Long before the Iditarod was an international sled dog race, it was a 2,300-mile system of trails that began in Seward and wound through the Kenai Peninsula Corridor to the Iditarod Mining District and on to Nome. The trail was never easy, but winter allowed sled dog teams to travel reliably over the frozen bogs and brush and along rivers.
Although the gold rush era spurred development of the Iditarod Trail, its origins are the trails of the Dena’ina Indians and the Inupiat and Yupik Eskimos. The trail takes its name from the Athabaskan village on the Iditarod River, where the discovery of gold once lured thousands of prospectors north. The demand for goods and supplies between the port of Seward and the mining communities drove the need for a shipping route. In 1908, the Alaska Road Commission formally surveyed, cleared, and marked a trail from Seward to Nome, using the network of roughly blazed paths that connected mining camps and trading posts. The two ends of the trail met in the gold mines of Interior Alaska and eventually the route became known as the Iditarod Trail. For two decades, the Iditarod Trail was the link between many communities and the main artery for Alaska’s winter commerce. Seward’s Iditarod Monument commemorates this lifeline at its starting point.
On February 21, 1924, the first Alaska airmail flew into McGrath. By the end of the decade airmail made the Iditarod Trail nearly obsolete. The Iditarod Trail sprung into the national spotlight during Nome’s 1925 diphtheria outbreak when serum was desperately needed. Severe winter weather made flights from Fairbanks to Nome impossible. To deliver the life-saving medicine, volunteers organized a relay of dog teams that traveled through blizzards from Nenana to Nome (674 miles) along the Iditarod Trail.
Today, that heroic run is commemorated by the now-famous 1,049-mile Iditarod sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome.
Segments of the trail near Seward (Nash Road) and Girdwood (Alyeska) can be hiked during summer.