In the late 1890s, gold was discovered near the Klondike region of the Yukon; word spread to the lower 48 and 100,000 prospectors rushed to the area hoping to strike it rich. These men were called the Stampeders, and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park tells their story.
Skagway and the nearby Tlingit village of Dyea were the ports where most of the Stampeders arrived and staged their expeditions into the Yukon. To get to the gold, they needed to hike up either the White Pass or the Chilkoot Trails, steep, rugged and 30-plus miles each.ut the men didn’t just cross these trails once; Canadian authorities required that every man take into Canada with him a year’s worth of food and equipment—around 2000 lbs. of supplies. Each Stampeder needed to take about 30 trips, which meant covering 1,000 tough miles over about 3 months. By the time many of the men reached Bennett Lake, just on the other side of the U.S.-Canada border, the river that would carry them the rest of the way to the Klondike was iced in and the men had to wait several months before they could continue. By the time most of them reached Dawson City, the majority of the gold had already been claimed, and many of the men had to work in other men’s mines just to earn enough money to get back home.
Had to try a head-sized fry bread from Klondike Doughboy. These things are an important part of the experience, you know.
During the rush, Skagway and Dyea became boomtowns; Dyea busted and has mostly returned to nature. Skagway’s economy also began to collapse in 1900, but in the same year it became the first incorporated city in the Alaska territory. Local residents fought to preserve its gold rush history and today, the center of town has been preserved or restored to its 1890s boom. Shops catering to tourists line the streets, and a daily influx of cruise ship passengers brings back the bustle of the Stampeder era.
We spent several days in Skagway, mostly exploring the historic buildings, learning about the gold rush from the rangers, playing at the jr. ranger center, and eating massive scones! We also went over to Dyea, a gorgeous drive, and walked around the site of the old township; the area is now covered in forest and the only evidence of the former town is old pilings and occasional logs, weathered remnants of buildings.
Exploring where the boomtown of Dyea used to be. Playing Harry Potter, always.
Fireweed! This stuff was growing all along the roadside all the way up to Alaska and it was so bright and lovely! And, we discovered, the fireweed is covered in caterpillars!
We’d love to come hike the Chilkoot Trail someday and experience what the Stampeders went through for a chance at striking it rich; for now, we loved learning about the history of this era and imagining ourselves back into the 1890s!
Coming over the White Pass, we caught a forest fire just beginning—it looked like a volcano had erupted!
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