There is no way to get from Haines to Skagway other than by ferry and the one on which we had a reservation did not depart until late afternoon, so we had all morning to fill in. This was not hard to do with a visit to the Chilkot State Park with a view of some glaciers and a drive out to Chilkot Lake. The lake empties into the Lynn Canal via short river. There were a number of fisherman working in the water trying to catch some of the early salmon. Later in the season, they will be competing with the bears who will be out in the river catching fish on which to fatten to before they hibernate for winter.
For some reason, the Alaskan Marine Highway Ferries require you to check in two hours before the ferry departs so we had a long wait in the car line on the dock. We didn’t get unloaded in Skagway until almost 6.00 pm. Sometimes, its best to wait until the crowd subsides and this is especially true of Skagway. It has an interesting streetscape of gold rush era buildings and after the last cruise ship leaves each day, they are virtually empty. I enjoyed a peaceful walk around town at 10.00 pm (still in bright sunlight).
Skagway is the town from which the prospectors amassed their supplies and began their long trek across the Chilkot Pass or White Pass to the Yukon goldfields. Many of the town’s buildings remain and this makes it very popular with tourists. It is also the terminus of the White Pass Railroad. This 3 foot gauge railway originally travelled to Whitehorse from where people could catch a river boat down the Yukon River to Dawson and the goldfields. It still runs as a very popular tourist train and some of the old locomotives and snow ploughs are impressive pieces of old machinery.
On the final day of our adventure, we drove from Skagway to Whitehorse – about 180 kms. The road followed the train line up though White Pass and we crossed the border back into Canada. I always look for a dotted line on the road that marks the border between states or territories but this one was just a line caused by a snowdrift down the mountainside. I thought that I had finally found somewhere with a line on the ground but the real border was marked by a plaque a kilometre down the road!
The Yukon prospectors preferred this route over White Pass because it was an easier route than the steeper Chilkot Pass. A few people had told us that this road was one of the most scenic in Alaska and while we were disappointing that it was raining when we left Skagway, we still saw some beautiful scenery. The rocky alpine area over the pass with its low growing vegetation and small lakes was quite dismal on a rainy day. I would not have liked to have been a prospector carrying many pounds of equipment and food across such a rough area.
The highway generally follows the route of the railway line. The only town on the way is the historic town of Cantwell which boasts the longest operating general store in the Yukon. It now primarily sells souvenirs and tourist items although some of the old stock on the shelves behind the counter provide some evidence of its history. Cantwell is the only place to buy food on the highway and the two cafes in town were doing a roaring trade.
Everything else about our return to Whitehorse is quite unremarkable. We stayed overnight at the Westmark Hotel and have returned our car and are now waiting for a flight to Vancouver and eventually home. What a great adventure we have had over the last five weeks..