What is commonly referred to as the Iditarod Trail is actually a vast network of winter trails which first connected Alaskan villages, opened the territory for the last great American gold rush, and now plays a vital role for travel and recreation in modern-day Alaska. Multiple groups use the historic trail every year, from the hardy dogs and mushers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to the super-fast Iron Dog snowmachiners to long-distance trekkers and modern-day explorers seeking adventure in the Alaskan backcountry.
Portions of the Iditarod National Historic Trail from Seward to Nome are open to the public, and while the northern stretches of trail are generally impassable in the summer, you can explore the lower, or southern part of the historic trail year-round on foot, by road, and even by rail between Seward and a point just south of Wasilla, where the trail turns west and the rails continue north. Trail access is easy and well-marked, especially in the Chugach National Forest on the Kenai Peninsula, and Chugach State Park right outside of Anchorage. Historic signs explain how the trail was used by early freighters, mail carriers, and travelers, beginning with the Milepost 0 tripod on the waterfront in Seward, shown above.
The Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance notes on their site, “While the Iditarod Trail is well known nationally and internationally due to the contemporary sled dog race, many Alaskans and most Americans are unaware of the basic history of the Trail. While parts of the Trail go back thousands of years to trade routes used by Alaska’s native people, today’s Iditarod Trail began with an Alaska Road Commission scouting expedition in mid-winter 1908. With the strike of gold in Iditarod, the ARC blazed the trail the winter of 1910, giving the Iditarod and Innoko mining districts overland access to the deep water port of Seward, and eventually, the Alaska Railroad.”
Nationally, our Historic Trails commemorate major routes of exploration, migration, trade, communications, and military actions that formed America, and only 16 trails in the U.S. have been honored as National Historic Trails. The Iditarod is the only Alaskan trail in the National system, and the only Historic Trail celebrating the indispensable role played by man’s best friend in America’s Last Great Gold Rush. Without dependable sled dogs hauling freight, passengers, mail and more, the history of Alaska and the north country would have been quite different.
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