Brakes hissed, horn sounded. The train lurched slowly forward away from Skagway towards the mountains. With a clickety-clack, clackety-click, we climbed from sea level up through forests and dark tunnels, around cliffs, over bridges and past craggy, snow-capped peaks before reaching 3,000-foot White Pass.
All the while, we gently rocked back and forth with the rhythm of the tracks and the boys looked out the windows with wide-eyed excitement. Up, up, up. Pointing, laughing and non-stop talking, you’d think they’d been waiting for this moment their entire lives.
Built from 1898 to 1900 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad brought prospectors from the port of Skagway up to the Yukon Territory where they would then need to traverse hundreds of miles over land, lakes and rivers to seek their fortune. The history is fascinating and the dramatic scenes while climbing up and back on the train are breathtaking.
We’re typically not ones for the more touristy attractions when visiting new places, but with a two-year-old and four-year-old, there was no option. We were riding that train. Fortunately, the weather was gorgeous, warm and sunny, and the boys made fast friends with the train conductor and those sitting around us while we snaked upward into the tall mountains.
When we reached the pass and the engines were moved from one end of the cars to the other for the ride down, our conductor friend, Ryan, asked us to follow him towards the back of the train. We didn’t really know what was going on, but much to our surprise, we got to ride in the opulent caboose by ourselves for the trip down. With leather chairs, drinks and a back “porch” with amazing views, it was an unexpected treat that we’re all still talking about nearly a week later.
If you make it to Skagway, we highly recommend taking the train. It’s worth it.
Exploring Lynn Canal
After leaving Glacier Bay, the towns of Haines and Skagway became our goal and because we’d told the boys about the train ride weeks before, it was something they asked about every day. We were going no matter what. Slowly working our way east with fresh memories of Glacier Bay National Park still in our minds, we took our time and hopped towards and then up the long fjord of Lynn Canal.
From anchorage to anchorage we moved under fair skies and following breezes exploring beaches, hiking trails and small bays. As the crow flies, Lynn Canal is quite close to Glacier Bay and the mountains that line either side reminded us of being back there.
The town of Haines came first and we cozied Yahtzee up among fishing boats in the quaint marina. This was our first real town since leaving Sitka over three weeks prior and a good stock-up was in order. So too was an oil change and a visit to the library, playground, swimming pool and brewery, of course.
From Haines it was a quick 13-mile run up to Skagway, which is the northern terminus of the Inside Passage (Olympia, Washington is the southern end). While Haines had more of a hometown feel to it, Skagway was tourist central. Four cruise ships tied up in town every day and with them came the usual throngs of people. It wasn’t a bother to us, though, and we joined right in with them on the train, in restaurants and on the streets. An interesting note is that the ships left port every evening, meaning the town would go from bustling to basically empty in a matter of about an hour. Once the ships were gone, it was all locals and us, which made for a nice change of pace.
With our fix of town life thoroughly fulfilled, we pointed Yahtzee’s bow back south and headed for a few anchorages we hadn’t stopped at while coming up the Canal. A knock on cruising Lynn Canal is that there aren’t many places to anchor, but we found quite the opposite. A little bight on the southwest side of Sullivan Island provided shelter from a strong southerly and we spent two days here waiting it out. Ashore we found a perfect sand beach and while having a beach fire, Jill spotted a mama grizzly bear with two cubs. They were about a quarter mile away and after coming towards us for about 100 yards or so, she caught sight of us and promptly disappeared with with her brood into the woods, never to be seen again.
Continuing south, we fought a strong southerly but were rewarded handsomely with beautiful anchorages at Bridget Cove and on the north side of Benjamin Island. Tucked in out of the wind, we relished having more time ashore in the wilds of Alaska before a stop in the state’s busy capitol, Juneau.