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Take a look at the destinations you’ll discover in the National Parks of the Southwest.

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Explore the landscapes and discover the wildlife and history of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and much more.
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Witness the rugged beauty of America's 49th state—from snowcapped mountain peaks and gleaming glaciers to friendly seals and whales emerging from deep-blue seas.




Victoria, British Columbia


Visit Yellowstone National Park and witness the famed Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, Lower Geyser Basin, and Old Faithful
Experience Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, once a native hunting ground with a unique past, now a beautiful UNESCO World heritage Site

3 NIGHTS FROM $1,395


Denver & the Rocky Mountains


Enjoy the best view of the Rocky Mountains when you take a tour of the national park, glimpsing a bio-diverse array of plant and wildlife along the way
Tour the ever-changing and thriving city of Denver, known for its farm-fresh cuisine, 300 days of sunshine a year, and walkability

4 NIGHTS FROM $1,295


Salt Lake City & Santa Fe


Experience the lasting glory of the 2002 Olympics when you tour the site in Salt Lake City, complete with commemorative museums and the ice skating rink where history was made 
Take a walking tour of the enchanting city of Santa Fe and experience first hand the famed adobe architecture, unique art style, and irresistible red and green chile sauce

3 NIGHTS FROM $1,195


New Mexico: Santa Fe & Taos


Explore the city of Santa Fe on a walking tour where you'll discover the Spanish Pueblo Revival architectural style of downtown and visit the famed Georgia O'Keeffe Museum
Visit Taos Pueblo a UNESCO World Heritage site which features homes built up to a thousand years ago
Discover the Rio Grande Gorge and enjoy the unparalleled vistas of the 50-mile wide, 800 foot deep geological marvel

3 NIGHTS FROM $1,895


Juneau, Alaska


Discover the glistening ice of Mendenhall Glacier, and admire the lush foliage and roaring waterfall of Tongass National Forest
Cruise the Gastineau Channel, keeping watch for majestic whales breaching the surface of the water

3 NIGHTS FROM $1,895


Valdez, Alaska


Gaze upon the expansive beauty of Thompson Pass, a snowy stretch of Alaskan tundra that cuts through the Chugach Mountains
Cruise the sparkling blue waters of forest-shrouded, isle-studded Prince William Sound, keeping an eye out for killer whales, harbor seals, and glistening glaciers calving icebergs into the sea

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Find the Adventure That’s Right for You

Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

Activity Level 1:

1 2 3 4 5


Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 2:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

Activity Level 3:

1 2 3 4 5


Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

1 2 3 4 5

Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5


Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

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Watch this video showcasing what makes this country so unforgettable

Equitrekking: Wyoming

Saddle up and explore the American West the way it as meant to be seen—on horseback.


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United States: Month-by-Month

There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.

United States in May-June

In May through June, you find the most moderate temperatures, with wildlife active and flowers in bloom, but nights in the desert can be cold and even dip below freezing in Bryce Canyon. Mother animals begin to emerge with their babies in April and May.

Holidays & Events

  • May: Old West Days (Jackson Hole)
  • June: Outdoor Shakespeare performances and music festival season begin (nationwide)

Must See

National parks transform into wet wonderlands after the spring thaw, particularly upper Yellowstone. The melting snow translates into roaring waterfalls at maximum throttle, as well as rushing rivers and creeks. Lakes are at their fullest, yielding post-card perfect reflections in the water.

Watch this film to discover more about United States

Equitrekking: Utah

Ride through the national parks of Utah, discovering the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon and more.


United States in July-August

Summer is the busiest and the warmest season, with temperatures peaking above 100 degrees in Zion. Other regions experience heavy rains. In Arches, for example, there can be flooding.

Holidays & Events

  • July 4: Independence Day is celebrated nationwide with fireworks and barbecues
  • August: Hot Air Balloon festivals take place throughout South Dakota
  • Late August-early September: Moab Music Festival (in mystifying red rock venues surrounding Moab, Utah)

Must See

Pretty much every town surrounding Yellowstone has a rodeo of some kind each year. The nearby family-owned Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo in Montana runs all summer, multiple times a week, with barrel races and bull riding. Cody Nite Rodeo runs every night from July through August for a fun introduction to bronco riding and more. July brings the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, Cheyenne Frontier Days, to Wyoming, and the Last Stampede rodeo to Montana. Rodeos are a quintessentially-American experience linking the cowboy past to the agricultural communities of today.

Watch this film to discover more about United States

Equitrekking: Utah

Ride through the national parks of Utah, discovering the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon and more.


United States in September-October

September through October generally means the start of cooler weather, but sometimes residents and travelers will receive the pleasant surprise of an extended summer. However, when the weather finally does begin to cool down, leaves change across the nation, turning a long drive down a freeway into a breathtaking display of gold, orange, and red hues. The scent of the air changes, letting Americans know it's time to start thinking about Halloween costume ideas. 

Holidays & Events

  • September: Grand Canyon Music Festival
  • October: Red Rocks Arts Festival (Moab), Great Northwest Oktoberfest

Must See

With cooler weather, kids back in school, and less crowds overall, this is the time of year to visit the National Parks. Wildlife is often visible (as it is elk-mating season) and the foliage can be spectacular, especially in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, accessible from Montana.

Watch this film to discover more about United States

Equitrekking: Utah

Ride through the national parks of Utah, discovering the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon and more.


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*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations

Yellowstone National Park

When John Colter, former Lewis & Clark expedition member, made a solo journey into the region we now call Yellowstone, he was dazzled, and he became something of an evangelist for the land. He told anyone who would listen about the canyons, waterfalls, and hot springs—descriptions so dramatic that no one believed him at first. Today, we know Colter was right to be in awe of the landscape, as Yellowstone is one of our greatest treasures.

Declared the first national park in the world by Ulysses S. Grant, its fame has gone global, and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. It boasts 10,000 hydro-thermal features, including hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, and 500 geysers—half the active geysers on Earth. In a park bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, it has superlative after superlative, from most mammals concentrated in one place in North America (67 species, including buffalo, elk, and grizzly) to largest high-elevation lake (with a surface area of 131 miles). 258 species of birds take to the sky and 290 waterfalls plunge towards the earth in a true American wilderness.

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Mount Rushmore

There’s no denying the impact of driving through the Black Hills of South Dakota and seeing Mount Rushmore rise into view. 60-foot faces stare into the horizon from an elevation of 5,300 feet. Clearly, it was an epic task, with Gutzon Borglum’s team of 400 women and men working for 14 years to pull it off. 90% of the work was done by dynamite alone, but the finer details were done by hand with jackhammers and chisels, yielding instantly recognizable portraits of four American leaders.

Borglum chose his subjects because he saw them as key players in our history. Washington was crucial for the birth of the nation, first by leading the revolution and then as our inaugural president. Jefferson shepherded our new land into existence, as primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and then grew it, overseeing the doubling of the nation’s size with the Louisiana Purchase. Roosevelt oversaw a period of rapid economic growth while being mindful to limit the effect of monopolies, and also committed to ecology by protecting our natural resources. Lincoln perhaps had the trickiest job of all: preserving the union when it was on the brink of splitting. Three million visitors come here every year to honor the contributions of these great leaders.

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Temple Square

Framed east and west by mountains, lovely Salt Lake City is Utah’s most-visited destination. It is famed as the seat of the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). A truly American religion, founded in upstate New York and now approaching its bicentennial, the Mormon church had a rocky road to acceptance, initially facing hostility in the northeast and Midwest, before a westward trek that ended in Salt Lake. They knew immediately that they had found their home and marked a spot for the Mormon Tabernacle just days after arriving. The faithful spent the next 40 years building it, organizing the entire city around it in the meantime.

Known for its choir and 11,600-pipe organ (both of which benefit from the perfect acoustics), the Tabernacle is the city’s showpiece, but not its only attraction. The Family History Library here, originally created to aid with LDS searches for past family members, has become the world’s single largest genealogical resource. Temple Square charms with 35 acres of gardens, trees, and historic architecture. In recent years, the fine-dining scene has come into its own, and a younger, more liberal crowd has found its own niche at local yoga studios, coffee shops, and music venues.

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Mesa Verde National Park

While many national parks have been set aside to preserve the environment, this is not so for Mesa Verde. Establishing the park in 1906, Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed that he wanted to “preserve the works of man”: 4,700 archaeological sites built by the ancestral Puebloans who inhabited Mesa Verde from the sixth century until 1300. Some of the oldest and best-preserved dwellings in the United State are found here, including pueblos, masonry towers, pit houses, and farming structures perched on top of mesas.

Mesa Verde is best known for one of its “youngest” features—youngest meaning 800 years old. In the last hundred years of habitation, the Puebloans constructed and lived in dwellings carved into the cliff face or refined from natural alcoves in canyon walls. Surprisingly, within only two generations, they had abandoned their mesa communities entirely, leaving behind rocky ghost towns early in the 14th century. The sites have nonetheless endured and offer a portrait of life before America was called America.

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Arches National Park

Five miles north of Moab, the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches demands your attention. A whopping 2,000-plus rock formations populate the nearly 77,000 acres, attracting visitors for at least the last 10,000 years (when early visitors left stone carvings to mark their presence). A million people visit the park each year now, delighted by the endless shapes, some whimsical and others majestic.

Deciding what each arch looks like is akin to finding shapes in clouds—it’s all in the eye of the beholder. One formation has been variously known as Schoolmarm Pants, Old Maid Bloomers, Cowboy Chaps, and (currently) Delicate Arch, a 46-foot high span framing a view of the mountains beyond. Another must-see is Balanced Rock, an egg-shaped stone the size of a house perched 128 feet high atop a natural pedestal. It used to have a companion—a boulder named Chip off the Old Block—but erosion took that neighbor down. Visitors flock to see Balanced Rock before it meets a similar fate. Of course, even if one formation loses it shape, there will be 2,000 more to discover.

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Grand Canyon

Cutting a mile-deep path through the baked rock landscape of northern Arizona, the Grand Canyon is peerless in all of North America. What was once a series of small canyons 70 million years ago became a 277-mile-long wonder about six million years back, when the Colorado River forced its way through the rock. The Grand Canyon is a visible example of the Great Unconformity, in which rock layers differing in age by hundreds of millions of years are found lying atop one another. At the Grand Canyon’s Vishnu Basement Rocks, the layers skip from 1700-million-year-old rock to 550-million-year-old rock—making it some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth.

Humans have lived here since the Ice Age and the Havasupai people still do, in a canyon-floor reservation accessible only by pack mule. Spanish explorers reached the canyon in the 16th century and word spread rapidly. By 1893, the U.S. had declared it a forest reserve, and Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed it a national monument in 1908, with it not formally becoming a national park until 1919. Roosevelt’s words still ring true today: “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

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Featured Reading

Immerse yourself in the United States with this selection of articles, recipes, and more


Fry up some southwest comfort food with this recipe for Navajo Fry Bread.


Learn about the perseverant spirit of the Navajo, and the trials they’ve faced over the years.


Learn more about the people who blazed the trail toward establishing America’s first national park.


Learn how the discovery of gold drew thousands to the wilds of Alaska, and changed its fate forever.

Recipe: Navajo Fry Bread

Also known as Indian Fry Bread, this southwestern dish has a somber origin. In 1864, the Navajo people were forcibly removed by the U.S. government from their ancestral homelands in an exodus to New Mexico known as The Long Walk. Finding the land unsuitable for agriculture, the Navajo were required to invent new recipes out of their meager supplies. Needing little more than lard, flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder, Fry Bread quickly became a staple.

Today, the bread holds a sacred place in the Navajo cultural identity, but has also gained widespread appeal throughout the southwest United States, where it’s served at state fairs, festivals, and cooked up at home as comfort food for all to enjoy.

Follow along with the recipe below and try it for yourself. With its crispy golden brown exterior and decadently soft, chewy center, it tastes great as a snack on its own, but it’s also commonly used as a base for Navajo Tacos. Top the bread with ground beef, beans, onions, green chili peppers, or whatever your favorite toppings may be, and enjoy a new take on taco night. Navajo Fry Bread also makes for an excellent dessert: Glaze it with honey, butter, cinnamon, or powdered sugar, and enjoy it as a light, sweet after-dinner treat.


  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Vegetable oil for frying (you can also use Crisco or lard instead)


  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, powdered milk, and baking powder. Pour the water into the mixture all at once and stir the dough with a fork until it begins to form one large lump. Cover the bowl with a towel or cloth and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Powder your hands thoroughly with flour and hand-mix the dough into a ball. Mix the dough well, but don’t knead it, your goal is to keep the Fry Bread light as it cooks. Cut the dough into four pieces, then shape and lightly flatten each one into a disk of about 5 to 7 inches in diameter using your flour-covered hands.
  3. In a cast-iron skillet or deep, heavy pot, pour a 1-inch layer of vegetable oil and heat it on your stove top to about 350 degrees F. You can use a cooking thermometer to check on the temperature, or toss a small scrap of dough into the pot and see if it starts to sizzle.
  4. Using metal tongs, gently lower a piece of dough into the oil, taking care not to make a splash. Use the tongs to submerge the dough into the oil, and cook a few minutes until golden-brown, then flip and repeat for the opposite side. Remove the cooked bread onto a paper towel to soak the oil, and repeat the process for the remaining pieces of dough.
  5. Layer your choice of sweet or savory toppings on the bread and serve, or eat it plain as a light fried snack.

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time : 8 minutes

Servings: 4

Recipe: Navajo Fry Bread

The complex history of the Navajo

From the “long walk” to code talk

By Philip McCluskey, for Grand Circle Travel

In 1864, General James H. Carleton sent a message to Manuelito, the last Navajo chief who had yet to surrender to the US Army. The message was simple: Surrender or face war. "My God and my mother live in the West, and I will not leave them," said Manuelito. "I shall remain. I have nothing to lose but my life."

A bloody and defiant past

Manuelito said these words during one of the most painful times in the history of the Navajo (also known as the Diné, which means "the people")—a period that included the infamous "Long Walk." American forces had killed or captured thousands of Navajo people, and forced the remaining members of the tribe (more than 9,000 people) to march the 300 miles from Window Rock, Arizona to Bosque Redondo Reservation in New Mexico. Starvation, bitter cold, disease, and exhaustion took its toll. Between 200 and 300 people died on the 18-day trek, and more than 2,000 died during the extended incarceration at Bosque Redondo.

Manuelito’s defiance was a reflection of Navajo sentiment at the time: anger at the continued takeover of their ancestral lands. The Navajo leader eventually surrendered in 1866—primarily because his people were starving—and was sent to Bosque Redondo where he endured the same terrible conditions as the rest of this people. His commitment to his people never wavered. In 1868, he traveled to Washington, DC and negotiated for a new reservation in his people’s traditional homeland. The treaty signed there established the Navajo as a sovereign nation.

Today, the Navajo Nation is one of the largest Native American tribes in the United States. Set on 27,000-square-miles of land stretching across New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, the Navajo reservation is home to more than 170,000 members of the tribe (the Nation itself has more than 300,000 registered members). The Navajo people are proud of their history—in particular an episode that included helping the very army that had caused them so much pain and grief.

Fighting for the future

It happened during World War II, when the US Army was looking for a form of battlefield communication that was effective yet undetectable by enemy forces. A man named Philip Johnston, who grew up on a Navajo reservation, had the idea to use the Navajo language as a code. As a complex, esoteric language (it was estimated that only 30 non-Navajo could understand the language at that time), Navajo would be undecipherable by enemy forces, Johnston contended. The army was skeptical at first, but eventually approved a pilot program that would include 29 Navajo men.

The program was started with 211 words that were commonly used in the military, which were translated into Navajo. The "code talkers" were drilled again and again on the code—even a minor mistake, after all, could mean the difference between life and death. After the code was in use for a while, it was expanded by an additional 200 words.

The code was used in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945 in battles such as Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, and successfully befuddled the Japanese. They were unable to decipher what they were hearing, which made the code one of the most important secrets of the war. The code talkers were not officially recognized until 1968—when the program was declassified—but were eventually commended by President Ronald Reagan, who declared August 14, 1982 as "Navajo Code Talkers Day." In 2001, the living code talkers were presented with medals by President George W. Bush.

In his remarks, President Bush said that America was paying tribute to the code talkers and to the "tradition and community that produced such men, the great Navajo Nation." The story of those Navajos, he said, was "a story that all Americans should celebrate, and every American should know."

Like their long-ago leader Manuelito, the Navajo have remained in spite of the many difficulties they have faced—and their story continues to unfold.


The complex history of the Navajo

The Lesser-Known Names of Yellowstone

The people who helped make the world’s first National Park a reality

by Philip McCluskey, for Grand Circle

The man most often associated with the founding of Yellowstone National Park is Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States. It’s understandable; after all, Grant was the man who signed Yellowstone into existence in March 1, 1872, enshrining this two-million-acre plot of land as a "public park … for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."

That day marked the creation of the world’s first national park—and the beginning of a new era of conservation, wildlife protection, and tourism that has since taken root all over the world. It’s not hard to see why this place was chosen. Yellowstone is geologically fascinating: There are more than 10,000 thermal features in the park, including geysers, mud pots, and fumaroles (fissures that emit steam from under the Earth’s crust). The park is also home to scores of mammal species such as bears, bison, moose and mountain lions. And of course, it is a stunningly beautiful landscape of grasslands, rivers, mountains, and waterfalls that has left visitors in awe for more than 140 years.

And while Grant can certainly be credited with officially designating the wilderness as a protected natural playground, he is far from the only one responsible for making this first great American park a reality.

Paradise Found

After hundreds of years in which Native Americans were the sole visitors to this region, John Colter was the first person of European descent to explore it. Colter was a mountain man who was part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and spent the winter of 1807-1808 discovering the area now known as Yellowstone on his own. In spite of brutal conditions (including temperatures that often dipped to 30 below zero), Colter made his way hundreds of miles through the unforgiving wilderness. When he returned to civilization, he told stories of geysers and gurgling cauldrons. Many dismissed his descriptions and playfully called the region "Colter’s Hell."

After the Civil War, interest in the American West grew, and other people began to see that the area Colter described was more paradise than purgatory. One of them was Nathaniel P. Langford. While he lived a fascinating life during which he was a tax collector and a Montana vigilante, Langford was better known as a member of the famed Washburn–Langford–Doane Expedition to Yellowstone in 1870. He was an active proponent of the idea of national parks—so much so that he would say his first two initials stood for National Park. Langford was chosen the park’s first superintendent, and Mount Langford, in the park’s Absaroka Range, is named after him.

Establishing America’s first national park

While tales of the explorations of this region certainly piqued the interest of Americans, it is difficult to imagine Congress taking the unprecedented action of creating a national park without the members of the Hayden Geological Survey.

The survey’s leader was Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden, a geologist and physician who served as an Army surgeon during the Civil War, eventually rising to be the chief medical officer of the Army of the Shenandoah. After the war, he was named the geologist-in-charge at the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, and in 1871 was assigned to do a survey of Yellowstone. Though dozens joined Hayden on the expedition, two men stood out (in addition to Hayden himself) for the impact they would have. They were not geologists, but artists: painter Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson.

Moran was an illustrator who was recommended to Hayden by the financier Jay Cooke, who spoke of the artist’s "rare genius." Moran joined the team and drew 30 different places along their route, which captured the true beauty of the region and later the admiration of Americans. His career took off: Today, one of Moran’s paintings, The Three Tetons, can be found in the Oval Office of the White House. The painter was forever linked with the park, and he embraced the connection: he even signed some of his paintings "TYM" for Thomas "Yellowstone" Moran.

Jackson was recruited by Hayden after he’d taken photographs of scenery along the Union Pacific Railroad. As an artist in a relatively new medium, in a place that hadn’t seen cameras before, Jackson was able to create stunning photographs of scenery most of the world had never seen. As it had with Moran, the Yellowstone expedition launched Jackson’s career—one that would continue for another 70 years until his death in 1942.

Hayden’s survey, along with Moran’s sketches and Jackson’s photography, captured the imagination of the nation and the attention of its legislators. It wasn’t long before Congress passed a law to make Yellowstone the first of many national parks, and for the bill to find its way to U.S. Grant’s presidential desk.

On that day in 1872, President Grant did indeed make history. But he was merely the last in a long line of intrepid men who helped make it happen.

The Lesser-Known Names of Yellowstone

Treasure in the Wild—Alaska’s Gold Rush Legacy

How the promise of gold changed Alaska forever

by Bob Hammerling, for Grand Circle

“Gold! Gold! Gold! Sixty-eight rich men on the steamer Portland. Stacks of yellow metal!”

This short headline in the July 17, 1897 edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer broke the news of the discovery of gold in the Canadian Yukon, beginning the Klondike Gold Rush—the first of several great stampedes that would change the fate of the remote territory of Alaska forever.

Gold in the Klondike: The beginning of the boom

More than 100,000 Americans—some eager for adventure, others seeking desperately to reverse their fortunes amidst the economic depression that was gripping the nation at the time—set out for the Klondike to stake their claims.

At every step of the way, these amateur fortune-hunters were beset by adversity. Stepping off the boat in Skagway—a rough-and-tumble port city near modern-day Juneau—these starry-eyed prospectors found themselves easy targets of outlaws and con men, eager to cheat the new arrivals of their possessions and wealth.

The road to the Klondike was no easier. Travelers faced a treacherous journey through snowy mountain passes and lethally frigid temperatures. To make things even more challenging, each party was required by law to obtain and carry a year’s supply of mining and survival gear, which could weigh up to 2,000 pounds. The trek was a perilous one for even the most experienced outdoorsmen, leaving many to die or abandon their expeditions.

Ultimately, only 30,000 made it to the Klondike, and those who did quickly learned that all that glitters is not gold. The richest veins were rapidly claimed by early arrivals, leaving little for the newcomers to do but seek work for the existing stakeholders. Others tried to strike a different sort of gold, setting up banks, bars, brothels, and other businesses of varying repute to capitalize on the needs and desires of the miners who continued to arrive.

The end of the Klondike rush came in 1899, when America’s eyes turned toward Nome, a remote settlement far on Alaska’s western edge, where rumors of new wealth were beginning to stir.

Glittering sands—the Nome Gold Rush

Alaska’s next big gold rush began when a trio of men nicknamed the “Three Lucky Swedes” (one of whom was Norwegian) struck a vein in Anvil Creek. A trickle of new prospectors soon turned into a flood when gold was discovered shortly thereafter on the shores of the Bering Sea.

Since the beaches couldn’t be legally claimed, and didn’t require a perilous mountain journey, the revelation caught the attention of thousands. Most arrived by steamship from the United States, while others raced by dogsled from the Klondike, eager to try their luck for a second time. Sifting through the beaches required minimal equipment, and the sands soon became a free for all, where one’s tenacity was the only limit.

As in the Klondike, civilization followed in chaos’ wake, and a boomtown propped up to support the arriving prospectors. Once a sleepy settlement of only 250, Nome was home to more than 20,000 by 1900; eventually simmering down to a permanent population of around 2,600 in 1906, after the last of the easy gold had been claimed.

Fairbanks—treasure in the heartland

In 1902, Alaska’s last great gold rush began when a prospector named Felix Pedro struck it rich and shared the news with E.T. Barnette, the owner of a local trading post. Barnette, whose eye for profit often overwhelmed his moral compass, dispatched a messenger to the Klondike to spread the word, hoping to attract new customers to his burgeoning business.

Eager for the chance to recoup their losses from their failed adventures in the Klondike, thousands of miners heeded the call, only to find their hopes dashed once again. The richest veins had already been claimed, and the only wealth to be had would be coming in the form of a salary—working for Barnette.

Nevertheless, Barnette’s plan worked, and the influx of fortune-seekers led to the establishment of the new city of Fairbanks. Unlike other Alaskan boomtowns, Fairbanks remains a flourishing population center today, the second-largest city in the state after Anchorage. While much of this can be attributed to the construction and maintenance of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which runs through the city, Fairbanks still boasts several active gold mines, as well as a cottage industry offering travelers the chance to pan for gold and bring home a glittering souvenir.

A gilded legacy

Alaska’s gold rush proved lucrative for a lucky few who managed to claim its glittering prizes, but for many, its blessings were mixed. For thousands of unlucky or unprepared adventurers, Alaska’s frozen tundras proved too difficult an obstacle to overcome.

Additionally, the influx of thousands of new arrivals presented a massive disruption in the way of life for the indigenous people. While some adapted with mixed success, others found themselves permanently displaced, and many communities were afflicted with smallpox and other diseases brought by the new settlers.

For better or for worse, the gold rush was the beginning of a new era for Alaska. Once the domain of a handful of frontier fur traders, Alaska found itself the home of thousands of new citizens who established permanent cities, towns, homes, businesses, and industries. A surging population brought an increased need for law and order, hastening the call to transform Alaska into an American territory—and eventually, its 49th state.

Treasure in the Wild—Alaska’s Gold Rush Legacy

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