Touring the Yukon-Alaska Golden Circle Route

I’m currently on a 4-day tour of what is marketed as the “Golden Circle Route”, from Whitehorse to Skagway, Haines, Haines Junction and back. With me is Julie Odell, Program Administrator for Road Scholar, a tour company which some of you may remember as Elderhostel. They are returning to the Yukon and Alaska in a major way this year, and have 15 programs set up, of which I’m guiding two of 15 days each. My job on this 4-day tour is to show Julie what a tour will look like day-to-day.

After a day of talking about the programs with Julie, 2 admin people from Ruby Range Adventure, who has the contract to run many of the tours, and one of the other guides, Julie and I headed to Skagway at 5:30pm. Our first little bit of wildlife was at the Bove Island viewpoint, where we met this Gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis), who really thought that we should have brought a little something for him to eat.

Gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis)

At Dail Peak, seeing Dall sheep and/or mountain goats isn’t at all unusual, but seeing a herd of almost 20 mountain goats is!

A large herd of mountain goats in the Yukon

As we descended to Tushi Lake, I explained that this is one of the the places where we see black bears first in the spring, and as if on cue, there was this very healthy-looking fellow beside the road.

Black bear along the South Klondike Highway

Nearing the White Pass summit, we stopped for a couple of minutes to watch a very impressive snowmobile stunt with a Sled Porn crew filming it from a helicopter. After the usual quick and friendly crossing into Alaska, we found another black bear (a much skinnier one) grazing beside the road.

Black bear along the South Klondike Highway

We checked into the Westmark Hotel, and I went for dinner at the Skagway Brewing Company and then for a wander to get some photos of Skagway getting ready for the first cruise ship of the season which would arrive early the next morning.

Skagway getting ready for the first cruise ship of the season

I haven’t seen Skagway at night in many years. I really like the experience.

Skagway Alaska in the evening

Some of the stores worked late into the night – this was shot at 9:35.

Skagway getting ready for the first cruise ship of the season

I was down on the dock just after 05:00 yesterday morning, as the cruise ships often arrive that early despite most of the itineraries saying that they arrive at 07:00. The tug Le Cheval Rose was already warming up. This was shot from the new breakwater at 05:20 as a light rain fell.

The tug Le Cheval Rose - Skagway, Alaska

Thinking about the best place to shoot the ship’s arrival from, I decided that with a very low tide, the beach at the mouth of the Skagway River would work, so I walked out the Yakutania Point trail and climbed down to the beach.

Yakutania Point trail - Skagway, Alaska

It seemed funny to be greeting a cruise ship when the mountains had gotten a fresh dusting of snow overnight!

A dusting of snow on the peaks above Skagway, Alaska

I saw the Carnival Spirit when she was still miles down Taiya Inlet – this was shot at 06:22.

Carnival Spirit arrives at Skagway, Alaska

As the ship got tied up, I chatted with one of the guides for Chilkoot Charters who was waiting for his group.

Carnival Spirit arrives at Skagway, Alaska

The first cruise passengers of the 2012 season – let the games begin! The last 2 ships of the year will leave Skagway on September 25th.

Carnival Spirit arrives at Skagway, Alaska

Julie had some business to take care of so we didn’t get started touring until 11:00. One of the first stops was the Pioneer Cemetery (of course!), and from there we took the short walk up to Lower Reid Falls.

Lower Reid Falls - Skagway, Alaska

As one of the programs that Road Scholar is doing is hiking the Chilkoot Trail I offered to show Julie the first mile or so of it. On the way, we stopped to watch these Trumpeter swans on the Taiya River.

Trumpeter swans on the Taiya River, Alaska

The trailhead for the Chilkoot Trail, at the Taiya River bridge.

Chilkoot Trail

Hiking the Chilkoot Trail. The smell of these forests in the spring is so wonderful after a long Yukon winter!

Chilkoot Trail

Although we had perfect hiking weather, the weather forecast had called for showers, and this halo around the sun showed that rain was indeed coming.

Chilkoot Trail

We were back at the ferry dock in Skagway at 1:15 for our 2:30 sailing to Haines on the little Alaska state ferry LeConte. The 235-foot-long vessel can carry 300 passengers and about 34 vehicles and makes the crossing to Haines in a hour at a cost of $111 for our van and 2 people.

Alaska state ferry LeConte

Vehicles have to be backed on to the ferry. While that’s no problem for a car or van, some of the RV drivers with toads or trailers must have an “interesting” experience 🙂

Vehicles on the Alaska ferry LeConte

Leaving Skagway in a cold, strong wind.

Leaving Skagway Alaska on a ferry

On a warm summer day the solarium and back deck are crowded, but they were almost deserted yesterday. The view was superb but it was just too cold and windy – even for me!

The solarium on the Alaska ferry LeConte

Whenever I go down Taiya Inlet, I marvel at how highway engineers could possibly think that building a highway (and keeping it open!) was reasonable. For visual reasons I’m really glad that the Skagway-Juneau highway project was killed.

Cliffs and rockslides along Taiya Inlet, Alaska

Reaching Haines at 3:30, I decided to drive to Chilkoot Lake, as bears can sometimes be seen fishing along the river. Even if there are no bears, it’s a beautiful drive.

Chilkoot River - Haines, Alaska

From the spot where the photo above was shot, I spotted 4 brown bears up the river. I took some “insurance” shots, then drove up the road to see how close we could get.

Grizzlies fishing along the Chilkoot River, Alaska

We were able to get very close, and spent about 20 minutes with them.

Brown bears fishing along the Chilkoot River, Alaska

They were very successfully fishing for eulachon, a little smelt-type fish that’s usually called “hooligan” in Alaska.

Brown bears fishing along the Chilkoot River, Alaska

There were two sows with their cubs from last year or perhaps even the year before. With food abundant, there was no need for aggression to protect a pool as is sometimes seen when times are lean. I’ve also posted a 1-minute video of the experience at YouTube.

Brown bears fishing along the Chilkoot River, Alaska

Pulling ourselves away from the bears, we continued on to Chilkoot Lake, but it started to rain quite heavily so it was a very short visit.

Chilkoot Lake, Alaska

At the mouth of the Chilkoot River, thousands of gulls were also feeding on the eulachon.

Gulls at the mouth of the Chilkoot River, Alaska

By 7:15 we were settled in our rooms at the Captain’s Choice Motel. We went for a short tour of Haines, then for an excellent dinner of mixed seafoods at The Lighthouse.

Captain's Choice Motel - Haines Alaska

This is the view from my room at the motel. Ahhhhhhhh… 🙂

Captain's Choice Motel - Haines Alaska

It’s almost 6:00am now, and the day is starting off cold and wet. Today we’ll be driving up the Haines Highway, doing some hiking if the weather cooperates, and spending the night in Haines Junction. It’s been an amazing trip so far – it’s hard to believe that we’ve only been on the road for 36 hours!


Touring the Yukon-Alaska Golden Circle Route — 6 Comments

  1. Great story and pictures as per normal. Look forward to seeing your summer adventures.

  2. Hi Murray,
    Many thanks for the great story and pictures of your trip.I look nearly every day on your blog for the news of The Yukon.
    We were in The Yukon and Alaska some years ago,we drove The Dempster to Inuvik,I think the best trip of my life.We live in England,and have travelled greatly through Europe,but nothing compared to The Yukon!!!
    Best wishes to you,and hope to read about your up coming trips.

  3. Pingback: Touring Haines - Haines Junction - Whitehorse