Yukon Nuggets

  • Frame homes along the beach at Chilkat, Alaska, located at the end of the Chilkat Inlet and one of the starting points for the Dalton Trail. Date: June 1899. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #4680.

  • Scene at Porcupine - Dalton trail. Date: June 1899. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #4688.

  • Two vehicles on Haines Highway with mountains in background. Yukon Archives. Richard Harrington fonds, #371.

1943 Yukon Nuggets

Haines Highway


We knew it as "The Haines Cut-Off Road", and what a road it is - especially in winter, but that's another story. The Haines Road passes through about 160 miles of strikingly beautiful landscape connecting Haines, Alaska with Haines Junction, Yukon. The route has a fascinating history.

Centuries ago, the Chilkat people of the coast around Haines, maintained a well-established trail to the interior. It served as access for a thriving trading business with interior native groups.

The trail followed the Chilkat and Klehini Rivers through Rainy Hollow, and along the Blanchard and Tatshenshini Rivers, through what is now known as the Dalton Post area, to Klukshu Lake. Then it zigzagged along the east side of Dezadeash Lake to Champagne via the Dezadeash River.

In 1882, Arthur Krause of the Bremen Geographical Society explored the region and drew accurate maps.

In the early 1890's, entrepreneur Jack Dalton, improved on a trail system from the coast to the Nordendskiold and Yukon Rivers. Dalton operated packtrains and drove cattle over the trail, sometimes to the dismay of the local native peoples.

In 1897, gold seekers used the well-beaten trail on their trek to the Klondike. By 1914, a good wagon road helped develop mining discoveries, including Copper and Silver deposits in Alaska.

Further into the Yukon, gold was discovered at Squaw Creek in 1927 by Paddy Duncan, from Klukshu. During the 1930's, as many as 50 miners worked their summers on this creek. A massive forty-six ounce nugget was found on the creek in 1937.

By 1942, the threat of war on the west coast became a reality. The Japanese attacked U.S. bases at Dutch Harbour in the Aleutian Islands. In 1943, the U.S. government decided that an alternate access from the coast to the Alaska highway was needed in case the White Pass Railway was blocked. This would provide another supply route and an important evacuation exit, if needed. As a result, the Haines Road was built in 1943 by the U.S. Army, at a cost of $13 million. In today's money, that would total over 140 million dollars.

The general route of the Haines Road followed the old Dalton Trail as far as Klukshu Lake. From there the highway rolled along the western shore of Dezadeash Lake.

Construction was quick, lasting only from January to December 1943. One major construction camp was set up at Mile 103, present site of Million Dollar Falls Campground. Another was located at the south end of Dezadeash Lake at Mile 125.

When construction was complete, the Haines Road, as with the Alaska Highway, provided building materials from the camps. The stuff left lying around became prized sources for local building materials for both private homes and highway lodges.

The road opened on a year-round basis in 1963, but maintenance of the highway is still a challenge. The Haines road is now undergoing major reconstruction, called The Shakwak Project, named after the valley in which it lies.






A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.