Alaska - Western Canada Journey

Day 18 (In Progress)

Kluane Lake, Canada To Skagway, USA


Day 18 was another day of combined driving and sightseeing. Although the distance was long, there were many things to see and learn. The scenery was once again outstanding and the weather was one of the best we had in the whole trip! We skipped White Horse and instead opted to visit Skagway, mainly to ride the famous Yukon Whitepass train. Interesting roadside stops included an unreal turquoise lake called Emerald Lake and Carcross Desert. We stopped at the town of Carcross for a great burger and a short stroll around this historic town. The drive to Skagway was lined with forests, lakes and mountains. Our untimely arrival in Skagway coincided with the proximity of several cruise ship departures, and thus the town was overflowed with tourists scurring about shopping and taking pictures, giving a somewhat negative first iimpression. We finally found a parking spot and even managed to find a room to stay overnight. With plenty of time and the sun still high in the sky, we were able to squeeze the famous White Pass & Yukon Route train ride, a stroll around town and dinner before calling it a day.

Day Journal

Kluane Lake To Haines Junction, Carcross


We woke up early at our lakeside camp, but the sun woke up even earlier. Past 7 AM, it was already high in the sky. We lingered on after packing up to take in the beautiful view before heading on the road again. We decided to skip the making breakfast routine, opting instead to drive to Haynes Junction for a real breakfast with hot toast and hot coffee.

For a long stretch of the drive, the view was dominated by the lake on one side which was bordered by the Ruby mountain range further east, and the St. Elias mountains on the west. St. Elias mountains are part of the Kluane National Park, and feature some of the highest peaks in North America. As with many other places we passed by, one can spend an entire vacation around this area.

Along the way to Haines Junction, there were occasional ranches such as this one with splitted log fence, a nice log cabin, and several horses playing in the flower meadow, all against the backdrop of conifer forest and distant mountains. It looked both picturesque and peaceful, at least to passerby.

Our stop at Haines Junction served its purposes of filling up gas and breakfast, with the only notable thing of slow service at the only breakfast place open in town. It was almost as if they did not expect more than a couple of customers at a time. After waiting for a long time for service, another guest finally walked to the counter to fill up his coffee, with me soon follow suit.
As we approached Whitehorse, we discussed whether to spend a day there or explore something new. As with many cases, we chose the more adventurous path to explore something that we had not previously seen and continued to Carcross and Skagway. Soon thereafter, we left the now familiar Alaska Highway and proceeded on to the Klondike Highway, a route from Skagway, USA to the gold rush town of Dawson City. And as typical on this journey, taking the path of exploring the unknown rewarded us with many interesting stops along the way, including a beatiful lake with almost unreal colors called Emerald Lake, a so-called desert, and beautiful vistas along our drive.

Emerald Lake

True to its name, this lake has an intense green color created by the reflection off of white deposits of marl - a mixture of clay and calcium carbonate, at the shallow bottom of the lake. The high concentration of calcium carbonate in the water here comes from limestone gravels eroded from the nearby mountains and deposited here 14,000 years ago by the glaciers of the last ice age. It's located at Mile 73.5 as measured from Skagway, with a paved parking area and interpretive signs explaining the formation and the unique colors of the lake.

Look farther than the lake and there are mountains. One mountain especially stands out - the Gray Ridge Mountain at an elevation of 6085 feet.


Carcross Desert

Carcross Desert is commonly referred to as a desert, but is actually a series of northern sand dunes. The area's climate is too humid to be considered a true desert.The sand was formed during the last ice age, when large glacial lakes formed and deposited silt. When the lakes dried, the dunes were left behind. Today, sand comes mainly from nearby Bennett Lake, carried by wind. (Source: wikipedia)




At first, I wondered why the name of Carcross in this remote region which no doubt had few cars. It turned out the name has nothing to do with cars, but caribous. Originally known as Caribou Crossing, it is an unincorporated community in the Territory of Yukon, Canada on Bennett Lake and Nares Lake. It was renamed Carcross as a result of some mail mix-ups with the district of Cariboo in nearby British Columbia, Canada. Carcross is basically a historic town for tourist stop on the way to Skagway or Whitehorse. There was a well-kept historic downtown, a nice visitor center and an old locomotive that one can climb on to explore.

Carcross To Skagway: The journey from Carcross to Skagway took us through beautiful vistas of lakes and more lakes, some large and many smaller ones. The road also wound its way through mountain canyons and once again, we had to present our passports to enter the US and toward Skagway. On this road, we crossed a wooden bridge, making it complete for all types of surfaces we had to drive on - from multi-lane freeways to single lane roads, well paved to gravel and bumpy dirt roads and all kinds of bridges - concrete, metal and now wood.

Skagway: Our first impression of Skagway was one of being overwhelmed, mostly by the huge amount of people in town, shopping, taking pictures, and walking both on sidewalks as well as crossing streets at both pedestrian walkways and wherever they liked. What was even stranger, although we did not know at the time, was how deserted the town was, only hours later with hardly a soul on the street. As it turned out, we arrived during the peak of the crowd coming out of several cruiseships to visit the town.

Without advanced reservation, we were lucky to find a place to stay. Our motel room was modest but functional. The only chore was lugging luggages from blocks away since there were no parking at the hotel.

Yukon-Whitepass Railroad: Having seen a TV program talking about the majestic vista this railroad tour would take passengers through, we made a priority to ride this train before other things. We were fortunate to make reservation on the last trip of the day. In some respect, the train ride was very nice since it indeed took us through some beautiful vista, and the guide narration was very informative. The railroad was carved out of the side of the mountain, and in some cases, through the mountain. Considering the fact that the rail line was built during the Klondike Goldrush of 1897, the construction effort was a major achievement.

However, we had even higher expectation given what we saw on TV. I found it more interesting since I spent most of the time out of the caboose taking pictures and thus felt the wind rushing by and had a better sense of sceneries. For folks taking the ride after being confined on cruise ships, I suppose they also enjoyed the ride. However, it was somewhat boring for the two of us who have driven through endless majestic sceneries during this journey.

Roads and weather

External links and references

Kluane Lake history, tourist information

Haines Junction history, tourist information

Klondike Highway - bellalaska mile-by-mile,

Emerald Lake description, tourist information

Carcross history, tourist information; Carcross Desert


Whitepass & Yukon Railroad Tour, history