As many of you are aware, I recently took a cruise through Alaska. Over the next few weeks I intend to share facts, photos, and advice on what to see and do in (and around) the Alaskan cities I visited. This week I am focusing on the beautiful city of Skagway and the White Pass Trail.
Skagway is famously known for its role as a gateway to the Goldrush in the Yukon Territory of Alaska/Canada. In the mid to late 1800s, Skagway was a lawless town filled with gold prospectors, prostitutes, and con men (the most famous of which was “Soapy” Smith). Thousands of people flocked to Skagway in search of gold, some found it, but many died trying. It was an extremely harsh place to live–prospectors had to climb steep mountains through ice and snow and were each required to carry one ton (2,000 pounds) of supplies to keep themselves alive. This was an extremely difficult feat for the prospectors and their pack animals, requiring dozens of trips up and down the mountain. After the gold rush ended in the early 1900s, the town died down before residents reinvented Skagway as a tourist destination. Now the small population of around 1,000 residents doubles during the summer to accommodate the nearly 900,000 tourists that flock to Skagway each year.
What to Do:
Skagway’s downtown looks like something out of a western movie. Many of the town’s buildings are original structures and the outsides have painted signs and murals on them. Take a walk downtown to get some souvenirs, admire the scenic mountain backdrop, and check out some of their museums.
Eat lunch at the Red Onion Saloon.
The most famous place to eat in Skagway is called the Red Onion Saloon, which was built in 1897 as a bordello (brothel). Today it provides food, entertainment, and is even a part of the haunted ghost tour.
Try Alaskan Fry Bread
After lunch, you must try Skagway’s Alaskan fry bread. There is nothing healthy about this bread, but it’s delicious! I almost ate the entire thing myself. The outside was warm, crispy and coated in a light sugar, and the inside is soft and flakey.
Take a guided tour via the Klondike Highway to the summit of the White Pass Trail.
Many people opt for a train ride to the summit of the White Pass Trail, but my cousins and I decided to take a guided tour van which was a bit quicker, and allowed for more stops. The Klondike Highway is located on the Coast Mountains which is a part of the Klondike region of the Yukon Territory. The White Pass trail is one of several trails leading up the mountains that the gold rushers used to travel.
The first stop of the tour was the Gold Rush Cemetery, where many of the prospectors and famous residents of Skagway are buried.
The next stop was a village called Liarsville. It’s a kitschy part of Skagway that lets you “pan for gold” and explore what used to be a village where all the journalists at the time of the gold rush lived. They call it Liarsville because the newspaper reporters lied about living conditions as well as the likelihood (or unlikelihood) of finding gold in order to attract thousands of prospectors to come to Skagway. Today, it’s a fun tourist stop on the way to the White Pass summit.
Our tour bus soon departed as we ascended towards the summit of the White Pass. The views were drop dead gorgeous. I truly felt like I was in Alaska and found myself dreaming about how it must have been here over 100 years ago, with prospectors desperately trying to climb (and survive) these steep mountains in order to strike gold.
After summiting the White Pass and crossing over the Alaskan/Canadian border, we made our way back downtown. Skagway was a charming city full of history and beautiful nature. There is so much to see and do here, I wish I had more time!
Here are some other fun things you can do in Skagway:
- Take the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad
- Go on a ziplining adventure (my cousins loved this)
- Go horseback riding
- Hike to Yakatunia Point
Have you ever visited Skagway? What was your favorite part?
For more on my time in Alaska, check out these posts:
- Whale Watching in Juneau, AK
- What I Love (And Don’t Love) About Cruising
- Sailing Alaska’s Tracy Arm Fjord