Nicknamed the Gateway to the Klondike, Skagway is located in southeastern Alaska along the famed panhandle that leads to greater Alaska. A rocky inlet, the name is derivative of a native Alaskan tribal name that roughly translates as rough seas due to the strong north winds that blow the waters against the rocky shoreline. This tiny town is a major port of call for cruise ships with over 1 million visitors coming through annually! For this reason, this city has a major tourist economy that results in a huge amount of things to do in Skagway. Be sure to try some, or all of the experiences on this list of the top ten things to do in Skagway when planning your own adventure to this tiny little town in America’s Last Frontier!
Things to do in Skagway
Marvel at the size of Davidson Glacier
No itinerary to Skagway is complete without a visit to Davidson Glacier! This towering natural spectacle is accessed by various tours by boat, as well as rafting and canoeing for a truly up close and personal experience. While floating along the massive face of the monumental glacier, the surroundings reveal waterfalls, ice floes and even whale and seal sightings! The tours can last upwards of five hours, making this experience one of the top things to do in Skagway. Be sure to bring along a camera to capture the moments and memories, floating against the backdrop of a monumental glacier while whales breach in the surrounding waters.
Dive deep into history at the Skagway Museum and Archives
The best way to understand a town is to understand where it came from and there is no better place to learn about the history of Skagway than at the Skagway Museum and Archives. Spanning centuries of history, this quaint little museum in the tiny town has everything from prehistoric mammoth tusks to Gold Rush era slot machines with a little of everything in between! With a number of hands on exhibits and experiences available, a visit to this museum is one of the best things to do in Skagway for young and old alike!
Learn about the risqué past at the Red Onion Saloon Brothel Museum
Housed in a former brothel from the Gold Rush era, the Red Onion Saloon Brothel Museum allows visitors to get a taste for life in the time when miners flocked to this tiny town in search of riches. Many of the artifacts in the museum are original from when the brothel was closed down, with additional items added to the private collection by the owner of the establishment. The “Wild West” feel of the brothel is supported by costumed tour guides who act as “Museum Madames” to explain the history and culture behind the brothel, making this one of the most unique things to do in Skagway.
Take a walking tour of Pitchfork Falls
The picturesque scenery of Pitchfork Falls is a draw for many visitors to the area. With stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the town of Skagway itself, this waterfall attracts hikers and adventurers who wish to embrace the natural beauty of the Alaskan panhandle. With guided tours that take you right to the edge of the cascading waters and a chance to see the wildlife of the region, including black bears, a trek to Pitchfork Falls is one of the top things to do in Skagway for visitors from near and far.
Stroll along the Lower Dewey Lake Hiking Trail
For those seeking a less intense outdoor experience, the Lower Dewey Lake hiking trail is an incredibly easy 3-mile loop that is frequented by young families and locals as well as travelers visiting the area. Circling around the lake, this easy manicured path traverses through the scenery and provides varied and breathtaking views of the Tongrass National Forest as well as the nearby Dewey Peaks, the mountainous backdrop to the city. For a pleasant afternoon, no matter the time of year, this stroll is one of the more relaxing and easy of the things to do in Skagway, especially for those traveling with young children or pets.
Step back in time at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Everything about this city speaks to its history as a Gold Rush town and for that reason, one of the most important things to do in Skagway is a visit to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. This extensive park maintains a large number of the historic structures as well as a large collection of artifacts spaced out along original trails used by miners and explorers in the 1890s. Tour guides and staff will also share the stories and tales of the time period for a truly immersive experience. Skagway is known as the Gateway to the Klondike and no visit to this city would be complete without truly understanding the robust history of the Gold Rush in Alaska.
Experience the vast natural beauty on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway
Skagway is well known as a gateway to the Klondike and for good reason. Many of the railroads from the period of the Gold Rush still exist and are in use today, making a tour by rail an absolute must on the list of things to do in Skagway. The White Pass and Yukon Route Railway offers a vast number of different rail tours to suit the desire of any traveler, including the popular Bennett Scenic Journey that traverses the same route that Gold Rushers traveled in the late 1890s. About 120 miles round trip, this particular tour goes from Skagway to Carcross with a 45 minute layover in Bennett station, allowing just enough time to explore the White Pass Museum and wander the streets of the historic Gold Rush era town for a truly immersive experience! Make an afternoon of the experience; most of the tours available on the railway include lunch!
Marvel at the Jewell Gardens and Garden City Glass Works
By far one of the most fun and unique of the things to do in Skagway is to visit the Jewell Gardens and Garden City Glass Works. When people think of Alaska, they often image snow and ice as far as the eye can see, but many areas of the state have very prolific, if short, growing seasons that result in lush and vibrant gardens. Located in the temperate rainforest zone of the Tongrass National Forest, Skagway is no exception and this attraction has taken full advantage with a whimsically landscaped garden that reveals unique glass installations by area artisans. By far the most exciting part, particularly for young children, is the scale model replica of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, complete with it’s very own minature version of Skagway itself!!
Zip through the canopy at the Alaska Mountain Guides Adventure and Zipline Park
For those who crave a bit more adventure than garden strolls and easy wanders through the picturesque scenery, look no further than the Alaska Mountain Guides Adventure and Zipline Park. This all inclusive experience starts with a guided tour as you drive through historic Skagway on your way to the adventure park, which includes 3.5 hours of zipline adventure, canopy ropes courses and forest floor hiking. With lessons, tour guides, and some of the most modern equipment available, this tour is not only exciting but also incredibly safe, even for children as young as six, making this adventurous outing an integral part of any adventurers list of things to do in Skagway.
Get a real thrill with a helicopter tour and dog-sledding on a glacier
For real thrill seekers, one of the most intense experiences on any list of things to do in Skagway is a tour of the glaciers…by helicopter! Many tours of the glaciers in the area include a helicopter ride to the top of the glacier, providing breathtaking views en route, before dropping the passengers off on top of the ice for a dog-sled tour of the expansive swath of ice and snow! Given the fact that these tours take place on glaciers, they are generally available year-round, weather permitting, and are by far one of the most exciting and thrilling ways to get up close and personal with the stunning majesty of the glaciers of Alaska.
Things to do in Skagway on a Cruise
While visiting Skagway with Norwegian Cruise Line on the Norwegian Joy, they offered a plethora of excursions to partake in at this port. There are plenty of things to do in Skagway during your cruise ship visit. Here are some of the items offered (note: these are subject to change):
- White Pass Scenic Railway – this 40 mile round trip journey is the oath used during the gold rush
- Kroschel Wildlife Refuge – see animals like moose and bears
- Klondike Summit, Suspension Bridge and Salmon Bake – Ascend the over 3,000 Klondike Summit with spectacular views. Then head into British Columbia for a suspension bridge walk and then finish at a salmon bake back in Alaska.
- Yukon Territory Scenic Drive – visit the smallest dessert in the world, Carcross but on the way pass waterfalls and spectacular scenery
- Glacier Point Wilderness Safari – this trip takes you out to Davidson Glacier where you can witness fjords, rain forests and wildlife along the journey
Don’t let the small size of Skagway fool you! Despite its postage stamp size and its quaint appearance, the list of things to do in Skagway is more than enough to keep any traveler engaged, no matter how long their stay nor how young or old they may be. From unique scenery to exciting thrills, relaxing forest strolls and storied historic sights, Skagway is a snapshot of the Alaskan experience that you won’t want to miss! Where else in the world could you zipline through a temperate rain forest canopy in the morning and take a dog-sled ride on glacier ice in the afternoon? Whether you are passing through the Gateway to the Klondike or staying for awhile, be sure to experience some or all of the things on this list of things to do in Skagway!
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Disclaimer: I was a guest of Norwegian Cruise Line. As always, opinions are entirely my own.