Category Archives: Washington

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Overview

Broadway in Skagway, Alaska still looks much like it did during the 1897 gold rush, lined with boardwalks and bustling with activity, especially when a cruise ship is docked.  Paved streets instead of mud are one major difference between now and when 30,000 stampeders came here aboard ships from Seattle.  The National Park Service (NPS) visitor center is located inside the old railway depot and the NPS owns several other historic structures including the Mascot Saloon and Jefferson “Soapy” Smith’s Parlor.  The NPS also runs a free museum in downtown Seattle, Washington inside the historic Cadillac Hotel.

Highlights

Mascot Saloon, Gold Rush Cemetery, Lower Reid Falls, Chilkoot Trail, Cadillac Hotel museum (Seattle)

Must-Do Activity

Start at the visitor center with the 25-minute introductory film then wander the boardwalks up Broadway to see historic false-front buildings that never burned since the 1897 gold rush.  If you want to learn more about the infamous “Soapy” Smith and laugh really hard, then I recommend purchasing tickets to the Days of ’98 Show offered multiple times daily in the summer. 

Best Trail

The NPS cooperatively manages the Chilkoot Trail with Parks Canada who issues all permits (in Skagway) for backpacking the 33-mile trail.  The trailhead is in the ghost town of Dyea, about 12 miles west of bustling Skagway.  Almost every trekker takes 3 to 5 days to hike one way into Canada and return on the White Pass Railroad.  It is cheaper to only hike the U.S. side and spend two nights at the always empty Pleasant Camp.

Instagram-worthy Photo

During the winter of 1897-98, over 30,000 people hauled one-ton of food and gear per person over the 3,501-foot Chilkoot Pass on their way to the Yukon Territory.  Photograph the 100% slope of the “Golden Stairs” in the summer, as it can be nearly impossible to access in winter.

Peak Season

Summer due to cruise ships and the fact that the rest of the year experiences heavy snowfall.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/klgo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

It is free to explore downtown Skagway’s buildings, but overnight backpacking on the Chilkoot Trail has fees ($20.30 per person for U.S.-side only) and is limited to only 50 permits per day to cross the border into Canada.

Road Conditions

Paved to Skagway and the dirt road to Dyea is good enough for all vehicles.

Camping

There is a car campground in Dyea.  Specific backcountry campsite permits (like Sheep Camp) can fill up early.

Explore More – How many times did the average stampeder have to ascend the Golden Stairs to haul one-ton of food and gear over 3,501-foot Chilkoot Pass?

Manhattan Project National Historical Park

Overview

During the National Park Service (NPS) centennial in 2016, a new, ambitious park was established linking three far-flung sites in the states of Washington, New Mexico, and Tennessee.  The purpose is to tell the story of the “Manhattan Project,” the military code name during World War II for the secret undertaking to create the world’s first atomic weapon. 

Highlights

Bradbury Science Museum (NM), American Museum of Science and Energy (TN), Hanford Reach National Monument (WA)

Must-Do Activity

In 1942, hundreds of eastern Tennessee families were displaced in order to construct Oak Ridge National Laboratory where experimental nuclear reactors produced plutonium and enriched uranium.  More than 75,000 people hurriedly built and operated this brand new industrial complex, which continues to be used as a Department of Energy research facility to this day.  Due to security and safety concerns, visitors can only enter on a 3-hour bus tour that leaves from the American Museum of Science and Energy.  The tour is well worth your time, as it is currently the only way to see Y-12, X-10, and K-25 and learn more about what those code names really mean.

Best Trail

The Hanford Reach is one of the last free-flowing sections of the Columbia River in eastern Washington and is an important site for salmon spawning.  The area is ecologically pristine, mostly untouched by development since it became the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in 1943.  It is home to the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor that produced the plutonium used by Los Alamos National Laboratories for its scientific breakthroughs in 1945.  Since 2000, Hanford Reach National Monument has been managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and much of the area is off limits.  Other than boating on the river, the best place to get a feel for the area is to walk around the Ringold Fish Hatchery.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The free Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico offers tourists a closer look at the original and ongoing research conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL), including a scale model of the “Fat Man” plutonium bomb built here in 1945.  Nearby, the Los Alamos Historical Museum is located in a cabin on historic Bathtub Row, so named because when the government took over the Ranch School in 1943 these were the only dwellings equipped with that luxury. 

Peak Season

Open year round, but summer is best at the high elevations of Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/mapr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$5 per adult for the American Museum of Science and Energy and a 3-hour tour (11:30-2:30, reservations recommended) of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Road Conditions

All roads paved except around Hanford Reach National Monument

Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed in Santa Fe National Forest surrounding Los Alamos and it is not far to the campground in Bandelier National Monument.

Explore More – What was the job of the “Calutron Girls” in Oak Ridge during World War II?

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

Overview

Lake Chelan is fifty-five miles long and 1,486 feet in depth, the third deepest lake in the U.S.  At the north end of the lake (inaccessible by road), Stehekin, Washington has only about 100 year-round residents.  Daily ferries service the community, which is the jumping off point for the mountain trails of Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and North Cascades National Park.

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Highlights

Ferry, Stehekin, Rainbow Falls, backpacking trails

Must-Do Activity

Stehekin is too fun for a brief day trip, so we recommend you book a room or pick up overnight backpacking permits at the Golden West Visitor Center in town.  Then hop on the red jammer-style bus that provides transportation to the trailheads, including the short hike to Rainbow Falls.  Nearby, the old one-room schoolhouse is open to visitors since it was replaced by a more modern building.  Don’t miss the chance to sample the delicious variety of baked goods at Stehekin Pastry Company.  After backpacking the many steep switchbacks, you will need the extra calories.

Best Trail

There are several great loop options, but we enjoyed hooking into the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail then back south over McAlester Pass to Rainbow Creek Trail on a two night backpacking trip.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The beautiful Lake Chelan is known for its clarity and its fjord-like proportions, which you can best enjoy on the ferry ride to Stehekin.

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Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/stehekin.htm

Fees

No entrance fee, but there are charges for the ferry, bus, and backcountry campsites.

Road Conditions

No roads, so you will be walking or paying to take the red jammer-style bus out of Stehekin.

Camping

Purple Point and Harlequin Campgrounds are off the main road north of Stehekin, but since you have to pack in all of your gear on the ferry you may as well camp at one of the backcountry sites (permit required) along the many trails in the area.

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In good snowmelt years, expect to get sprayed when visiting Rainbow Falls.

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From 1921-1988, all grade levels were taught in this tiny schoolhouse in Stehekin.

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Explore More – How far below sea level is the bottom of Lake Chelan?

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