The downtown of Skagway looks like a western movie set with restored olde tyme facades. A highlight of the town is the famous steam train into the mountains. The train takes visitors up the White Pass and across the border of Canada. During the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-98, men flocked to San Francisco and Seattle to catch a ride up to seek their treasure. At Skagway/Dyea, they then the walked the 33 mile , just west of the White Pass. Chilkoot was shorter but more difficult. The narrow gauge train over White Pass was finished in 1900.
The Canadian government did not want to have to take care of impoverished Americans, so the required each man to show the Royal Canadian Mounties at the border all the supplies that each would need for 1 year. This amounted to 1 ton. So they literally had to carry boxes of their supplies the 33 miles to enter Canada at Bennet. They had to go up the steep Chilcoot Trail. It was made famous by the early photos showing lines of men like ants walking up the snowy hill.
When the Argonauts (the name for gold miners) arrived across the border, they were faced with a harsh winter that they had to wait out since the Yukon river was frozen, stopping them from continuing on their 400 mile trip to Dawson – the center of the mining operations. During that winter they built rafts and crude boats. Many died. When the thaw came, they floated down with many flipping in the occasional rapids.
The sad part of the story is that when they arrived in Dawson, most of the claims had already been issued, leaving them with no chance to pan for their own gold. Most were sadly stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. Many settled in Canada and became farmers. Many headed back home.
The White Pass railroad, built after the gold rush, made the eastward trek a lot easier. The Skagway White Pass steam train is a great way to experience that era.