Skagway is the most touristic city (or rather the village) ofAlaska. Born for the gold rush such as Juneau, Fairbanks and many other Alaskan cities, this locality is today the symbol of the frantic search that at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries led thousands of hopeful men to leave their homes to embark for the inaccessible territories of the north.
Imagine an old western movie set, with the saloon in the center of the street, surrounded by wooden houses each of a different color. Then add numerous cruise ships huddled along the shore, each accommodating twice as many passengers as the wretched local population, who open their doors all at once and leave chaotic crowds of international tourists swarming onto the quay.
If you are a lone traveler and adventurer, if you have chosen Alaska as your destination for its reputation as a wilderness, here the atmosphere may seem a bit artificial. But Skagway is just like that, kept over the years as it was during the gold rush. Everything here speaks of the adventures and misadventures of the direct seekers in the Klondike and from here one of the major attractions of the state starts: the White Pass and Yukon Route, which we have included in our Alaska Top 10 for nothing.
- How to reach us
- Climate and temperatures
- Attractions in the city
- Railroad and gold rush trails
- White Pass e Yukon Route Railroad
- Chilkoot Trail
- Where sleeping in Skagway
How to reach us
While overlooking theInside Passage and being a very small village, Skagway is more easily reachable compared to other cities in the region, such as Juneau or Sitka. Let's see the alternatives.
- Plane. As in all of Alaska, the plane is the fastest way to get around here. It makes us smile that, looking at the map, the airport runway is as long as the whole town. Serving this airport is the company Air Excursion, which connects it to Juneau. Skagway is also connected to the capital by the Alaska Seaplanes seaplane service.
- Ship. Although slower than flying, sea transport is ideal for moving between the different locations of the Inside Passage. Daily ferries from the Alaska Marine Highway System connect Skagway with Haines and Juneau and, from there, with other locations.
- Car. Only two roads connect the southeastern region of Alaska with Canada (and from Canada, with the rest of Alaska). The Haines Highway, which finds its terminus in the city of the same name and the Klondike Highway, which reaches Skagway instead. If you are taking a road trip, Skagway will be the only city overlooking the Inside Passage that you can reach by land, without having to board the car on a ferry. It is also easily inserted as a stop on an itinerary along the Alaska Highway, which connects Canada with the northern capital: Fairbanks.
Climate and temperatures
As I wrote in more depth in the article on when to go to Alaska, the southeastern coast of the state is the one with the milder climate and Skagway is no exception. Here the proximity of the sea to the great glaciers means that temperatures are fairly constant throughout the year, without an exaggerated temperature range.
The hottest months are June, July and August: the average daytime temperature is close to 20 °, while the night is around 10 °. May and September they report slightly lower temperatures: the maximums are on average 14-15 ° and the minimums of 4/6 °. On the other hand, a good difference can be seen in the mid-seasons: if April has highs that are on average 10 ° and lows very close to 0, October has highs of 8/9 ° and minimums on average around 3 °. In the spring period you will therefore find slightly warmer days, but cold nights, while in autumn the temperature difference between day and night is lower. Winter, between November and March, it is almost never too cold and the average temperatures are always quite close to zero. The coldest month, January, has on average highs of -2 / -3 ° and lows of -8 / -9 °: a much more bearable situation than the Alaskan hinterland.
Regarding rainfall, Skagway is located in one more favorable location than Juneau, although the distance as the crow flies between these cities is not excessive. Here in fact they only register half of the annual rainfall compared to the capital. In this sense, Skagway has characteristics similar to those of Mediterranean countries, with an average of 8 rainy days in the least rainy months (April to July) and 16-18 days in the wettest ones (September and October). However, your trip is unlikely to end in Skagway and although the umbrella may be superfluous here, there is a greater chance of having to pull it out in the nearby towns of the Inside Passage.
Attractions in the city
Skagway has two characteristics to keep in mind if you want to visit it: it is really small, but at the same time it is one of the most touristic places in the whole state. Let's see together what are the main attractions to visit.
- Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Every visit should start from here, both because the visitor center is also located there, and because it is a free museum in which to start learning the history of the gold rush: the reason why there is a human settlement in this place. You will be able to see an illustrative video on the gold rush and an exhibition of vintage photos and old tools of the prospectors. Tours can also be booked there. (Address: 245 Broadway Street).
- Arctic Brotherhood Hall. It is believed to be the most photographed building in Alaska and it's not hard to believe. What used to be the headquarters of the Brotherhood, a prospectors club, has a truly unique feature: the facade is made up of about 9000 pieces of wood stranded and collected by members of the brotherhood in 1899. Today there is another visitor center, ideal for asking information on the hiking trails in the surrounding area. (Address: intersection of Brodway Street and 2nd Avenue).
- Mascot Saloon Museum. As the name suggests, this small free museum is one of the approximately 80 saloons that animated the Skagway of the late nineteenth century. Here we recall the fact that the town has not always been a cheerful marina, but a century ago it had the reputation of being among the most infamous places in Alaska. (Address: Crossroads of Broadway Street and 3rd Avenue).
- Skagway Museum. Reminiscent of the town's turbulent past is also this museum, located on the first floor of the old McCabe College. In addition to a beautiful collection of period objects, Tlingit artifacts and even an embalmed grizzly, there are narrated some historical events such as the shooting (certified by the newspaper pages of July 15, 1898) in which the most fearsome gangster of the times was killed : Jefferson Randolph Smith, aka 'Soapy'. His grave and that of other historical figures can be found at Gold Rush Cemetery & Reid Falls. (Address: Spring Street and 7th Avenue intersection).
Skagway city tour
Railroad and gold rush trails
As already stated several times, Skagway exists thanks toKlondike gold. This strategically located port allowed US ships to get close to the great gold vein that filled prospectors with dreams. Today, there are two possibilities to relive the sensations experienced during the gold rush: to jump aboard the scenic train or put on your hiking shoes and start walking.
White Pass e Yukon Route Railroad
The main reason why so many tourists land in Skagway every year is there White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad: the most famous railway in Alaska. The vintage steam train that runs along the narrow-gauge railway towards the Canadian border is already a means of transport that arouses emotions, but what makes the difference is the panorama in which the 32km separating Skagway from the White Pass Summit, the pass at 873m of altitude that marks the border of the state.
It takes about 3h to make the round trip and the ticket price is not very cheap, but it is one of the experiences that is worth living during a trip to Alaska, to appreciate some of the most evocative views and fully understand its troubled history. Along the way you will meet the Gold Rush Cemetery e the base di Denver, da cui parte il Denver Glacier Trail.
Shortly after the train passes one of the most suggestive points: the Rocky point, from which you can see Skagway and the sea in front of it from above. There Black Cross Rock instead it commemorates the two workers who were crushed under a 90-ton granite block due to the accidental explosion of a mine. In addition to hundreds of pack horses, there were 35 victims that the construction of this complicated railway brought with it.
In the second half of the journey you can admire the beautiful waterfalls Bridal Veil Falls and shortly after the train passes on the vertiginous bridge (305m high) overlooking the George Glacier, before entering the long tunnel that crosses the mountain. At the exit of the tunnel, there is the most photographed point of the route, called Inspiration Point.
The depot from which the train departs is located at 231 2nd Avenue. Departure times can be checked in advance on the official website.
- White Pass Rail Tour
- Train tour with bicycle excursion
A ride on the scenic train is a great experience for everyone, but if you enjoy walking, you will certainly enjoy the Chilkoot Trail: the complex 53km trail that prospectors had to walk from Skagway to reach the mines. It is estimated that over 30 thousand prospectors walked along this path during the gold rush and today, after being abandoned for a long time, it has become the main path for those who want to discover the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
It runs parallel to the aforementioned railway, a few kilometers west, to reach the Klondike via the Chilkoot Pass, which with its 1067m of altitude is more inaccessible than the White Pass reached by train. On the dedicated website you can check the conditions of the trail and get more detailed information to better prepare your journey.
- Chilkoot Trail Tour
- Horseback riding on the Chilkoot Trail
Where sleeping in Skagway
Skagway is really a very small town, so the possibility of staying overnight is not very large. There are two main alternatives:
- Historic Skagway Inn. Restored in 2004, this 1897 inn was originally a brothel. If you still see female names associated with the rooms: yes, it's the girls who used to work here. Do not worry: today it is a hotel in all respects and the red light past is now only a memory.
- Westmark Inn Skagway. It is the largest hotel in town, but it has little of the large international hotel chains. Entering the hall feels like stepping back in time and the rooms are welcoming and well furnished.