Here’s some of what the Lonely Planet – USA chapter Alaska has to say about Skagway:
Skagway was a gold-rush town infamous for its lawlessness. In 1887 the population was two; 10 years later it was Alaska’s largest city, with 20,000 residents. Today Skagway survives entirely on tourism and gets packed when a handful of cruise ships pull in and thousands of passengers converge on the town as if the Klondike gold rush was still on.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park
A seven- block corridor along Broadway St that features 15 restored buildings, false fronts and wooden sidewalks from Skagway’s golden era as a boomtown.
Its gold-rush relics are some of the most interesting exhibits in a town filled with museums.
The Chilkoot is the ultimate Alaska trek, combining great scenery, a historical site and an incredible sense of adventure. It was the route used by the Klondike gold miners in the 1898 gold rush, and walking it is not so much a wilderness adventure as a history lesson.
The 33-mile trek takes four days and includes the Chilkoot Pass – a steep climb up to 3525ft that has hikers scrambling on all fours. The highlight for many is riding the historic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad back to Skagway.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
Unlike most visitors to Skagway, we arrived on the White Pass & Yukon Route railway as part of an organized trip from Whitehorse. We could have travelled back by bus the same day, or even stayed the night and returned as we had come, but the train leaves Skagway at 8:00am. One early morning was enough for us, two in a row is no fun at all. Besides, neither of those itineraries would not have allowed us to spend much time exploring Skagway.
Instead, we decided to stay the night in Skagway and return to Whitehorse by bus the following day. We chose the option of taking a bus at 2:00pm so that we would have the chance to explore the town at our leisure. The historic part of town is rather small. We didn’t need a lot of time if we just wanted to meander down the few streets of Skagway, but I’d read that there was a couple of interesting museums and we wanted to see them.
The streets were almost completely deserted because cruise ship fares are usually all-inclusive, so the passengers tend to eat their evening meals on board. I was pleased because it gave me a chance to take photos of the restored buildings without a lot of people getting in the way. It wasn’t long before we began to feel hungry. Though the meal of the train had been delicious and substantial, we had eaten at noon and now it was late afternoon/early evening.
If we hadn’t had the time on our phones, we would have thought it to be much earlier. There was no chance twilight setting in soon because we had just enjoyed the Summer Solstice three days earlier.
Much of the evening food options on the main street of Skagway revolved around loads of meat washed down by quantities of beer. That didn’t really interest us, so after checking our guidebook, we headed over to a restaurant said to be a favourite of the locals.
We had a fantastic Thai meal at the Starfire restaurant and it was clear to us that none of our fellow diners were cruise ship passengers. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if some of the Chilkoot Trail hikers who had boarded the train at Bennett were there as well, but we wouldn’t have recognized any them after when had washed off all the ‘grime of the climb’!
The next morning we lazed in bed, in no hurry to leave our hotel until the museums opened at 10:00am. We were happy with coffee and some muffins for breakfast as we planned to have a leisurely lunch in Skagway before our bus set off for Whitehorse. We’d be back in time to meet up for dinner with our friends, the Wigmores, fellow travellers from Vanderhoof, BC, whom we’d met through this very travel journal. They had contacted me after reading several of my trip journals and we’ve seen each other a few times over the intervening years.
Skagway chock-a-block with tourists reminded us a lot of Disneyland, except that there weren’t a lot of children. A large number of the visitors were seniors, many with very limited mobility. We had seen the exteriors of most of the historic buildings the evening before when we had the place to ourselves, so we went straight to the Skagway City Museum and spent a couple of hours there admiring their interesting and beautifully-displayed artifacts.
When we were done, it was almost time for lunch, and since we hadn’t eaten much in the morning, we started looking for somewhere to eat on the main street of town. We shunned the usual high-calorie eateries and looked for a place that served some healthy salads in a pleasant setting. To our surprise and delight we stumbled upon Olivia’s Alaskan Bistro, with its interesting menu and beautiful décor.
Anil had enjoyed a great glass of cold Alaskan beer the night before, but I stuck with water because I wasn’t sure if a new brand of beer would trigger a migraine. When I saw Prosecco on the menu at Olivia’s, I ordered a glass without a second thought.
Anil chose his meal – Mexican Brussels Sprouts Bowl – rice and black beans with a roasted Brussels sprouts and bell pepper mix, and topped with avocado crema. I chose the Red and Green Salad – greens with craisins, candied walnuts, apples, red onions and blue cheese crumbles topped with house-made balsamic vinaigrette. Yum!
We were the first people to take a seat for lunch, but by the time Anil was finishing his latte, the restaurant was filling up. We left before the place got too noisy and the waiters were too busy to bring us our bill quickly. We headed back out into the fresh air and decided to walk down to the port and have a look at the how the facilities are set up to handle all the cruise ships and their thousands of passengers.
It was quiet at the docks, there were only three ships moored there, but they were massive. Cruising is not an option for me at all because I suffer terribly from motion sickness. People try to tell me that these large ships have stabilizers on them so it’s no longer a problem, but they don’t know me. We took a massive ship from Finland to Estonia a few years ago, and I was bothered enough that I won’t make that mistake again. Nausea takes the fun out of everything!
We walked back to town and retrieved our luggage from our hotel and headed over to the railway station. Anil had enough of looking around, but I realized that the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park Visitor Centre Museum was right next door in the White Pass & Yukon Route railway building. There was just enough time to view the exhibits there, so I parked Anil with our luggage and had a quick half hour to look through the museum.
I was really impressed with how much great information they packed into the main floor of the building, and how creatively they used the space. I would have liked to have more time to take it all in, but I knew our bus would be arriving soon to take us back to Canada. There was a charming gift shop in conjunction with the Visitor Information Centre and I picked up a couple of adorable Christmas tree decorations for the grandkids.
Our grandson’s nickname is Moose (Moosie), given to him by his father because he grew so quickly from a wee 6 pounder into a big, big baby before his first birthday. When I saw a red-sequined moose ornament, I couldn’t resist buying it. I was happy to find a cute little sequined igloo with a tiny red bow above the door for our granddaughter Olivia. I’m looking forward to seeing them place them on their tree this coming Christmas.
It had taken us a whole day to journey to Skagway from Whitehorse – first by bus to Carcross (with a three-hour sojourn so we could explore the town), then by train to Bennett where we hiked to a viewpoint overlooking the lake, followed by an enchanting 3-hours through the mountain wilderness down to the sea.
Now we were boarding a modern motor coach and would climb up and over the White Pass onto stunning alpine scenery. This route is the beginning of the 716km Klondike Highway, a now modern paved road that for the most part follows the Gold Rush Trail through Whitehorse and on to Dawson City.
We would be travelling in total comfort, and though we did have some luggage and a couple of souvenirs with us, we didn’t have to carry a year’s supply of provisions in order to enter Canada. What a difference a century makes!