Hiking in the White Pass – Waterfalls and Glaciers

Yesterday was intended as a motorcycle day – a ride to Skagway and back – but turned into much more, with an almost-6-hour hike past countless waterfalls and ending overlooking the Chilkoot Trail with a wall of glaciers across the valley.

By 08:45 I was all armoured up and ready to hit the road with the Vstar, with a forecast for mostly sunshine.
Vstar 1100 Classic

On the way south I pondered a few options for a short hike, and thought that Lower Dewey Lake and Upper Reid Falls might fill the bill nicely. But Skagway just didn’t have a good vibe for me, so I just collected my mail (including my new SPOT) and headed north again.

I’d never been very far up the trail that leads to the west from the White Pass summit, to Boundary or International Border Falls, so decided that that would work nicely. No particular destination, just start walking and see what comes up.
2018 edit: hikers seem to agree that this trail is now called the International Falls trail.
White Pass, Alaska
A few minutes after noon, my riding gear was all stashed and I was ready to go.
Vstar 1100 Classic in the White Pass north of Skagway, Alaska
The trail (which doesn’t have a name) starts by dropping very steeply into the valley, and then you have to wade across the outlet of a small lake. Although I wrecked my Mion sport sandals a few days ago, I was able to replace them in Whitehorse with a pair of Keen Newport H2s at a good price, and they’re almost identical, so creek crossings aren’t an issue.
Crossing the creek on the Boundary Falls trail
The first waterfall is also the largest one, and it really is a beauty, perhaps 20 feet high.
International Border Falls, Alaska
The same waterfall, from above. From here on, the trail was taking me into country that I hadn’t seen before (except the first little bit, seen from the highway).
International Border Falls, Alaska
Some of the first part of the trail is quite tight through head-high evergreens, but then it opens up nicely. This was shot at 12:40, just half an hour after leaving the bike. At about this point, you pass from Canada into the United States (from British Columbia into Alaska), but there’s no monument, no flags, and no border guards.
Waterfall seen while hiking along the BC / Alaska border
There are countless waterfalls and cascades of all sizes. This one is only about 3 feet high.
Waterfall seen while hiking in Alaska's White Pass
This is the upper of the 2 large waterfalls that can be seen from the highway – it’s far larger and more attractive up close.
Waterfall seen while hiking along the BC / Alaska border
It’s hard to imagine the forces that can do this to solid granite.
Hiking along the BC / Alaska border
I love waterfalls, and this is the sort of scene that kept drawing me higher and higher along the creek. I often made detours off the trail to have a closer look, or feel, or taste of the absolutely pure water.
Hiking along the BC / Alaska border
A massive slab of granite, perhaps 100 feet square, kept me for a while, like a little kid with a good mud puddle. 🙂
Hiking along the BC / Alaska bordeHiking along the BC / Alaska borderr
Looking back down the creek to the peaks on the east side of the White Pass, at 2:04 pm.
Hiking along the BC / Alaska border
The first of the headwater lakes, most of which are snowmelt-fed, though the colour of this one shows that a glacier provides much of its water.
Hiking along the BC / Alaska border
I just couldn’t stay out of the water 🙂
Wading in a creek along the BC / Alaska border
As I got above about 4,000 feet in elevation, some really interesting intrusions into the granite started to appear.
Rocks seen while Hiking along the BC / Alaska border
A glacial erratic, left on a little knoll by the glacier that carved out this valley as it retreated.
A glacial erratic above the White Pass, Alaska
A small snowmelt lake – water so pure it’s almost invisible.
Hiking in the White Pass, Alaska
This is the top of the valley – that’s the Taiya River valley, with the Chilkoot Trail running though it almost 4,000 feet below me. This scene comes into view suddenly, with no warning – you top a ridge and WOW!, there it is.
Hiking along the BC / Alaska border

I decided to see if by climbing another 800 feet or so to the top of the ridge to the south, I might be able to see Taiya Inlet, which is as far inland as the sea comes in this area.

At this spot a few years ago, a caribou met his end – the skull is gone but most of the rest of the skeleton is here.
Hiking along the BC / Alaska border
A closer look at 2 of the glaciers across the valley. The one on the left is the Saussure Glacier, the other is unnamed (as are most glaciers in Alaska). The highest peak to the right is Mt. Hoffman.
Glaciers in the Taiya River valley, Alaska
Although I couldn’t see salt water from the top of the ridge, I did get a much better view of these glaciers on the north side of Mt. Cleveland. I hadn’t been paying attention to the time at all, but the time stamp on the photo shows that this was shot at 3:37 pm. I started down simply because there was no more “up” available (except by going a long way down first).
Glaciers along the BC / Alaska border
Looking towards the Chilkoot Trail summit as I began my descent.
Hiking along the BC / Alaska border
From the summit to the lowest of the headwater lakes, I went down on a different route (for no particular reason).
Hiking along the BC / Alaska border
Several of the lakes were swimmable, but only one was irresistible 🙂
Swimming in a high lake while hiking along the BC / Alaska border
Many of the flowers are past their prime now, but this field was particularly nice. Just a few minutes before I took this shot, I had finally checked the time, and was very surprised to see that it was 4:33! It really hadn’t been my intention to spend this long (and that’s why I have another SPOT, so Cathy can see more or less what I’m up to!).
Wildflowers seen while hiking along the BC / Alaska border
I quit dawdling after seeing the time, and by 5:30 was back at the base of the very steep climb back to the highway. About 15 minutes later, I had my bike gear back on, and was headed home.
Hiking along the BC / Alaska border
Here’s the USGS topo of the location, with my route added in red. Note that this map was printed in 1948, based on aerial photos, and has only had a minor update done in 1966 (that’s a dozen years before the highway was built). Click on it to greatly enlarge it in a new window.
Hiking along the BC / Alaska border


Hiking in the White Pass – Waterfalls and Glaciers — 6 Comments

  1. Thanks 🙂

    Greg, this would be a great hike for the Scouts – great camping with plenty of water in the high alpine, and an infinite number of higher routes to tackle from camp.

    Sue, this is certainly one of the best trails to get into the high country. The drop from the highway will scare off many people, and there are some cliffs that extreme care needs to taken around, but it’s largely a very safe trail with amazing scenery along the entire route, so it’s great whether you want to go for an hour or a whole day (or longer).

  2. That is a fantastic hike! The landscape is just breathtaking, and the water looks so inviting, no wonder you found the water irresistable! How do you find/know about the hikes you go on? Are the trails known/recorded trails, or do you create your own trail?
    Thanks again for taking us on another one of your adventures!

  3. Thanks, Jan. Most of the places I go have no trails and aren’t listed in any book or Web site. This waterfall route started off as a trail but it disappeared after an hour or so, and I just kept going. I love being alone out there, and of seeing no sign of anyone else ever having been there.

  4. Great hike. The map was very useful; I could see where you were in relation to Mts. Hoffman & Cleveland. The waterfall and glacier photos were wonderful and I liked the photo where you were on top of the ridge looking across the river valley and the Chilkoot Trail to the two glaciers. The ‘place that you worship’ is breathtaking and it is so to your credit that you cast more than a passing eye over it all, year after year, and bring it all to our enviable eyes through ExploreNorth. What a Summer you are having. Where do you get your stamina?
    All the best, Marie G.