park | Dyea Dave Tours (Skagway) More about Dyea Ghost Town

Avis Car Rental (Skagway) | White Pass & Yukon Route One Way Trip from Skagway to Carcross


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