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By the Numbers: Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park


 Top: The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park-Alaska visitor center occupies a renovated historic building in the Skagway Historic District.  Bottom: A section of the original White Pass Trail viewed from the White Pass & Yukon Railroad.  Photos by Bob Janiskee.

The number "two" has important meaning in the
context of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which preserves trails, historic structures, and relics of the Klondike Gold Rush era (late 1890s).  This unusual park has two different superintendents administering two widely separated components --  one in Seattle, Washington and the other nearly 1,000 miles away in Skagway, Alaska. The park also has two National Historic Districts for neighbors.

Here are some additional meaningful statistics for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.


Recreational visits in 2010.  Klondike Gold Rush NHP - Alaska accounted for 797,716 of these visits, which is 92% of the park's visitation.  (Most of the visits were accounted for by cruise ship passengers visiting Skagway.)  The share  of visitation accounted for by Klondike Gold Rush NHP-Seattle, although representing just 8 percent of the park total, was still a very respectable 65,870 visits.


Gold rush "stampeders" who flocked to Alaska in 1897-1898, bent on reaching the newly-discovered gold fields on the Klondike River near Dawson City in Canada's Yukon Territory.  Fewer than 30,000 stampeders actually made it.  Most were stymied by the hardships of the Chilkoot and White Pass trails, the two main routes through the steep coastal mountains to the headwaters of the Yukon River.  


Acreage of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park,  almost all of which is located in or near Skagway.  Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park-Seattle, which "tells the story of the Klondike gold rush from the Seattle end of things," consists of a single structure, a visitor center situated in a renovated historic building (former Cadillac Hotel, 1889) in Seattle's Pioneer Square Preservation District.


Horses that died on the White Pass Trail during the winter of 1897-1898.  Con men talked some  stampeders into believing that this rugged trail through the mountains was an all-weather route suitable for horses.  It was far from that, being absent of horse food and rife with boulder fields, sharp rocks, cliffs, bogs, and other hazards.  Starving, brutally overworked animals died in droves at places like the aptly-named Dead Horse Gulch (Mile 18 on the White Pass & Yukon RR).


Pounds of supplies each stampeder was required to have in his possession when entering Canada.  The North West Mounted Police scrupulously enforced this rule at the border.  Among the essential foods in this fabled "ton of gear" -- enough to last a man one year -- were 350-400 lbs. of  flour, 150 lbs. bacon , 125  lbs. of beans, 75 lbs. of dried fruits, 10 lbs. of coffee, and 25 lbs. each of sugar, dried potatoes, and rolled oats.


Percentage of the park consisting of nonfederal land owned by the municipality of Skagway, the State of Alaska, and various other property owners.  


Maximum number of visitors accommodated on each Ranger-led walking tour of the Skagway Historic District.  The one-hour tours, which are free of charge, are offered five times daily during early May to late September.


Inches of precipitation -- a low amount by southeastern Alaska standards -- recorded in an average year at Skagway.  The town has a Marine West Coast climate that inclines the weather to be cool and cloudy/rainy/drizzly.  Summers don't get too hot (daily highs 59-67 degrees F) and winters don't get too cold (daily lows 16-27 degrees F).

Historic buildings restored, rehabilitated or in the process of being restored in the 12 city blocks comprising the Skagway Historic District, an area with a pervasive late-1890s look to it. Nine of the historic buildings are leased to commercial enterprises and the rest are used for visitor facilities, exhibits, seasonal employee quarters, and administration offices. The park's visitor center is ensconced in Skagway's historic railroad depot.

16.5 miles

Length of the Chilkoot Trail section that the National Park Service manages in cooperation with  Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site of Canada (the agency that manages the other half of the 33-mile long historic trail).  The historic trail, which climbs steeply through coastal and boreal forests to alpine tundra, is open to hardy hikers. The Chilkoot Trail Unit of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park also includes the remnants of the town of Dyea, an NPS campground (vault toilets), a  day use facility, and a ranger station..


Miles from Skagway to the site of long-gone Dyea, Skagway's gold rush era rival.  Despite the deficiencies of its shallow water port, Dyea boomed when it served as the gateway to the Chilkoot Trail and its infamous "Golden Stairs," a hellishly steep quarter-mile climb that stampeders had to repeat 20-40 times over a period of three months to haul their required ton of supplies to the Canadian border.  When the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway was routed through White Pass instead of along the Chilkoot, Skagway's role as gateway to the gold fields was solidified, interest in the Chilkoot Trail withered, and Dyea was abandoned.


Components of Klondike Gold Rush International Historical Park.  Established in 1998,  the international park includes three sites in Canada -- the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site of Canada,  the Thirty Mile Heritage River (Yukon River), and the Dawson Historic Complex National Historic Site -- as well as the Seattle, Skagway, Chilkoot Trail, and White Pass units of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.


Visitor facilities in the park's White Pass Trail Unit. The centerpiece attraction of this undeveloped unit is the historic trail that led from Skagway up the Skagway River Valley to White Pass and on to Bennett, British Columbia.  In addition to the White Pass Trail, which is most easily viewed from the Klondike Highway or the narrow gauge White Pass and Yukon Route Railway (now operated as a tourist-scenic attraction), this unit preserves the Brackett Wagon Road and remnants of White Pass City.

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What a nice surprise! When were you here, Bob?

I was in Skagway on July 17, Rick. Interesting place. Wish I could have spent more time there.

Bob, it's articles like this that make me an avid National Parks Traveler fan.  I love our National Parks, of course, but I majored in history because I love it as well.  Not that I ever did anything with the degree, unfortunately.  These days, I'm in financial management.  ;-)

Thanks for the feedback, Bruce.  Glad you found the article interesting. I'm a history buff myself, as you might have surmised. In fact, I minored in history as an undergraduate and might very well have gone on to do graduate work in history had I not decided to pursue my first love, which is geography.

You ended up with your first love, and I with my second.  Bully for you but alas for me.  Oh well.  [wistful smile]
Keep up the good work, though, and thanks!

can you tell us about just the stampeders?

There are plenty of books for that, Nicholas. If you're looking for something beyond the ordinary, you might try Lael Margan's Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush (Whitecap, 1998). I bought my copy in the visitor center in Skagway.

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