7 Things to Do in Skagway
Skagway is a popular port for Alaska cruise ships, and it’s easy to see why: the town is brimming with gold rush history, unique culture, and amazing opportunities for enjoying the state’s renowned natural beauty. Take a look at what Skagway has to offer, from trips on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad to picturesque gardens.
1. Visit Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Authorized in 1976, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is dedicated to the history of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897–98. The park is made up of four units, including a business district in Skagway, two historical routes—the Chilkoot and White Pass trails—and a visitor center in Seattle, Washington.
The park’s visitor center in Skagway is a great place to begin exploring the area’s gold rush history. Housed in an 1898 railroad depot, it showcases exhibits that educate visitors about the gold rush that led to modern-day Skagway. Take part in one of the many free activities like film screenings, ranger presentations, and guided walking tours.
The National Park Service has also restored many of Skagway’s original buildings in downtown Skagway, including the J. Bernard Moore House. Originally built by the city’s founder, William Moore, it now has been returned to its 1904 glory and is furnished with many original family possessions to give you a true sense of what life was like in an Alaska gold rush town.
2. Hike the Chilkoot Trail
One of the best ways to experience all the peaks, waterfalls, and forests Skagway has to offer is to go for a hike. You’ll find a variety of outings for every skill and interest level. Start small with an easy walk out to Yakutania Point at only 1.4 miles round trip.
Or, set out to conquer the famous Chilkoot Trail, a strenuous 33-mile point-to-point trek. The Chilkoot Trail, a traditional trade route turned gold rush highway, starts in Dyea before taking you to Lake Bennett, British Columbia and the Yukon Goldfields. Today, the trail is still used by more than 10,000 people each year who hike, backpack, and trail run. Known as “the world’s longest museum” because of the hundreds of artifacts left behind by gold seekers, trail-goers can see the evidence of the gold rush with every step.
3. Travel the White Pass & Yukon Route Scenic Railway
Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad is recognized as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. This honor is awarded to engineering feats like the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower, and the Statue of Liberty. The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway gains nearly 3,000 feet over 20 miles, and engineers faced harsh weather conditions and difficult terrain to make it happen.
More than 100 years later, it still stands strong, and you can ride the rails to experience incredible views of waterfalls, gorges, glaciers, trestles, and historic sites via vintage rail cars. Enjoy the sights as well as narration as you ride “The Scenic Railway of the World.” There’s also a variety of excursions to add extra magic to your Alaska vacation. Choose from round-trip train rides, summit outings, one-way trips perfect for overnight camping, and even guided hikes.
4. Visit Historical Dyea
Set at the start of the Chilkoot Trail, the former boomtown of Dyea is now revered for its quiet charm. Dyea was established by the Tlingit people several centuries ago as a summer camp, decades before the rival gold rush town of Skagway came to be. In fact, the first known non-Alaska Native to visit Dyea had the permission of the Tlingits to cross the Chilkoot Pass and enter in 1874.
By 1897, the boomtown was brimming with gold seekers and the population reached nearly 10,000 people. But Dyea’s boom was short lived, and a fatal avalanche almost destroyed the town entirely. When construction of the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway ended in Skagway, Dyea risked becoming completely deserted. Now, the area is known for offering outstanding recreation opportunities. Explore for the day with the help of a knowledgeable local guide or take a self-guided walking tour of Dyea.
5. Discover Why Skagway is Called the “Garden City of Alaska”
Since its early days of Russian colonization, gardening has been a way of life in Skagway. The first garden was planted behind a trading post in Dyea, and its bounty was sold to gold rush fortune seekers eager for fresh produce. Residents found that the combination of the area’s soil, climate, and Alaska’s long summer days created ideal conditions for farming. In fact, one early agriculturist grew turnips that weighed more than four pounds.
Along with food, people soon started planting flower gardens. In time, blocks of bright blooms transformed the former boomtown into a floral hot spot so renowned that a garden contest drew visitors from outside the state. In 1910, the Skagway Commercial Club named the city “Garden City of Alaska,” and that’s how it’s been known ever since. Today, you can admire Skagway’s delightful flora on a self-guided tour or by booking a guided garden tour.
6. Marvel at Glaciers, Lakes, & Streams
If you love marveling at blue slabs of glacier ice, Skagway is calling. From town, you can see Harding Glacier—and if that’s not close enough, there are numerous tours that can take you to Harding and other glaciers in the area. Helicopter tours will land on these giants for glacier treks or you can board the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad for excursions that included scenic hikes to the Laughton or Denver glaciers.
In addition to the glaciers, you’ll find many other ways to experience the beautiful waters of Skagway. Explore Lynn Canal, North America’s deepest fjord outside of Greenland via motorized raft. Or embark on one of the many adventure tours in town to kayak or raft the beautiful lakes and streams that surround you.
If you prefer to enjoy the water from land, walk up to Lower Reid Falls past the Gold Rush Cemetery or stroll to Lower Dewey Lake and look for birds like thrushes, grouse, and American dippers.
7. Take a Golden Circle Road Trip
The Golden Circle is a 360-mile loop that connects the Alaska Highway and Haines Highway. Though you can drive the Golden Circle in a day or two, we suggest taking your time and making plenty of stops to stretch your legs amid the beautiful scenery. The route starts and ends in Skagway, passes through Haines, and crosses Canadian borders along the way to Yukon Territory cities like Whitehorse and Carcross, where you’ll pick up the Klondike Highway.
Highlights include the drama of Chilkat Pass and multi-hued Emerald Lake along with the trails, rivers, and lakes of Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park and Kluane National Park and Reserve. You’ll also traverse landscapes dotted with waterfalls, wildflowers, and the sand dunes of one of the world’s smallest deserts. Make a point to visit Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve before your picturesque ferry ride back to Skagway.
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