Skagway, AK, USA cruises

Gateway to the Klondike, with highlights including White Summit Pass and the cable Yukon Suspension Bridge. The gold rush coastal town of Skagway, Alaska, was previously a lawless Wild West outpost.

Skagway port guide.

Skagway is Alaska’s gateway to the Klondike where in the late 1890s more than 100,000 prospectors arrived in search of gold. Even today, frontier-style saloon-style buildings still line the town’s streets, an enduring reminder of this key period in Alaska’s gold rush history.

While feeling as though you’ve somehow fallen through time and into the Wild West is undoubtedly part of Skagway’s appeal, there’s so much more to admire, discover and experience on a port call to this southerly part of the Great Land.

John Wayne’s classic motion picture “Into Alaska” was filmed nearby and the area has inspired several novels (see our Alaska cruise book recommendations for some suggested reading).

Then there’s the scenery.

Skagway’s surroundings are nothing short of magnificent. The piercing waters hugging its shores outdone only by the frosted peaks painted on the horizon. It’s a vista best savored from a vintage passenger car on the area’s famous White Pass and Yukon Route railway.  

Top landmarks and sights in Skagway.

Skagway’s gold rush era buildings are part of the National Klondike Historical Park and among the most photographed in Alaska. They remain one of the biggest draws for visitors to the area and you’ll find the cream of the crop around State Street and Broadway Street, including the town’s famous Red Onion Saloon (a former brothel) and the Arctic Brotherhood Hall.

A five-minute drive from town also brings you to another of Skagway’s most popular tourist attractions, Alaska 360. A historical re-enactment of an authentic prospector town, here you can tour a genuine gold dredger, meet Dredge Town’s ‘residents’ or brave the cold in the Chilkoot Chill experience. The latter offers you a true taste of an Alaskan winter, exposing you to sub-zero conditions of minus 40, in an innovative temperature-controlled chamber.

Things to do in Skagway.

Whether you want to try gold panning, pull up a stool in a 19th Century saloon, or take a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route railway, you’ll get the opportunity in Skagway.

The railway is an experience you won’t want to miss. Offering exceptional scenic views on clear and bright days, the journey mimics the route prospectors made more than a century ago at the height of the Klondike gold rush. You’ll travel to the summit of the White Pass (an elevation of almost three thousand feet) passing by several noteworthy points of interest as you make your ascent.

Gold panning is one of the highlights you can enjoy on a visit to Alaska 360 (along with the aforementioned Chilkoot Chill experience) while in Skagway town you can take a tour of what was once The Red Onion Brothel from one of the resident ‘madams’.

The gold rush cemetery, located on the edge of town, offers a poignant tribute to those who lost their lives in search of fortune, and a visit to the City Museum and Sculpture Garden is your opportunity to learn more about Skagway’s fascinating history, including its gold rush connection.

Eating and drinking near Skagway cruise port.

Skagway’s dining scene is considerably more varied than most Alaskan communities although rest assured fans of the region’s exquisite seafood won’t be disappointed.

While you’ll no doubt encounter locally caught crab, halibut and other delicacies plucked from the icy depths, Skagway’s dining offer extends far beyond the sea. You’ll find smokehouse BBQ, Mexican street food, pizzerias and even some Asian flavors among the intimate restaurant offer.

A couple of independent coffee shops complete the food and drink lineup, while a native Alaskan beer is easy to source at one of Skagway’s saloon bars or its namesake brewing company.

Shopping in Skagway.

Even shopping in Skagway feels like stepping back in time.

Most of the town’s independent shops now occupy the quintessential cladded buildings that lend Skagway its unique character, and it’s difficult to avoid the temptation to pop in as you venture around.

If jewelry is your Achilles heel, then Skagway is guaranteed to delight. The town is home to multiple jewelry studios and shops selling precious stones.

Locally made artworks and produce prepared with ingredients of native origin are another of Skagway’s promising purchases. Look for the ‘made in Skagway’ mark as evidence that the product was crafted locally.

Skagway history and culture.

Cruise ships have been calling at Skagway since the 1920s and a port call here offers ample opportunity to experience some typically Alaskan pursuits native to this part of the world.

A half-hour drive along the coastal road brings you to Dyea (a boomtown in the Alaska gold rush) and the site of a historical settlement established by Tlingit natives.

Although the town has long since been lost to the landscape the remnants of a few ghostly structures still remain, together with a graveyard where an avalanche caused nearly all those buried to lose their lives on the same day. Dyea is also a breeding ground for wild salmon and it’s not uncommon for visitors to spot a brown bear by the water’s edge in July and August when peak spawning season occurs.

Of course, with its enchanting mountains and waterside location, a port call to Skagway also offers the chance to experience some exhilarating high-octane adventures. You may choose to have a go at ocean rafting on the Lyn Canal, zip-lining over treetops, or navigating hairpin turns on a dog sled powered by huskies.  

Skagway port facilities and location.

Alaska cruises calling at Skagway tend to dock either at the end of Broadway or Main Street. Both are centrally located in town, allowing you to step directly off your ship and be among the bustle of Skagway in minutes.

The town’s streets are numbered, making Skagway refreshingly easy to navigate on foot. You’ll also find maps available at the local visitor’s center to help guide you. Skagway’s most historic buildings occupy the area between Second and Eight Avenue, and it’s here that you’ll find the majority of restaurants, shops and places of interest while in port.