The Route of the Alaska Excursion Steamers


In the years after the Alaska Purchase in 1867, Americans had only a dim appreciation of the value and splendors of their new northern territory. This attitude changed slowly, and it was not fully overcome until the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 radically altered perceptions of the region’s value. Even earlier, however, certain developments started to shift American views of Alaska. In particular, John Muir’s accounts of his travels to Alaska, beginning in the 1870s, gave Americans an initial feeling for the rare majesty of the Alaskan wilderness. Aside from Muir’s paeans to nature, the area was ripe for large-scale tourism because of the recent completion of several transcontinental railroads and improving port infrastructure for passenger ship service. From the 1880s onwards, seasonal cruises began to tap a growing market for visitors eager to see the rugged Pacific coast between Seattle or Vancouver and Alaska. In time, this stretch of sea and islands became known as the “Inside Passage.” The route wound through the spectacular fjords of the region and became world-famous for wildlife and scenery. Newsworthy events, such as the Harriman Alaskan Expedition of 1899 financed by railroad magnate E.H. Harriman, further highlighted the region and its potential for tourism. This map, published in 1891, shows the excursion steamship routes from Seattle, which took the inland waterway east of Vancouver Island and on to Alaska, as well as the interconnecting railroad routes from Chicago on the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Lines.

Last updated: January 8, 2018