Skagway White Pass train with Alaska Shore Tours
07 Jul

What’s the difference between the Klondike Highway and a Skagway White Pass train?

One of the main draws of Skagway is its relation to the Klondike Gold Rush. Skagway is known as the Gateway to the Klondike, and unlike 1898, there’s more than one way to reach Lake Bennett.

The 2 most popular options are the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, which takes riders up across White Pass Summit, and a drive up the Klondike Highway. There are some major differences between the two, and you should keep them in mind when booking your Skagway excursion.

A major thing to remember is you need your PASSPORT for both the train and the highway! You’ll be crossing into Canada on both trips, so a passport for every passenger is required.

The Train

5, Skagway White Pass train with Alaska Shore Tours

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad trips all start in Skagway, and vary in length from 3 to 8 hours. The train is one of the last remaining narrow-gauge railways in the world, with its tracks spaced at 36″ instead of the standard 54″.

The guides on a Skagway White Pass train are all highly educated in the history and significance of the tracks and can provide an in-depth, accurate tour during your journey. The downside is that there is only 1 guide for the entire length of the train, so you may not be able to get the answers to your questions immediately, or at all.

Because it is a moving train, you are better off just sitting back and enjoying the trip than trying to take photos. Much of the area is wooded, and while you will definitely see everything the train passes, in many cases it will be too quick to get anything other than a blurry photo.

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad’s relevance to the gold rush is felt at several locations, most notably the Gold Rush Cemetery and the red caboose at the Denver glacier stop. Traveling by a Skagway White Pass train is best for less active travelers who really want to dig into the history of the area.

Bring some snacks with you as there are no refreshments available for purchase on a Skagway White Pass train. With few exceptions, there is no meal provided on the train trips.  The trips that stop in Carcross will give you the opportunity to find something for lunch though.

If you have young children, I wouldn’t recommend this tour, as it is more of a classroom setting with a lot of sitting. If you’re still dead-set on a Skagway White Pass train, I’d recommend one of the shorter trips that heads to White Pass Summit and then turns around, like the White Pass Summit and City Tour. Otherwise, trips like the Private White Pass Summit Tour (3 hours) or Private Extended White Pass Summit Tour (4 hours) could be exactly what you’re looking for.

The Highway

6, Skagway White Pass train with Alaska Shore Tours

The Klondike Highway is the newer of 2 options up to the Yukon, having opened in 1978. Klondike Highway tours are generally 4 to 6 hours in length, but could be shorter or longer if you choose a private tour option.

Your guides are well-educated in the history, as well as the flora and fauna of the area. The depth of your guide’s knowledge may vary, however, since many guides take it upon themselves to learn even more about the area in their own free time. Most guided tours of Klondike Highway have 18 to 24 people on them, but the largest tours take place on full-sized coaches holding 50 to 60 people. Even with the larger groups, it is usually pretty easy to ask any questions you might have.

For photographers, you’ll definitely want the Klondike Highway, since your guide will stop at several scenic vistas and any wildlife sightings that occur. Choosing this method of travel means that you’ll see more of the scenic side of White Pass, British Columbia, the Yukon and Lake Bennett.

The downside to a guided group tour is that you may miss out on some of Skagway’s gold rush connections, like the Gold Rush Cemetery. But if you’re less about history and more about the natural beauty of the area, you’ll probably want a highway tour.

While there are no refreshments available on the buses, the longer Klondike Highway tours stop for lunch at Caribou Crossing, which also has an excellent wildlife display and dog mushing. Plus, puppies! Most tours also stop at the Carcross General Store which has drinks, snacks and ice cream.

While this still may not be the ideal tour for very young children, the multiple stops and activities at Caribou Crossing make it a better fit than the train. At the very least, there is more opportunity to stretch your legs while viewing the panoramas of the Last Frontier.

What’s The Difference?

Trip White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad Klondike Highway Bus or Private Tour
Total Time:  3 to 8 Hours  2.5 to 7 Hours
Total People Per Tour: 100+ on some days Up to 60 depending on vehicle type
Best Suited For: History Buffs Photographers (Amateur or Professional!)
Meal Included on Most Tours: No Yes
Activity Level 1-5:

(1- easy, 5- challenging)

1 2
Handicap Accessible Maybe Maybe

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