Iditarod National Historic Trail - History

An old wooden cabin on the shores of a lake.Portions of the Iditarod National Historic Trail were used by Alaskan Native cultures for thousands of years before the arrival of European explorers in the 1800s. In the following years, an influx of settlers driven by gold discoveries on the Turnagain Arm and further north created the need for a more established commuter trail. In 1908, the Alaska Road Commission hired Walter Goodwin to find the most viable route through the state. He and a crew of nine people “blazed” the original trail by brushing the corridor and marking the trees along the route.

This trail connected the growing communities of Seward and Nome by providing mail handlers, travelers, prospectors, and settlers with a viable route for overland winter travel. Before snowmachines became readily available, dogsled teams were commonly used. Dozens of vivid stories related to the hunt for gold, human ingenuity, and enduring harsh Alaskan conditions sprang from these early travels along the Iditarod National Historic Trail.

A dilapidated wooden building on the side of a hill.In 1925, a diphtheria epidemic broke out in Nome, affecting many young children. The weather was too turbulent for an air freight delivery of serum for sick residents. By necessity, a group of twenty brave mushers came together to relay the serum 674 miles from Nenana to Nome by dog team. Their efforts saved hundreds of people, and became known as the Serum Run - now remembered as a heroic testament to the human spirit. A group of Alaskans inspired by pioneers and adventurers began the iconic Iditarod Sled Dog Race in 1973, which continues to this day and is an important part of Alaskan culture. In 1978, Congress designated the Iditarod Trail as a National Historic Trail.

Much of the original trail corridor between Seward and Girdwood was located on what is now the Alaska Railroad and Seward Highway. Commemorative routes are being built, connecting some of the original Iditarod routes along the southern trek. Because of its proximity to the communities of Seward, Girdwood, Moose Pass and Anchorage, the southern trek is accessible to hundreds of thousands of visitors who are drawn to its beauty and history.

To learn more about the history of the Iditarod National Historic Trail, visit our partner websites below:

Bureau of Land Management:  Iditarod National Historic Trail Administrator

Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance: A statewide non-profit organization chartered to advance the knowledge, appreciation, and enjoyment of the historic Iditarod Trail

Kenai Mountains- Turnagain Arm Heritage Area Communities Corridor Association:  To preserve and interpret the historic resources and cultural landscapes of the Kenai Mountains and Turnagain Arm transportation corridor.