The entire absence of roads in Alaska, until the past three years, has made river transportation practically the only method of extended travel in the Territory. Fortunately the river systems of Alaska are such as to facilitate very greatly personal travel and the movemens of freight during the four or five months of open season. Waterways in Alaska navigable by steamers approximate 4,000 miles, of which nearly 2,700 are in the Yukon watershed.


The great artery of summer travel and freight is through that magnificent stream, the Yukon, which divides Alaska into two nearly equal parts in its course of about 1,500 miles, flowing in a bow-shaped course, in its general direction of east to west, formed by the junction of the Pelley and Lewes, its length from the source of the Lewes to the Yukon delta, Norton Sound, is 1,865 miles, its length in Alaska being about 1,200 miles. Flowing in its upper reaches through canon-like valleys, it debouches shortly after entering Alaska into a plateau tundra region, where its wide and winding channels divide and flow sluggishly especially in the great flats near Fort Yukon; there the islands and cut-offs make the river from ten to thirty miles wide again to find precipitous confining mountains in the so-called rampart region, near Fort Hamlin. From Fort Gibbon to Norton Sound the river valley grows steadily wider, until the vast, treeless delta region is reached, about 100 miles inward from Norton Sound. The delta has an area of about 9,000 square miles, greater in extent than any one of the States of New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, or New Hampshire.

Although one of the largest rivers of North America, exceeded in length or volume by only the Mississippi, Mackenzie, St. Lawrence, and Winnipeg, yet the usefulness of the Yukon, though navigable throughout its entire extent, is largely restricted by its very shallow |mouths, which admit boats drawing not over three or four feet of water. In consequence all freight shipments for the Yukon watershed are transferred from the ocean steamships to river steamboats which run to St. Michael, ninety miles seaward from the Apoon mouth of the delta.

The Yukon navigation is divided into two sharply separated systems the Canadian and the American with Dawson, Yukon territory, as the line of demarcation. This is caused by the customs and navigation laws, which practically necessitate the transshipment of everything in and out of Alaska via the upper Yukon, at Dawson; and again every boat coming into the Alaskan Yukon is obliged to stop and submit to customs' examination at Eagle, about 100 miles below Dawson.

Trie Canadian system is also affected by the spring and summer conditions of the chain of lakes, which forms the extreme upper Yukon (or Lewes), through early autumn freezing and late break-ups in the spring. The more rapid, as well as the more northerly, river keeping open longer than the lake section, part of the steamers are wintered north of Lake Lebarge, near the mouth of the Hootalinqua, ninety miles north of White Horse which is the terminus of the White Pass and Yukon Railway. In six years' consecutive record, the average period between the dates of the first boat and last boat from White Horse to Dawson was four months and nineteen days from June 4 to October 23. The average date of the first boat from Hootalinqua to Dawson was May 13, thus lengthening the navigation period by twenty days. The earliest date that the first boat has reached Dawson was May 16 from Hootalinqua, but in two years it was delayed until May 26. The average date of the last boat arriving at White Horse from Dawson is October 28, although in 1902 a boat arrived as late as November 4.

At Fort Gibbon (Tanana P. O.), junction of the Yukon and Tanana, the two rivers are open on the average by May 13 and closed by November 1, an interval of five months and nineteen days. In eight years the opening of navigation ranged from May 7 to 24, and its closing from October 21 to November 9.

The period of navigation from Fort Gibbon up the Yukon River, to Dawson, is materially longer than it is down river toward Norton Sound; its mean duration in three consecutive years being four months and fourteen days to Dawson, from May 21 to October 5. Toward St. Michael the time of navigation averages three months and fifteen days, from June 15 to September 30. The arrival of the first boat from Dawson has ranged from May 19 to 23, and from St. Michael from June 2 to 24.

Steamer Sarah, of the Northern Commercial Company.

Between Fort Gibbon and Fort Egbert (Eagle City), 575 miles up the Yukon, the boats usually run up river from June 1 to October 6, and down from May 16 to September 17. In general it takes twice as long to go up the Yukon by steamboat as it does to come down the same distance.

The most northerly important affluent of the Yukon, within Alaska, is the Porcupine, which joins it at Fort Yukon, just north of the Arctic Circle; it is navigable for light-draft steamboats for about 100 miles. On this, as on other rivers, small poling boats are available for navigation to much greater distances, dependent largely on freshet-water conditions.

From its volume of water, length of course, and its commercial relations, the Tanana is far the most important tributary of the Yukon. First navigated in its lower reaches in 1893, it was opened to Chena in 1898, and regular summer navigation has been had since 1901 with Fairbanks, about 300 miles up the river. Occasional steamboats have carried supplies up the Tanana to Delta River, and one reached the junction of the Nabesna, about 700 miles from the mouth of the Tanana. If mineral developments should ever justify, the Tanana and its main upper fork, the Chisana, could be navigated by very light-draft boats for a distance of about 750 miles. Among the Tanana's affluents, the Kantishna has been navigated about 200 miles, while the Chena, Tolovana, and lower Volkmar are likewise practicable for light steamers, and most other tributaries for small boats.

The period of navigation on the Yukon is exceeded in duration by that on the Tanana. For three years between Fort Gibbon (Tanana post-office) and Chena or Fairbanks, its usual duration was five months. The average date of opening was May 14 and of closing October 14. A boat has reached Fort Gibbon from Chena as early as May 8, and as late as October 17.

In Cook Inlet region the Susitna, with a basin of 8,000 square miles, has been navigated by steamers to the mouth of the Chulitna, and its main tributary the Yentna to the mouth of the Kichatna. In Lynn Canal the Chilkat is practicable for very small steamers to Klutwan, 25 miles from the mouth.

The Copper River is now navigated during the months of July and August, in conjunction with the Copper River Railway, from the head of Abercrombie Rapids to Copper Centre, while the mouth of the Gulkana can be reached. It is thought that the upper Copper, now practicable for poling boats, can be utilized for very light-draft steamers. The Chitina, a tributary of the Copper, is navigable to the Nizina, and possibly the mouth of the Tana may be reached.

The Alsek, Kvichak, Unalaklik, and many other small rivers arc practicable for poling boats.


In no country are portages of greater importance to the traveller than in Alaska. The following are the most important.


Cook Inlet with Illiamna Lake, via Illiamna Bay. Copper with Tanana.

Koyukuk with Kobuk, via Alatna, and via Hogatza. Koyukuk with Yukon, via Chandlar, via Dall, via Tozi, via Hosiana and Melozi. Kuskokwim with Nushagak and thence to Chulitna. Kuskokwim, see Tanana and Yukon. Kuskokwim with Togiak Lake. Nushagak with Chulitna.

Tanana with Kuskokwim, via Cosna and via Kantishna. Tanana with Copper.

Tanana with Yukon, via Fortymile and Volkmar. Yukon with Lynn Canal, via Chilkat or Chilkoot Pass.

Yukon with Mackenzie, via Porcupine and Bell (or Peel).

Yukon with Kuskokwim, probably via Innoko and also Nowi, and via series of lakes opposite Ikogmut.

Yukon with Koyukuk, via Chandlar, via Dall, via Hosiana, via Melozi, via Tozi and Kanuti.

Yukon with Tanana, via Fortymile and Volkmar.

Yukon with Norton Sound, via Kaltag and Una-laklik.


The advisability of supplementing summer means of water travel by a suitable system of roads was obvious early in the development of the resources of Alaska. It was not, however, until the Act of January 27, 1905, that means and methods were provided. Through a board of road commissioners, and by liberal appropriations by Congress, in addition to the allotments from the Alaskan license fund, an economic revolution has been wrought in land transportation. Fortunately the road commissioners, composed of three officers of the Army, has had as its president Major W. P. Richardson, whose executive ability and activity, supplemented by experience gained during twelve years of service in various parts of Alaska, have accomplished great results since 1905. Congress appropriated $150,000 in 1906, $250,000 m 1907; $250,000 in 1908; and $350,000 in 1909. In addition it gave $35,000 to survey a road between Fairbanks and Nome, and had previously appropriated $1,500 for the survey of a road from near Dall River to Coldfoot, and about $6,000 for a road survey between Valdez and Coldfoot.

Naturally each mining district considered its claims and local needs of the greatest importance, but the commissioners first applied themselves to roads of the greatest importance to the Territory as a whole, and recognized local needs only when urgently and obviously important. First in order were roads to insure regular and speedy mail service during the entire year, and to provide facilities for its transportation over American territory, and independently of Canadian assistance as far as possible. Prior to the establishment of this road system almost the entire interior of Alaska was without mail for weeks at a time during the periods elapsing between the close of navigation, the freezing of streams, and the forming of winter trails; similar delays obtained after the break-up each spring.

The most important line of overland travel in Alaska is unquestionably that located and built northward from Valdez by the road commissioners for Alaska. Following the United States Signal Corps telegraph line, it connects Valdez, the most northerly open port in North America, with Fairbanks, which is the practical head of navigation on the Tanana River. Winter mails for all Alaska north and west of Valdez pass over this system of roads. At Fairbanks begin various other roads and trails, over which Circle, Fort Gibbon (Tanana), Nome, and the rest of the Seward Peninsula are reached.

Between Valdez and Fairbanks the length of the road travelled in summer is 385 miles, reduced in winter by cut-offs to 354 miles. Although practicable for heavy freight in winter only, yet the road is passable in summer for buckboard or light-wheeled traffic for over three-quarters of the distance, and by horse trail the rest of the way. All river crossings are passable, except the Tanana, Gulkana, and Delta glacial stream, where ferries or bridges are now under process of construction.

From Valdez the road passes through Keystone Canon, Lowe River, and over Thompson Pass into Copper River Valley. Continuing through Teikhill Valley and crossing the Tonsina, Klutina, and Tazlina rivers it then follows the west bank of Copper River, which it leaves to ascend the Gulkana on its north bank, crossing the river by ferry. Reaching the Delta glacial stream through Isabelle Pass, summit of the Alaskan range, it keeps the east bank to the Tanana River, which is crossed by private ferry; thence to Fairbanks, some ninety miles, it closely follows the Tanana. In winter the route is shortened by divergence about thirty-five miles above the mouth of the Big Delta, where a marshy tundra, practicable only when frozen, is crossed to the confluence of the Little Delta and Tanana, at Washburn.

Practically the whole route is settled, though sparsely, and road-houses are situated at intervals of ten to twenty miles, where most comfortable accommodations are found. Many of these enterprising proprietors have made homestead entries, are keeping stock, growing grain fodder, and raising vegetables which are often abundant and excellent. Their presence and facilities tend to the thorough exploration of the adjacent mineral fields by the ever-present and persistent prospectors.

The main mail artery, passing through Hot Springs and Fort Gibbon, continues down the Yukon via Nulato, and over the Kaltag portage to Unalaklik, whence, St. Michael being reached by a side route, the shores of Norton Sound are practically followed to the settlements of Seward Peninsula and Nome.

Winter Travel on the Army Road, North of Valdez.

This system of roads has already accomplished the main end sought by the commissioners, the rapid and regular transmission of through mails in all Alaska. The average time for mails from Valdez to Fairbanks was reduced to 8 days, 16 hours, and 25 minutes during the winter of 1907-1908, and one mail was transported in 6 days and 8 hours. Winter mail from Seattle is now delivered in about 43 days at Nome, and has been transmitted in 38 days. A private dog team has travelled over this road to Nome in 30 days from Seattle and 23 days from Valdez. Winter express service was before impossible for interior Alaska, but now such matter is regularly delivered, and much winter freight is handled, to the great advantage of the Territory as a whole.

In the vicinity of Fairbanks there are eight local roads aggregating 64 miles in length. Longer separate routes are the sled roads from Cleary to Birch Creek, 54 miles; from the mouth of the Salcha to Caribou, 45 miles; and the road from Hot Springs to Gulch Creek region, 22 miles.

Fairbanks is really the centre of the road system of Alaska, as from that point roads and trails not only lead to the adjacent mining districts, but also eastward to the Salcha Valley; northeastward to Circle, Eagle, and Dawson; and northwestward to Hot Springs. This last road is the most important, the great winter mail route to Fort Gibbon (Tanana); to the entire Yukon Valley except Eagle and Fortymile, which are reached via Dawson; to the Koyukuk region; to Seward Peninsula and Arctic Alaska Point Barrow, etc.

In addition to its connection with Fairbanks, before mentioned, Eagle can now reach Fortymile over an American road, though previously nearly all travel and all supplies passed through Canadian territory.

On Seward Peninsula Nome is connected with all important mining camps not reached by railway. There are on the peninsula sixteen roads aggregating 50 miles in length. Freighting is now practicable over the greater portion of the peninsula, where packing was the only method of transportation some time since.

The flagging of winter trails in this bleak and treeless tundra country has rendered travel in the winter darkness, during periods of storm, much less hazardous. The difficulties of safe travel on Seward Peninsula are very great during the period of winter and almost sunless days over a gently rolling unbroken tundra, where there is no tree, bush, or even stone to mark the trail or relieve the unvarying monotony. In earlier years scores of bewildered travellers have wandered from the dim, snow-covered trail and miserably perished in the winter blizzards. The extent of such travel and the length of routes are conveyed by the statement that nearly 500 miles of such trails are annually nagged, slight sticks provided with red flannel flags being planted in the snow from 50 to 100 yards apart, according to the character of the country.

The road commission looked in its construction to doing standard work that would be of lasting and permanent benefit. They have built good country roads 16 feet wide, winter sled roads 12 feet wide, trails 8 feet, and bridges 14 feet wide. The immediate result of road building was the reduction of freight rates about half along their routes, while travel increased enormously, to the general good.


There can be no stronger evidence of the permanency of the population and industries of Alaska than the construction of railroads in this far-distant territory. The law of May 14, 1898, granted to duly incorporated railways, wagon roads, and tramways a right of way of 100 feet on each side of the road. Twenty-seven railways, four tramways, and several wagon roads have filed articles of incorporation. Ten corporations have built railways, aggregating 333.5 miles of completed road, which are distributed as follows:

Southeastern Alaska

White Pass and Yukon Railroad, from Skagway to international boundary, narrow gauge, 20.5 miles. Extends 90.5 miles into Canadian territory to White Horse, the head of navigation on the Yukon. Railway runs the entire year; connecting steamboats from White Horse run about five months each summer to Dawson, which in winter is reached by stage from White Horse.

Yakutat Bay Region

Yakutat Southern Railroad, standard gauge, 12 miles, from Minto Bay Cannery to Situk Bay for salmon during fishing season; also handles lumber.

Copper River Region

Copper River Railroad, standard gauge, 53.5 miles from Cordova to head of Abercrombie Rapids (1908). Graded or cleared many miles in advance of present terminus. Operates steamers on Copper and Chitina rivers in summer. Construction work is progressing steadily via the valleys of the Copper and Chitina to the confluence of the Nizina and Kennicott rivers, in the heart of the copper district.

The Copper River and Northwestern Railroad, standard gauge, 6.5 miles, from Katalla connects with Copper River Railroad.

Kenai Peninsula, (Cook Inlet)

Alaska Central, standard gauge, 52 miles, from Resurrection Bay to vicinity of Lake Kenai, near head of Turnagain Arm. The road is graded more or less to the 93d mile, and the right of way cleared to the 110th mile, near Sunrise.

Cook Inlet and Coalfields Railroad, narrow gauge, 8.5 miles from Homer, Kachemack Bay to coal fields. (Suspended operations temporarily.)

Fairbanks District

Tanana Railroad, narrow gauge, 44.5 miles, from Chena to Gilmore and to Chatinika (near Cleary Creek) 40 miles, with branch of 4.5 miles to Fairbanks. Runs the whole year, connecting the most important placer mines.

Tanana Mines Railway, near Fairbanks.

Seward Peninsula

Council City and Solomon River Railroad, standard gauge, 33 miles, from Solomon to Penelope Creek.

Golovin Bay Railroad (also called Wild Goose Railroad), narrow gauge, 6.5 miles, from Council City to Ophir Creek.

Seward Peninsula Railroad, narrow gauge, 96.5 miles, from Nome to Shelton 85 miles, with the Paystreak and Sunset branches of 6 miles each. This is the "Wild Goose" railway of 1900. An extension of twenty-two miles into the Kougarok district is arranged from Shelton, the present distributing centre.

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