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12 Unforgettable Things to Do in Skagway, Alaska (on Your Alaska Cruise)

Looking for some amazing things to do in Skagway, Alaska from your cruise ship? Here are some of the top Skagway attractions and excursions so you can have a wonderful day in this charming Gold Rush town.

Skagway may be a tiny town, but is filled with so much natural beauty and charm that it is sure to win over your heart.

I admit that I didn’t really know much about Skagway before I visited. It was the third and final port city on my Alaska cruise aboard the Celebrity Millennium. But after spending a day here and experiencing some of the top Skagway attractions and excursions, I fell in love.

There were so many amazing things to do in Skagway, and I enjoyed wandering through the historic downtown area, admiring the spectacular views from the White Pass Scenic Railroad, and eating fresh seafood. 

I especially loved seeing the town’s Gold Rush history come alive walking through town, and seeing all the well-preserved buildings. I also love the combination of the colorful historic buildings with the majestic mountain views – straight out of a postcard!

The Skagway area also offers many other unforgettable experiences, from visiting adorable sled dogs at a musher camp, hiking through the historic Chilkoot Trail, and driving through the scenic Klondike Highway, which also allows you to cross into Canada.

Keep on reading for all the best things to do in Skagway, Alaska while on your Alaska cruise!

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About Skagway, Alaska

Skagway, like the rest of Southeast Alaska, was originally inhabited by the native Tlingit people. 

In the late 1800s, Skagway served as a base camp and supply station for thousands of prospectors seeking their fortunes in the Klondike Gold Rush. The prospectors would start in Skagway, then head up the Chilkoot Trail from neighboring Dyea, or the White Pass Trail, which was shorter but steeper.

You can still see many remnants of Skagway’s history as a Gold Rush boom town today. There are dozens of beautifully preserved buildings, many of which are part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. You can still go up the Chilkoot and White Pass Trails, following the same route of the prospectors seeking their fortunes.

Skagway only has about 800 full-time residents, making it a very small town. However, the population grows to nearly 3000 during the Alaska cruise season, thanks to the seasonal workers that come here. 

Quick Tips for Visiting Skagway

  • The town is tiny: Skagway is a small town, even by Alaska standards. The historic district of Skagway is 15 square blocks, and is laid out in a grid pattern. Therefore, it is super easy to get around on foot and see the main highlights in a day.
  • The reception is spotty: Thanks to its location surrounded by tall mountains on either side, I found the cell reception in Skagway to be *super* spotty. We were so desperate in trying to find directions that we ran over to the public library to access the free Wifi. I would download offline maps so you can navigate your way around town (even if it’s a small town).
  • You might need your passport: Skagway is super close to the Canadian border, and some of its excursions set foot in Canada. Depending on which excursions you pick, you may need to bring your passport with you.
  • Bring layers: Skagway was the chilliest out of the 3 port cities that we visited on our Alaskan cruise. You’ll want to bring warm layers (I was glad I had a puffy jacket with me) with you to stay warm, although I found myself stripping them off as the day went on.
  • Watch the time: You don’t want to miss your cruise ship departure, to be sure to keep an eye on the time! If you want extra peace of mind, you may also consider booking your excursions through the cruise line so they don’t leave without you (they are a bit more expensive though).

Unforgettable Things to Do in Skagway, Alaska (on Your Alaska Cruise)

Ride on the White Pass Scenic Railway

This is undeniably one of the most popular things to do in Skagway and for good reason – the views are absolutely stunning!

Not only that, riding on this unique railroad is like stepping back in time. The White Pass Scenic Railway dates back to 1898, the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. The railroad was originally built as a means to transfer goods from the Klondike gold fields to the interior of Yukon, Canada. 

The railroad climbs up almost 3000 feet in 20 miles, at steep grades of almost 4%. It is considered to be an engineering marvel, and was designated to be an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, an honor that was also given to the likes of the Eiffel Tower and Statue of LIberty.

You’ll board a vintage rail car in downtown Skagway and climb your way up the White Pass, and enjoy breathtaking views of snow-capped peaks, lush forests, waterfalls, and gorgeous. Along the way, you’ll listen to commentary about the history of Alaska’s gold rush, the train itself, and the natural beauty of the area.

To fully experience the views, I recommend standing out on the outdoor platform at either end of each train car. You’ll get to see the train rounding the curves and get better photo ops (without the glare of the windows). It might get a little bit chilly, but trust me, it’s completely worth the views!

There are several different routes that you can take on the railway. The one I took and  most popular is the White Pass Summit Excursion. This route goes to the White Pass summit right before the Canadian border, about 20 miles in, and then turns back. 

If you have extra time, you can book the Bennett Scenic Journey, which goes along the entire route that the Klondike stampeders traversed back in the day, from  Skagway, AK, and Carcross, YT. You’ll also make a stop in scenic Bennett, BC (which means you’ll need to pack your passport!).

Whichever route you’ll take, you’ll be amazed by the views all throughout the ride!

Journey on the Scenic Klondike Highway

The Klondike Highway follows a parallel route to the White Pass Scenic Railway, and is full of scenic viewpoints, breathtaking lakes, majestic waterfalls, and more. The advantage of driving up the highway instead of taking the train is that you can stop at the sights along the way.

From Skagway, The highway continues into Canada into the northern tip of British Columbia and the western Yukon Territories, which is filled with even more scenic spots (be sure to bring your passport!). 

Most people go up to the West White Pass Summit, which is located right before the Canadian border at 3290 feet in elevation. From here, you can snap a photo with the iconic “Welcome to Alaska” sign. Another popular stop is the Yukon Suspension Bridge, which spans 180 feet high over the Tutshi River Canyon.

While driving your own vehicle will give you the most flexibility, there aren’t many car rentals available in town. However, there are many tours and excursions offered that go through this route.

Here are some of the top rated tours that take you along the Klondike Highway:

  • Full Day Tour of the Yukon: This 7 hour minibus tour makes plenty of scenic stops along the Klondike highway, allowing participants to soak up the natural beauty of Southeast Alaska,  northern British Columbia, and the Yukon Territories.
  • Half-Day Tour of the Yukon: If you have limited time but want to see the natural beauty along the Klondike Highway, this half-day tour is a good option. You’ll head up to the West White Pass Summit and then make several stops into the Yukon.
  • Summit Experience & Yukon Suspension Bridge: This tour takes you up to the West White Pass Summit then stops at the Yukon Suspension Bridge. You’ll get to see a few sights in downtown Skagway, and learn more about the town’s history.
  • DIY Yukon Tour: This DIY tour gives you the maximum flexibility, allowing you to stay as little or as much as you want at each stop. You get a jeep rental and also includes audio narration so you can learn more about what you’re seeing along the route!

Explore Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Visiting the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is a must-visit to learn more about the history of Skagway and the Gold Rush. It tells the story of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-98 and draws over 850,000 visitors annually.

What makes the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park unique is that it is not just one single park. It has parts scattered all over, and even has a visitors center as far south as Seattle, where the prospectors first set out from in their search for gold. In addition, it also includes a six block historic district within downtown Skagway, the Chilkoot and White Pass trails, and the neighboring ghost town of Dyea.

There is a visitors center located right in downtown Skagway, which has various exhibits and artifacts about Skagway’s history as a Gold Rush town. They also show a 25 minute movie about the era.

In addition, you’ll find beautifully preserved Gold Rush era buildings around Skagway that are part of the park, including the Bernard Moore House, Jeff. Smiths Parlor, and the Mascot Saloon.

Visit the Gold Rush Cemetery and Reid Falls

Another one of the best Skagway attractions to learn more about its Klondike history is the Gold Rush Cemetery. 

It’s located about 2 miles away from downtown Skagway, so you’ll either need to plan for a long walk or take the SMART bus, which drops you off about a half mile away. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to actually visit the cemetery, but we got to see it from the White Pass Scenic Railway and it looked interesting.

You’ll find graves dating back to the height of the Gold Rush in the late 1800s, which are amongst some of Alaska’s oldest. Some of Skagway’s most famous characters are buried here, including “Soapy” Smith and Frank Reid.

Another 5 minute walk from the cemetery brings you to Lower Reid Falls, a small but picturesque waterfall that cascades 300 feet down the mountain. You can also hike out to Upper Reid Falls, but that requires more of a trek and has a different trailhead.

Meet Adorable Sled Dogs

If you didn’t get to experience Alaska dog sledding in Juneau, then you have another chance in Skagway. Meeting the famous sled dogs of Alaska is a highlight for many, and therefore one of the most popular Skagway excursions.

In the Sled Dog Discovery tour, you’ll visit a musher camp high up in the mountains. You’ll then go on an unforgettable dog sled ride through the Tongass National Forest, meet some adorable husky puppies, and meet the mushers who can answer your questions.

Another popular experience is the Yukon Dog Sledding and Sightseeing tour, which also includes a dog sledding experience combined with visits to some of the most scenic spots in the Yukon. Do note that a valid passport is required for this tour.

Wander Through Historic Skagway

Downtown Skagway was so cute, and one of my favorite things to do in Skagway was just wandering the streets here and snapping 34892479 photos!

The historic district of Skagway is filled with well-preserved Gold Rush era buildings. What I loved about the downtown area is the juxtaposition of the colorful buildings with the view of the mountains in the background – it looks like something straight out of a movie!

You’ll find an array of local businesses in the area, from restaurants, cafes, saloons, art galleries, boutiques, and more. It’s a fantastic place to pick up some unique Alaska souvenirs for friends and family back home (for us, it was also the last chance since it was our final port city).

Explore the Famous Chilkoot Trail

The 33 mile Chilkoot Trail stretches from Dyea, the ghost town neighboring Skagway, to Bennett, British Columbia. In the height of the Gold Rush, it was one of the main routes that prospectors took to the gold fields.

The Chilkoot Trail is known as the “World’s Largest Outdoor Museum” thanks to the many artifacts left on the trails from the gold miners. It is also part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

It usually takes hikers 3-5 days to complete the entire trail, so you’ll only be able to hike a portion of it if you’re only spending one day in Skagway as part of an Alaska cruise. However, you can hike short portions of it.

All hikers must obtain a permit at the Chilkoot Trail Center in Skagway and watch a 30 minute video before starting the hike.

You can also book a tour that includes hiking on a portion of the Chilkoot Trail. One of the most popular Skagway excursions is a Chilkoot Trail Hike and Float Tour, during which you can hike a 2 mile portion of the trail and then enjoy a tranquil raft ride down the Taiya River.

Zip Line Through the Rainforest

Looking for a thrilling excursion? The Grizzly Falls Ziplining Expedition allows you to zipline through Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in North America.

A 35 minute bus ride brings you from Skagway to Dyea. From here, you’ll board a Unimog, a multipurpose, all-wheel drive vehicle, up rugged mountain roads. 

Then you’ll get to soar across 10 different zip lines, the longest of which stretches 750 feet. You’ll fly across the rainforest as you enjoy spectacular views of glacier fed waterfalls. There are four suspension bridges as well.

Stop into the Red Onion Saloon

Known as Skagway’s most well-known saloon, the Red Onion Saloon dates back to the late 1800s. During the height of the Gold Rush, the Red Onion was the most famous brothel in town.

Not only is the Red Onion a fully functioning saloon and restaurant, you can also see remnants of its past. They offer a 20 minute brothel tour upstairs. We sadly missed the last tour by minutes, but our friends did it and said it was interesting!

In addition, there are paintings of the ladies and madams on the wall, and the waitresses wear period costumes.

If you didn’t try a Duck Fart in Juneau, here’s another chance! It’s one of the most iconic drinks in Alaska, and is made with Kahlua, Bailey’s and whiskey. The Red Onion also offers the Reindeer Fart, which replaces peppermint schnapps for the whiskey. We had one of each and they were tasty!

Check out the Arctic Brotherhood Building

While there are plenty of cool buildings in the historic district of Skagway, one stands out from all the others.

The historic Arctic Brotherhood Hall is also one of the most unique. Its exterior is covered in 8800 pieces of driftwood, and the letters “AB” are spelled out in the front. 

The building was created in 1899 for the Arctic Brotherhood, a fraternal organization for gold-seeking stampeders. Today it houses the Skagway Visitors’ Center and is also nown as the “most photographed building in Alaska.”

Eat at the Skagway Fish Company

If you’re a seafood fan, then you need to eat at the Skagway Fish Company.

The restaurant is located right next to the Skagway cruise port, making it the perfect place to stop for a lunch or dinner of fresh, local seafood dishes. They also have a nice patio with amazing views of the water and mountains.

If you feel like treating yourself, they offer a $99 jumbo king crab leg. Only limited quantities are available each day, and they DO sell out!

My friend Melissa ordered it because she was #yolo-ing, and it was MASSIVE – they told us it weighed 1.5 lbs! And yes, she said it was worth it. She let me taste a tiny piece and it was super meaty and juicy.

Visit the Skagway Museum

If you want to learn more about the history of Skagway, head to the Skagway Museum.

The museum is small, but displays artifacts, photographs, and historical records about the unique history of Skagway, beyond just the Klondike Gold Rush.

It’s also located in one of the historically significant buildings in town. The building once housed McCabe College and was built as a school before being sold to the federal government in 1901. It then served as a US Court House and jail until 1956.

Things to Know Before Visiting Skagway on Your Alaska Cruise

About the Skagway cruise port

Skagway’s cruise port is located just minutes away from the historic downtown area, making it very accessible.

It’s a short, easy walk from your ship to the center of town. From here, you can head on to the meeting point for your shore excursions.

For us, Skagway was the longest port stop on our entire itinerary. We docked at around 7am and we didn’t leave until about 8pm. This gave us plenty of time to go on our excursions and explore the town. We could’ve booked multiple excursions if we wanted to!

Skagway is one of the few stops on an Alaska cruise which are also accessible by road. However, you would have to drive through some remote areas in order to reach the town, which makes it an ideal place to visit on a cruise.

Weather in Skagway, Alaska

Like the rest of Southeast Alaska, the weather in Skagway can be, well, unpredictable. 

That said, Skagway was the coldest out of the three port cities that we visited and I found myself throwing on my puffy jacket. It did warm up a tiny bit as the day went on, but it was still overcast and chilly most of the day.

Here are the average highs in Skagway during the cruising season:

  • April: 50° / 34°
  • May: 59° / 42°
  • June: 65° / 48°
  • July: 66° / 52°
  • August: 65° / 50°
  • September: 57° / 45°
  • October: 48° / 38°

It does also sometimes rain in Skagway, but this mostly occurs in the fall and winter months. However, the town does see up to 9 days of precipitation even in the summer months, so be prepared with a waterproof jacket.

In any case, it is important to dress in layers so you are prepared for anything! You can read my Alaska cruise packing list to see what exactly to pack. 

Getting Around in Skagway

Skagway is a pretty small town, so you can easily explore on foot. You can get from one end of the downtown area to the other in less than 15 minutes. 

However, some of the top Skagway attractions are located further away from the center of town. The easiest way to see these sites is to book a tour or excursion, which usually include round-trip transportation from downtown Skagway.

Other ways to get around include taxis or the SMART shuttle bus.

More Alaska content you may enjoy:
Essential Alaska Cruise Tips for First Timers
The Ultimate Packing List for Alaska Cruises
Amazing Things to Do in Ketchikan
Unforgettable Things to Do in Juneau
Celebrity Millennium: A Complete Review

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