Spend a Day in a Gold Rush Town
Skagway is a popular port of call on Alaska cruise itineraries. With a population that fluctuates between 700 in winter and 2,000 in summer it is easy to see what drives the economy. While Skagway is small and a bit isolated that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to do. Historically Skagway has its beginnings in the Yukon gold rush when it was established as the port of entry for the famous Chilkoot trail leading up to the Yukon gold fields. Today it is a tourist destination with a lot of interesting options for spending a day off a cruise ship from shopping, riding a train or helicopter to even wilderness adventures.
Where Your Ship Docks
There are several modern docks right near town with specific docks designated for different cruise lines. While there are no facilities right on the docks it is a short walk to public facilities going into town with more available near the foot of State Street that runs up thru town.
Taxis are available but the town itself can be walked in a short period. There are locations to visit on the outskirts of town like the gold mine where a taxi would be your best option. There are also Pedi cabs and a number of tour operators that offer short excursions around the area.
Alaska is a U.S. state and the U.S. Dollar is the preferred currency with most major credit cards accepted as well as ATM machines in town.
A Bit Of History
With a growing population of over 10,000 people, Skagway, Alaska, was on many peoples minds as word of the Klondike Gold Rush spread in 1897 – 98. They called the town Skagway for the Tlingit Indian name “Skagua,” which means “the place where the north wind blows.”
The town was founded in 1895 by Captain William Moore, a former steamboat captain, who traveled north from British Columbia to work for a surveyor. He is credited with discovering the White Pass route through the Coastal Mountain Range. He selected a site where the Skagway River entered into the salt-water Lynn Fjord. He filed a 160-acre homestead claim at the head of the White Pass Trail in 1887, and he and his son, Ben, built a cabin, a wharf and sawmill. He began to chart and mark the White Pass Trail in expectation of a flood of miners to the gold rush. The first rush of prospectors landed at Skagway in the summer of 1897. After all of his planning Captain Moore was pushed aside and ignored by the newcomers who took over the Moore homestead and the surrounding area and laid out a townsite without consulting him. They even forced Moore to relocate his cabin since it stood in the way of a newly plotted street.
Between 1897 and 1898, Skagway became a lawless town, described by the Canadian North-West Mounted Police as “little better than hell on earth.” Gun fights, prostitutes, and liquor were ever-present on Skagway’s streets, and the towns leader was a con man named “Soapy” Smith, who became the boss of a pack of robbers, gamblers and swindlers who ran the town.
The National Park Service Visitor Center at 2nd Avenue and Broadway in Skagway is a place to begin your exploration of the area’s rich gold rush heritage. Preserving History & Becoming an International Historical Park in 1997 with the park celebrating the centennial of the Klondike Gold Rush.
If you are looking for a scenic excursion The White Pass and Yukon Railroad provides train rides up thru the mountains to the White Pass and back. Their station is right in town and tickets are usually readily available. There is also a gold mining attraction near town where you can pan for gold. There are a number of whale watching boat trips and a helicopter tour that will take you up to land on a glacier.
State Street also has the usual lineup of tourist retail stores with an emphasis on jewelry. For some unique items look for local artists and crafters gift items.
If you are looking to book a tour our suggestion is to book on your own instead of through the ship. You will have a whole day in Skagway with plenty of time to set something up. By calling the helicopter tour service in Skagway the day before arriving in Skagway you can save almost fifty percent on booking a helicopter trip up to a glacier.
Tip: Most U.S. and Canadian cell services do not have any surcharge for using you phones in Alaska. Just make sure you have a land based signal and are not on the ships cellular service.