In 1897 gold stampeders from all over the world arrived in Skagway by steamship, bound for the Dawson Gold Fields. It wasn't long before the rough-and-tumble tent town was festooned with boardwalks, dance halls, inns and saloons.
More than 100 years later, Skagway still retains the feel of those Gold Rush days, though most travelers now arrive by cruise ship. The immensely walkable and historic downtown has largely been restored to its roots, complete with false-fronted buildings and wooden sidewalks. It's an utterly charming place -- if a tad precious.
Skagway ranks as one of Alaska's most popular ports. It's not unusual to find four or five ships docked here on the same day.
Skagway Quick Facts
Shore Excursion: A ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad. This was created as a result of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, though it wasn't completed before the rush ended. The narrow-gauge train follows the path that pioneers in search of Klondike Gold climbed in order to get to Dawson's Creek. The tracks wind around granite mountains, trundle across steep gorges and pass through two tunnels. Virtually all visiting cruise lines offer the train ride -- American West Steamboat, Carnival, Celebrity, Clipper, Cruise West, Crystal, Holland America, NCL, Princess, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean and Silver Seas.
Historic walking tour of Skagway. Pick up a map at the Skagway Convention & Visitors Bureau (Broadway between 2nd & 3rd), which in itself is distinctive because its builder collected more than 8,800 sticks of driftwood -- and then nailed them to the building's front.
Learn about the Klondike Gold Rush at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center (2nd and Broadway).
The Corrington Museum of Alaskan History is tucked away at the back of a souvenir shop (Broadway between 5th & 6th). There are interesting displays of trade beads, baleen baskets, scrimshaw and Gold Rush photos.
Shopping in Skagway. Nestled between totally touristy "outlet" stores and shops full of cheap tchotchkes are veritable gems. For books, try the Skagway News Depot (Broadway between 2nd & 3rd). For high-end crafts, ranging from made-in-Alaska jewelry to wildlife prints to needlework, try Skagway Artworks or Changing Tides (Broadway between 5th & 6th). Lynch & Kennedy (Broadway between 3rd & 4th) has exquisite (and not necessarily made locally) fine crafts, including handpainted ceramics and hand-knit woolen sweaters. Miss Kitty's Buttonhole (1 French Alley) has funky hats, canes and 1898-style clothing. The Train Shoppe in the White Pass and Yukon Route Depot (2nd & Spring) has tons of choo-choo souvenirs.
Hang out at the touristy Red Onion Saloon (2nd & Broadway), a Gold Rush-era gathering point (and brothel).
Gold panning at Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp. It's part of the train tour if you go one way by rail and one way by bus.
On foot: Skagway is an easy walking town. Most shops are on one street -- Broadway.
Renting a Car: To explore outer reaches of this region of southeast Alaska, you can certainly rent a car (Avis, located at the Westmark Hotel, 3rd & Spring, 800-331-1212, advance reservations highly recommended), but you're better off signing up for a tour of some sort -- whether on ship or via the handful of independent trip companies. Tour companies that serve cruise ship's shore excursion departments typically will refer you back to the ship -- or charge the same fee as the cruise line. Smaller, independent operators, many of whom have storefronts in town, may net more personal tours with fewer people -- and the prices might actually be lower.
Where You're Docked
Ships line up at one of three deep-water docks, all an easy walk from the heart of town. Small ships may dock at a fourth location -- the Ferry Dock -- also a few minutes from town.
Staying in Touch
Seaport Cyber (336 - 3rd Ave.) offers Internet access. Buy a $5 card good for an hour online in three ports -- Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan.
Casual, in-town joints: Stowaway Cafe (205 Congress Way, daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.) has wraps, soups and fresh baked breads. For a locals' haunt, check out Sweet Tooth Cafe (315 Broadway, daily, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.) for "home cooking." Skagway Fish Co. (near the Railroad Dock, daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.) has terrific seafood -- and a great marina view.
Gourmet Dining: Olivia's at the Skagway Inn (7th and Broadway, daily, 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) offers local fare with a nouvelle twist. Trademark dishes include Alaskan king crab and strip loin of elk.
Port Profies are provided by CruiseCritic.com, an award-winning cruise community, giving you objective, unbiased information to help you choose the right cruise.