A few blocks walk from the hostel brought me to the headquarters of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park – Seattle Unit. As the Park Service explains,
This park is unlike many other parks in the National Park Service. Our “park” consist of a single building in Seattle, located within the Pioneer Square Historical District. It has no outdoor components, but the visitor center has indoor exhibits and displays. You can also find brochures and other information about surrounding national park sites located throughout western Washington.
The Seattle Unit is housed in the former Cadillac Hotel, where many of the Klondikers (as the prospectors were called) actually stayed on their way to the gold fields of the Yukon Territory.
The Cadillac Hotel
The Klondike Gold Rush resulted in about 100,000 prospectors heading to the gold fields on the Klondike River—and the vast majority of them came by way of Seattle. The result? Seattle became a major city almost overnight.
And while the Klondikers headed north with visions of gold nuggets dancing before their eyes, the folks who made the most money during the gold rush were the Seattle merchants. That’s because the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP, or the Mounties), wouldn’t let anyone into Canada without a year’s worth of provisions—nearly 2 tons of supplies!
The Chilkoot Trail
The Chilkoot Trail was the most common route into the gold fields. Starting at the town of Dyea, it followed an old Tlingit Indian trade trail over the pass.
The “Golden Staircase” over the Chilkoot Pass
The trail over the Chilkoot Pass consisted of 1500 steps carved in the ice. In order to ferry all their goods, most of the prospectors made 30 to 40 trips up the “Golden Staircase,” as it was called. (When I led a group of teenagers over the trail in the ‘80s, we called it “hell.”
The last resting spot before the climb over the pass is The Scales, so-called because this is where the Canadian Mounties had set up their scales to measure the weight of each prospectors goods. This was done to prevent the miners from starving over the fierce winters.
It is said that if a man stepped out of line on the Golden Staircase, it could take hours for a break in the line to let him back in.
White Pass Trail
Another route that many of the miners took was the White Pass Trail. More on that in another post.