On April 3, 1898, the Palm Sunday Avalanche struck the Chilkoot Trail, the route taken by ambitious prospectors from the Gold Rush port of Skagway to the Klondike gold fields. The catastrophe caught countless “stampeders” by surprise; those who perished were interred in what is now the only cemetery inside the Klondike Gold Rush National Park.
The Palm Sunday Avalanche was actually a series of multiple, successive snow slides that struck the area north of Skagway. Despite spring weather conditions conducive to avalanches—prompting vocal concern from locals and seasoned veterans alike—eager gold hounds failed to heed the warnings. Once the slides began, those trapped in the danger zone found it difficult to escape.
Due to the spotty records available in Gold-Rush-era Alaska, the death toll ranges from 48 to almost 100; the identities of the deceased vary almost as wildly as the body count. What is known is that those victims who were discovered among the 30-foot-deep, ten-acre avalanche found their final resting place in a new cemetery in Dyea Township, colloquially known as the Slide Cemetery.
After the Palm Sunday Avalanche, traffic on the Chilkoot Trail vanished, and Dyea quickly turned from boomtown to ghost town. The Slide Cemetery is a remaining testament to the area’s historical significance.
Know Before You Go
Skagway "SMART" shuttles will take you to the entrance of the cemetary, just be sure to note the phone number to call for a return ride. The walk from town is easy and flat.