Alaskan Golden Circle
At the end of the longest fjord in North America lies a region steeped in the gold mining history and culture of the Far North. Our tour starts in Alaska’s capital city of Juneau and heads north to Haines, courtesy of a ferry ride on the Alaska Marine Highway. After climbing over Chilkat Pass into the alpine regions of British Columbia and the Yukon, the route joins the Alaska Highway, where we’ll stop to enjoy Takhini Hot Springs before heading to Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon and a burgeoning mountain bike mecca. We’ll then head south on the Klondike Highway over White Pass and then cruise 12 miles down into Skagway to enjoy a layover day before hopping another ferry for the return cruise to Juneau.
This journey offers stunning scenery, gold-rush history, alpine lakes, and coastal rainforests. It has all the makings of a wonderful cycling adventure!
"This was our first tour, but it won't be our last!"
Day 1. Mendenhall Lake, 0 miles
You’ll meet your group and tour leaders at a campground on Mendenhall Lake, located 12 miles from downtown Juneau, the capital city of Alaska. Our campsites will be right along the lakeshore, with a shelter for cooking and stunning views of the 12-mile–long Mendenhall Glacier just across the lake. After an orientation meeting, we’ll head to bed with plenty of light still in the sky, resting up for our big Alaskan adventure.
Day 2. Juneau to Haines, 22 miles
After a quick early breakfast, we’ll ride the short distance to the Alaska Marine Highway terminal for the early morning departure to Haines. The 4.5-hour ferry ride will give us plenty of opportunity to view Lynn Canal and its spectacular surroundings. Who knows what wildlife we may spot! After docking at the ferry terminal, we’ll complete the ride into Haines and our home for the night. The afternoon will be ours to enjoy the sights in and around Haines.
Day 3. Haines to 33 Mile Roadhouse, 34 miles
As we head north today out of Haines, we’ll ride past the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, where as many as 4,000 of the U.S. national birds congregate during the fall. We will stop for the night at the 33 Mile Roadhouse (naturally, it’s at Milepost 33!) and camp next to this famous pie stop. After cooking dinner, it will be time for dessert and another good night’s sleep to fuel our big climb tomorrow morning.
Day 4. 33 Mile Roadhouse to Million Dollar Falls, 62 miles
After crossing into Canada and clearing customs (don’t forget to bring your passport!), we’ll give our legs a workout as we tackle several major climbs including Three Guardsmen Pass soon followed by Chilkat Pass at 3,510 feet. At this point, we’ll be riding in alpine tundra and much cooler temperatures. We’ll pass several lakes and may see stunning wildlife like trumpeter swans and Arctic terns. We’ll cycle from British Columbia into Yukon Territory and find our evening campsite seven miles farther down the road. The spectacular Million Dollar Falls are a short walk from the camp and well worth the hike.
Day 5. Million Dollar Falls to Haines Junction, 55 miles
We ride today through Kluane National Park, an immense wilderness that is home not only to such wildlife as grizzly bears, Dall sheep, and mountain goats, but to Canada’s loftiest peak, 19,551-foot Mount Logan (in all of North America, only Denali is higher). The first bit of the ride dishes up a steep climb, but it soon levels off into a day of enjoyable, largely flat terrain. At Haines Junction, the Haines Highway joins the Alaska Highway, the main route to Alaska from the Lower 48. We’ll stay the night at an RV park, affording everyone the opportunity to do some laundry, take a shower, and enjoy the other amenities of a relatively “civilized” campground.
Day 6. Haines Junction to Champagne, Yukon, 42 miles
We’ll turn east at this point, taking the Alaska Highway toward Whitehorse. An enjoyable stretch of rolling hills leads to Champagne, an historically important meeting and trading place for First Nations people, and a gold rush stopover on the trail to Dawson City. We’ll camp at Long Ago People’s Place, a re-creation of a traditional First Nations village where you can learn all about Southern Tutchone history and culture.
Day 7. Kusawa Lake to Takhini Hot Springs, 56 miles
Leaving Champagne and heading toward Whitehorse, we’ll continue traversing rolling hills until hitting the Klondike Highway just short of Whitehorse. After heading north for a short distance, we’ll take the turnoff to Takhini Hot Springs where we will overnight in the adjacent campground. The natural hot water, free of the sulphurous odor common to many springs, is about 118 degrees at its source — too hot for soaking. So, it’s cooled in a two-section pool to around 108 and 97 degrees. Ahh, that feels so good after a day in the saddle.
Day 8. Takhini Hot Springs to Whitehorse, 21 miles
A short morning ride will give us nearly the entire day to take in the sights and sounds of Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon. In recent years this area has reinvented itself as a mountain biking mecca, with many trails carved out by local bike clubs and tribal organizations. On the must-see list are the SS Klondike sternwheeler, the downtown riverfront, the MacBride Museum, and, last but not least, Yukon Brewing, where the motto is “Beer worth freezin’ for!” We’ll camp right in Whitehorse on the banks of the Yukon River. Huddle ’round the campfire for warmth, as some group member is sure to pull out a scribbled-up piece of paper and recite “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” the legendary ode to “the men who moil for gold.”
Day 9. Layover day in Whitehorse, 0 miles
We will have a full day to continue to explore sights in Whitehorse, taking in anything we may have missed the day before.
Day 10. Whitehorse to Conrad Campground, 53 miles
From Whitehorse, we’ll ride a quick 12 miles before bidding adieu to the Alaska Highway, heading down the South Klondike Highway and taking a turn toward Skagway. The coastal mountains will materialize on the horizon as we travel along lakes that form the headwaters of the Yukon River. We’ll pass the “Carcross Desert” and the small community of Carcross. The town’s name is a truncation of the original Caribou Crossing, a moniker deriving from the historically huge caribou migration that took place across the natural land bridge between Nares Lake and Lake Bennett. We’ll camp a few miles south of town at the Conrad Campground, situated on an historic townsite that was once a traditional fishing, hunting, and camping site used by First Nations people before it was briefly a camp for silver miners.
Day 11. Conrad Campground to Skagway, 57 miles
The day starts with some rollers and flats as we approach the thrilling downhill into Skagway. Moving ever closer to the massive Coast Mountains, we finally arrive at Summit Lake and White Pass, where the 12-mile, 11 percent drop into Skagway begins. We regain the hour previously lost at the U.S./Canada border and camp for two nights in the heart of this gold rush settlement.
Day 12. Layover Day in Skagway, 0 miles
We’ll have the entire day to explore fascinating Skagway. When heading down the big hill yesterday, you no doubt saw the White Pass and Yukon Railroad on the other side of the canyon; it offers one of the most storied railroad excursions in North America. Skagway also has great shops and a wonderful museum in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, not to mention its very own local brewery, Skagway Brewing. From there, you can even hike a stretch of the famous Chilkoot Trail.
Day 13. Skagway to Juneau, 12 miles
After breakfast, we’ll cover the short distance to the ferry terminal, where we’ll commence a five-hour cruise down the full, breathtaking length of Lynn Canal back to Juneau. The ferry stops briefly at Haines and then heads directly to Juneau, delivering us to the end of a nearly two-week–long discovery of southeast Alaska and the Yukon. After saying goodbye to our new friends and fellow adventurers, we’ll return home with vivid memories of this wilderness bicycle trip of a lifetime.