What is Special About Skagway, Alaska?

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The great northern hotel in downtown Skagway, AK

If you’ve ever taken a cruise to Alaska, you likely stopped for a day at Skagway. Or if you read Jack London’s book The Call of the Wild as a child, you might recall the setting was Skagway, Alaska. 

Today, we’ll share why Skagway is worth a visit the next time you venture to southeastern Alaska. It’s a quintessential Alaskan gold rush town. Let’s dive in!

Where Is Skagway, Alaska?

Skagway, Alaska, sits at the northern end of the Inside Passage. As a popular cruise port, Skagway welcomes about one million visitors annually. The town lies at the end of Highway 98, which connects to Highway 2 in British Columbia. It’s one of the northernmost cities in the Alaska Panhandle.

View of the Red Onion Saloon in downtown Skagway, Alaska.

Getting to Skagway

Most tourists who visit Skagway, Alaska, do so via cruise ship. Cruises often port for a day, and visitors get off to explore the town. Other travelers, mainly locals and road trippers, will travel via the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system. Even large RVs can travel this marine highway system.

Skagway, Alaska, is a unique community along the Inside Passage because it’s accessible by road. Highway 98 in Alaska and Highway 2 in British Columbia form the Klondike Highway. Skagway is the southernmost city along this route.

What Is Skagway, Alaska, Known For?

Skagway, Alaska, is now most known as a cruise port along the Inside Passage of Alaska. But it originally started as a boom town port due to its location and cheaper ease of access to the gold fields of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Miners only needed to catch a steamship from Seattle or San Francisco to Skagway. They then could make the short but extremely strenuous trip through Chilcoot Pass or White Pass until they reached the Yukon River. Miners would then be able to float down the Yukon River all the way to the Klondike Goldfields.

The Klondike Highway was named as such because it follows the route of the thousands of prospectors who headed to the Yukon to strike it rich. Visitors are transported back in time at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway.

The miners weren’t the first to discover this area though. The Tlingits have inhabited Southeast Alaska for more than ten thousand years. So there’s plenty to learn about their way of life when visiting.

5 Things to Do in Skagway, Alaska

Even though Skagway, Alaska, is home to only 1,200 residents, the town has embraced its identity as a popular tourist spot. Whether you arrive via cruise ship, RV, or ferry, there’s plenty to keep you busy for at least a day. Plus, Skagway is just a fun little town to visit!

1. Visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

This 13,191-acre park encompasses a six-block part of downtown Skagway. Many of the buildings have been restored by the National Park Service. The visitor center is in the original White Pass and Yukon Route Depot from 1898. This national historical park returns visitors to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-1898.

Statue of a sad miner outside the Klondike Gold Rush National Park visitors center

Keep in Mind: Before driving on the Klondike Highway, here’s what you need to know!

2. Tour the Moore Homestead

The Moore Homestead dates back to 1887 when Captain William Moore built his cabin and founded Skagway. Sadly, gold rush stampeders ruined his homestead, and he had to move.

But the National Park Service has restored the cabin because of its importance to the Moore family and thus Skagway’s history. The Moore Homestead is part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

3. Book a Tour on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad

The White Pass and Yukon Railroad was established in 1891 just after the Klondike Gold Rush. Today, it’s the most popular tour in Skagway, Alaska. Tours range from two hours to an entire day. Campers and hikers of the Chilkoot Trail can also use the railroad as a drop-off option or a way back to Skagway.

The two-hour tour is top-rated among tourists disembarking cruise ships. It follows a large part of the White Pass trail that miners attempted to use to get to the Klondike gold rush. So sit back and imagine walking with all your gear as it climbs White Pass, the boundary between the United States and Canada, and visits Glacier Gorge, Dead Horse Gulch, and Bridal Veil Falls.

White Pass train boarding passengers in Skagway, AK

4. Hike the Chilkoot Trail

The Chilkoot Trail is a 33-mile recreational trail that starts in the ghost town of Dyea, which is part of the Klondike Gold Ruch National Historical Park. Each year, over 10,000 people day hike or backpack this historic trail. The Chilkoot Trail travels from Alaska into Canada and requires a permit.

View off a river from Chilkoot Trail in Skagway, Alaska.

5. Visit the Gold Rush Cemetary

Another popular tourist attraction is the Gold Rush Cemetary, just a short walk from town. It’s the oldest cemetery in Skagway, Alaska. The notorious “Soapy” Smith is buried here. He was one of the most famous con men of that era.

He joined the gold rush and found a home in Skagway in 1897. However, his fame in Alaska was short-lived, as he was shot dead when he crashed a vigilante meeting in 1898.

Don’t forget to take a short walk to the back of the cemetery to see Reid Falls. Named after the vigilante who shot and killed Soapy.

Reid Falls tucked away in the back of the Gold Rush cemetery.

Keep in Mind: Just because you don’t have an RV, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore Alaska in one! Take a look at these Legit RV Rental Companies in Alaska.

Timing You Visit

You can pretty much see all of Skagway, Alaska, in one day. Tourists arriving by cruise ship can book a tour on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad and have time to walk about the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Hikers and backpackers who want to trek the Chilkoot Trail must allow several days.

Like most of Alaska, the weather is most enjoyable during the summer. Although you won’t experience the Land of the Midnight Sun this far south, you’ll still enjoy longer daylight hours. Pack layers, however, because the weather in Alaska can change quickly. Plus, you’ll need a raincoat more days than not.

Is Skagway, Alaska, Worth Visiting?

Skagway is a unique town in southeastern Alaska with a rich gold rush history. But its beautiful scenery of mountains, glaciers, and forests also makes it a stunning location. You can enjoy strolling downtown on a cool July morning or hop aboard the railroad to get even farther into the wilderness.

Skagway, Alaska, isn’t a destination town. You won’t spend days here. But it’s certainly worth a visit to learn more about the Klondike Gold Rush and enjoy the hospitality of the people who rely on tourism year in and year out.

Have you visited this small town along the Inside Passage?

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