Alaska Gold Rush areas
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- Miners took more than $46 million in gold from the Nome area (1899-1910), or $1.34 billion today.
- The Chilkoot Trail, in U.S. and Canadian parks, is considered the world’s longest outdoor museum.
- The Klondike Gold Rush brought 100,000 people to Alaska; about 40,000 got to the Yukon goldfields.
- The 1964 Good Friday earthquake and tsunami destroyed Valdez; both Valdez and Girdwood relocated to safer ground.
- Kennecott Mining recovered 600,000 tons of copper, 9 million ounces of silver — and $100 million in profit (1911-1938).
All that glitters …
Gold lust brought prospectors and their hangers-on to Alaska by the hundreds of thousands over several decades. The gold rushes, with strikes stretching from 1872 (Cassiar district) to 1913 (Chisana district), have been romanticized, but none so much as the Klondike scramble starting in the winter of 1897-1898. Located in Canada, it was North America’s richest gold strike. Juneau, Nome and Fairbanks goldfields were Alaska’s largest, but there were many gold districts; some mines, large and small, still yield their riches.
Tourists are drawn by this history. Old boomtowns and ghost towns, active and abandoned mines, mining museums and staged Gold Rush-inspired events provide the experiences tourists seek.
Given Alaska’s size, the very interested may travel widely to touch important sites. Alternatively, visitors have options to combine, say, gold panning and tours of historic sites with other diversions in a specific region of interest.
Regardless of the trip plan, visitors will want to take time for Alaska’s fabulous scenery, all on a grand scale; options for outdoor activities, and the abundant wildlife. Many sites are only accessible seasonally so relevant inquiries are in order.
Top spots, covered roughly chronologically, are:
- Juneau, with old mines to visit, was founded after a local gold strike. Its three biggest mines produced $158 million in gold when gold fetched $20 to $35 per ounce.
- Skagway and nearby Dyea were starting points for thousands of prospectors heading to the Klondike in Canada. Skagway survived and its historic district is part of a national park; Dyea is a ghost town.
- Nome, where gold nuggets littered the beaches, offers various gold panning options, and visitors can comb the beaches for Gold Rush-era artifacts, or even gold. In one summer, prospectors sifted $2 million in gold from the beaches (in 1899 dollars).
- Fairbanks is home to active mines including the state’s largest, Fort Knox; inactive mines offer tours. For edu-entertainment, it has museums, Pioneer Park and a Gold Rush-inspired revue.
- Kennicott, a ghost town in a national park, was the site of history’s purest copper discovery. Notable for photogenic remains, Kennicott can be combined with hiking and other park pleasures.
Things to do for Venturers
- Get a permit to hike the Chilkoot Trail, the 33 miles from coastal Dyea in Alaska to Lake Bennett, British Columbia, the headwaters of the Yukon River. The three- to four-day hike follows on the heels of gold seekers who each carried a year’s worth of supplies on the route.
- Before finalizing this itinerary, search any of several U.S. and Canadian databases for information on any relatives you believe or know participated in the rush for gold in Alaska.
- Treat yourself or challenge yourself on the trails accessible at Kennicott. The Root Glacier Trail leads directly to the surface of Root Glacier, whereas the four-mile Old Mine Trail takes you straight up the side of a mountain to the remains of a site where ore was loaded into ore cars and lowered to the mill buildings below by tram.
- Pursue recreational gold mining and panning, and camp out or park your RV at a place called Chicken. It’s the Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost and it is a National Historic Site.
- Spend time in the cemeteries. The Slide Cemetery at the Dyea ghost town includes some victims of the 1898 avalanche that smothered more than 60 on their way to the Yukon. Another is Skagway’s Gold Rush Cemetery, whose permanent guests include the con man Jefferson “Soapy” Smith, who was killed in a shootout.
- If an experienced backcountry traveler, consider this trek: between McCarthy and Chisana, site of Alaska’s last great rush for gold. Chisana, with a population of about 25, otherwise is only accessible by small aircraft.
Things to do for Centrics
- Join guided or manage self-guided tours to ghost mining towns. One is Dyea near Skagway and inside the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Another is Kennicott, a former copper boomtown inside the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
- At the Independence Mine State Historical Park near Wasilla, see the on-site museum in the former mine manager’s house, then take a self-guided tour of the mine camp. Guided tours of the mine are available seasonally.
- Make time for Skagway’s Mascot Saloon-cum-museum, which looks into the vices (drinking, gambling and prostitution) that followed the miners.
- Take the AJ Mine/Gastineau Mill Tour at Juneau — and pan for gold and garnets. Or walk through the defunct Treadwell Mine on Douglas Island.
- At Valdez, hike the Mineral Creek Trail, which leads to mining ruins in the mountains. Another hiking option is Crow Pass Trail, at Girdwood, an alpine trek, which combines sightings of gold mining relics with scenery (a glacier and alpine lake) and the prospect of spotting Dall sheep. Also, tour the still-active Crow Creek Mine near town.
- In Nome, you may combine a day of gold panning with fishing for salmon.
Things to do for Authentics
- Step back in time with a self-guided or ranger-guided tour of the Skagway Historic District, which is part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
- Take the White Pass and Yukon Route rail excursion to the pass at the Canadian border, viewing the otherwise difficult-to-access White Pass Trail while traveling one of the world’s steepest train routes.
- For a handy in-town look at relics of the hunt for gold, spend time at Fairbanks’ large outdoor Pioneer Park, with dozens of shops, museums and historical artifacts. Attend the “Gold Rush Revue” at Pioneer Park’s Palace Theatre, staged nightly.
- When in Fairbanks, check out the historic gold dredges and pan for gold — after a fashion. Gold Dredge 8 is popular for this and accessible via a replica of the narrow-gauge Tanana Valley Railroad.
- Dig into the subject at the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks. It has the state’s largest public display of gold plus loads (or lodes?) of information on gold in Alaska’s history. Wasilla’s Dorothy G. Page Museum deals with mining, but includes dog mushing because Wasilla is headquarters to the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race; the Iditarod Trail was part of a mining-era trail system.
- See dance hall girls and other reenactors, pan for gold and laugh a lot when you sign on for the Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp and Salmon Bake. And eat all the salmon you want.
For more information, consult the Alaska Travel Industry Association at www.travelalaska.com