The Call of the Klondike: A Northern Journey
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
-excerpt from “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert W. Service
In the early days of the Klondike Gold Rush, over 100,000 people migrated to the wild and unknown North, where bountiful riches were said to await those who could survive the journey. While dreams of wealth for most went unrealized, the fascination with this mysterious and rugged landscape remained.
Over a hundred years later, the allure of the North still rings true for tourists, adventurers and historians alike. In retracing the steps of the many who so optimistically trekked the long journey to the Klondike, and exploring the regions of Alaska and the Yukon that surround it, the magic of this special place is more evident than ever.
Today, much like during the time of the gold rush, one of the most popular ways to get to the entrance of the Klondike (in Skagway, Alaska) is by boat. Along this picturesque journey, ice covered mountains welcome visitors and, if you’re lucky, may even reveal one of the area’s last remaining glaciers.
Stopping in Juneau (Alaska’s capital) provides the perfect opportunity to see one of these breathtaking ice sheets up-close. The Mendenhall Glacier is settled between rocky mountains, with a lake at it’s feet and surrounding forested wilderness. To the naked eye, the glacier is magnificent in both size and beauty. However, its recession in recent years is apparent, and one wonders how long visitors will be able to view this incredible sight.
A ride along the historic White Pass
The White Pass trail was one of two routes gold enthusiasts could have taken to enter the Klondike. This mountain pass leads from the port town of Skagway, Alaska to the headwaters of the Yukon River (which eventually led weary travellers to Dawson City). In the late 1800s, this trail was brutal, with many failing to make their final destination. A train route came all-too late for some of these unfortunate travellers, however continued to be used for mining and trade up until the 1980s. Today, the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad caters specifically to tourists eager to retrace the steps of the men who dreamed of gold.
An untouched landscape
While thousands passed through this area during the height of the gold rush, the landscape looks as untouched today as I’m sure it did to those first early travellers. Vast forested valleys contained by rocky mountain slopes are truly a wonder to observe. Sleek creeks and waterways carry their powder blue runoff to unseen destinations. If you’re fortunate, you may even spot one of the region’s majestic eagles mid-flight.
Take a journey along the Yukon River
The Yukon River was the last leg of the journey for gold miners, eventually depositing them in the booming mining town of Dawson City. Today, many visitors opt to stay along the river’s southern shores, near the Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse. Here, the river provides the perfect pathway to explore parts of the southern Yukon by canoe or kayak. The land’s bloodline, the Yukon River guides visitors through a serene scene of thick forests, stoney shores, and slow-moving water. It’s a place of calm and quiet, with a vastness that causes one to reflect on the wonder of this untouched wilderness.
A delightful end to a long journey
Near the mid-point of the Yukon River you’ll find the province’s capital city, Whitehorse. The largest city in the Canadian North, Whitehorse boasts a vibrant local culture that plays on it’s historic past while incorporating new and enticing attractions.
For history enthusiasts, a bounty of museums and historic sites provide greater insight into the heritage of the area. To learn about ‘Gold Fever’, pan your own gold, and discover more about the history of the Yukon, visit the MacBride Museum. Those wishing to go further back in time can visit the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre to learn about what the region looked like in prehistoric times. Finally, climb aboard the S. S. Klondike, a historic riverboat that connected the Yukon to the outside world during the 1920s and 30s.
After a long day of historical exploration, stop by the Yukon Brewing Company for a wide selection of craft beers that will leave you considering relocation just to have access to these tasty brews. The Midnight Sun is a personal favourite, though their Yukon Gold beer is a staple for this community. End your evening with some pioneer-age entertainment at Frantic Follies Vaudeville Revue, where laughs come in far greater supply than gold.
Map of some of the destinations along the route:
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This article was originally published on Anew Traveller in October 2015.