Skagway, situated on southeast Alaska’s Panhandle, is a historic little community surrounded by snow-capped and glaciated peaks, where the past lives on and the cries of “Gold in the Yukon!” still echo from the steep canyon walls. The romance and excitement of yesteryear linger around every corner of the charming, colorful downtown. Strolling visitors and horse-drawn carts stream past perfectly maintained, turn-of-the-century buildings, now home to a variety of restaurants and shops.
With the wide Pacific lying at its door and pervasive frontier flavor, this idyllic town attracts thousands of visitors annually via road, rail and sea.
Like most communities in southeast Alaska, Skagway has extensive opportunities for people to get out and explore. Trails for every level of adventure-seeker are awaiting your arrival. Pair a hiking experience with a train ride: the White Pass & Yukon Route train, originally built for the Gold rush, still runs service up to Denver Glacier and Laughton hiking trails for amazing glacier and mountain views. Other activities to enjoy include canoeing, kayaking, rafting, biking, skiing and mountain and ice climbing.
In winter, Skagway becomes a snowy playground. Adventures include the running of the Buckwheat Ski Classic, a cross-country ski event designed for “the lazy, the infirm and a few who are fast.” Or try snowshoeing trails with tracks set by early February.
Skagway is accessible by road and sea via the Klondike Highway and Alaska’s state ferry system. The Klondike gives you access to the Alaska Highway and the North American highway systems, with the junction just 100 miles north, in the Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse. The state ferry will get you to Juneau, Wrangell, Sitka, Haines, Ketchikan and several other southeast Alaska communities.
There are three privately owned campgrounds in Skagway and one operated by the National Park Service in nearby Dyea, nine miles from downtown. The campgrounds have all the standard amenities. Two offer 30-amp service and the third offers 50-amp service. Dyea is the trailhead for the Chilkoot Trail, but the campground in Dyea has no hook-ups.
The Tlingit people have inhabited the area around modern Skagway for thousands of years. In the 1880s, after gold was discovered in Juneau and Sitka to the south, pioneers came into the area and established a trading post in nearby Dyea. When gold was discovered in Dawson City, Yukon, the rush was on and thousands of prospectors hurried north, most coming through the quickly built town that was named “Mooresville.” By 1898, Skagway was the biggest town in Alaska, with a population over 10,000.
Today, thanks primarily to the National Park Service, downtown Skagway has been restored to its boomtown glory and is part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. The park also maintains a site in Dyea, the beginning of the Chilkoot Trail, on which thousands of hopeful prospectors walked to the Yukon goldfields, carrying all belongings on their backs over snow-covered mountains.
Within 14 miles of town, along some of Skagway’s hiking trails is the Denver Icefield, offering numerous glacial fingers. Laughton Glacier is three miles north of Denver’s northern edge. Gain access to the trailhead leading to the Laughton Glacier using the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. No matter which trail you access, you’ll run into canyons, waterfalls, lakes, high mountains and wildlife.
Starting in nearby Dyea, hike the 33-mile long Chilkoot Trail. Originally used by Native people for trade with residents of the interior, it takes a hiker through three climate zones: coastal rainforest, high alpine above the treeline and boreal (or snow) forest. There are many natural features and historical sites along the way, as well as designated campgrounds. It normally takes hikers three to five days to get from Dyea to the end at Bennett Lake, just south of the British Columbia/Yukon border. Sights along the trail are magnificent.
Downtown Skagway is seven blocks long and two blocks wide, offering virtually unlimited gift ideas for friends and family, from gold nuggets to hand-carved ivory (from sea mammals, such as walrus). More than a hundred businesses are waiting to make your Alaska shopping experience memorable. Local sculptors, carvers, beadists and photographers offer their artwork throughout downtown.
Take a break from shopping with a locally made, medal-winning beer and great meal at the Skagway Brewing Company or the notorious Red Onion Saloon. There’s another nice pub called the Bonanza between those two establishments, making your shopping efforts “thirst-free.”
There are many opportunities to experience Alaska’s famous fishing in Skagway, from guided sportfishing in the ocean to freshwater fishing for lake and rainbow trout just outside of town. About 25 miles to the north, some of the most popular spots are located in the panhandle of British Columbia on Tutshi and Tagish lakes. Fishing licenses for Canada and Alaska are available at the Skagway Hardware Store located downtown. You may also purchase them from saltwater fishing guides on their boats.
Skagway has a wide variety of wildlife to be seen. Bald eagles and black and brown bears are seen in town on occasion. Outside town, you can find wolves, coyotes, marmots, weasels and porcupines. When local fish called “hooligan” run in May, it’s easy to spot humpback and orca whales out in the bay feeding on them. Humpbacks are seen year-round, but are more evident in May and September during migration times. Local seal populations can be found near the city docks, and waterfowl populations include ducks, geese, terns and, in the spring, blue herons and trumpeter swans.