Explore Skagway, the gateway to the Klondike. See Skagway’s authentic buildings built to service the late 19th century Klondike Gold Rush, one of North America’s most famous gold stampedes.
Take the vintage train to White Pass Summit and learn about the treacherous route from Skagway hundreds of miles north to Dawson City Yukon, Canada. A tourist town since the early 20th century, Skagway has lots of things to do to fill your day.
Table of Contents
One Day in Skagway Itinerary
The 3 best things to do in Skagway are perfect for a one-day visit whether arriving by cruise ship or car. If arriving by car or an early cruise ship, more can be added to the end of the day. Depending on the time of year, businesses may extend closing hours allowing for an extended visit.
- Spend the morning on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway.
- Explore downtown Skagway.
- Visit the Gold Rush Cemetery and hike to Reid Falls.
Skagway Alaska Map
White Pass Railway – The Best Excursion in Skagway
Take a historic journey on this amazing narrow-gauge railway constructed in just 2 years during the Klondike Gold Rush. It follows the steep White Pass Trail taken by some of the gold rush stampeders to Lake Bennett in Canada.
Ride in vintage railway cars, over high trestle bridges, through tunnels and up steep inclines on this 32-kilometre (20-mile) route to the White Pass Summit. Enjoy stunning views of waterfalls, near-vertical cliffs, tall snow-covered peaks and glaciers.
The line provided passenger and freight service until closing in 1982. It reopened in 1988 as a tourist train to the White Pass Summit.
The train operates from mid-May to late September. The ride to the summit and back takes about 3 hours. Knowledgeable guides entertain with stories and information about the Klondike Gold Rush, the railroad and places along the way.
For non-cruise ship travellers, longer excursions are available to Canada’s Lake Bennett, Carcross and Whitehorse.
The area along Broadway from 1st Avenue to 7th Avenue is a designated National Historic District, part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Many of the building are owned by the park and leased to private businesses. The National Park Service (NPS) operates several of these buildings as museums and service centres.
A look into the buildings in the area is a great way to discover early Skagway. Hear the stories of the stampeders’ hardships to reach the Dawson City gold fields, hundreds of kilometres inland. Early buildings were cheaply made and few have survived. Most of today’s buildings were built between 1899 and 1905 when more substantial buildings were built and today’s well-structured town was created.
A visit to these buildings takes about 2 hours. A visit to the Gold Rush Cemetery adds another 2 hours round-trip. Downtown guided tours are available but take more time.
The Skagway Centennial Statue, by sculptor Chuck Buchanan, depicts a Tlingit guide and a stampeder. It was erected in 1997, in Centennial Park (at Broadway and 1st Avenue), to mark the centennial of the beginning of the Klondike Gold Rush, August 1897.
The former White Pass & Yukon Route’s Broadway Depot is across the railroad tracks on the right side of Broadway.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center
This is the place to get information about the National Historical Park, register for ranger-led tours and see the 25-minute film “Gold Fever: Race to the Klondike”.
The adjoining building, the former administration building of the railroad, is a museum. Learn more about the Klondike Gold Rush and the two trails stampeders took out of Skagway to Lake Bennett and ultimately Dawson City, Yukon.
The railway depot was built in 1898 and used until the 1960s. The administration building was built in 1900. Both have been restored to their 1908-15 appearance.
The small building with porthole windows across Broadway is the Martin Itjen House, housing the NPS Bookstore. In the park beside it, public art provides an idea of what a stampeder needed to obtain before leaving Skagway.
Ton of Goods and Stampeder Sculptures
The stack of boxes represents the size of a year’s supply of food required by a stampeder to enter Canada. Weighing about 900 kilograms (2000 pounds), it was hauled overland, typically in 20 to 35 kilogram (50 to 80 pound) packs. It took many trips to move it all to Lake Bennett. If the prospector was lucky, they had a sled and faithful canine to make the task a bit easier. The bronze stampeder and dog sculpture is by artist Peter Lucchetti.
Behind the parkette, on 2nd Avenue, is a long narrow building restored to its 1960s appearance.
Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum
The NPS restoration includes artifacts which were displayed during its use as a museum from 1935 to 1986. Tours are offered in the summer months. Register at the visitor centre or online at the Jeff Smiths Parlor Museum website. Outdoor exhibits are accessible year-round.
The building, originally a bank in 1897, was the headquarters of outlaw Soapy Smith for 3 months before the July 1898 gunfight which resulted in his death. It was used for a number of purposes until 1935 when local promoter Martin Itjen created the Jeff Smiths Parlor Museum telling the story of Skagway’s gold rush history.
Across 2nd Avenue at the corner of Broadway, learn about the “working girls” of the Gold Rush.
Red Onion Saloon
Enjoy a meal and a beverage in the gold-rush saloon with mannequins of working girls enticing patrons upstairs. The Red Onion operated as a dance hall, saloon and brothel beginning in 1897.
Tours of the upstairs bedrooms are available. A “Quickie” tours the bedrooms, while a Ghosts and Goodtime Girls Walking Tour is a 2-hour, town walking tour ending in the brothel museum with a champagne toast. Tours are first-come-first-served or visit the Red Onion’s website to book in advance.
Don’t miss the building just north on Broadway with a driftwood-covered front.
Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau
The staff at the Skagway Visitor Centre will help with questions about the city and area in addition to the National Historical Park.
The unique Arctic Brotherhood Hall was built in 1899 with about 9000 pieces of driftwood attached to its front façade. Everything was renovated in 2005, piece by piece, to its original appearance.
Admire the beautiful golden dome of the building a bit further north on Broadway, just before 3rd Avenue.
Golden North Hotel
Explore the main floor shops of the former hotel. Built in 1898, it was Alaska’s oldest hotel when closed in 2002. It is restored to its gold-rush-era look including the gold dome.
The old Mascot Saloon is across Broadway.
Mascot Saloon Museum
The NPS museum features a recreation of the bar and its patrons. Built in 1898, the Mascotte was one of the 80 to 100 saloons in Skagway during the gold rush. Closed briefly due to licensing issues, it reopened under new management with the name Mascot in 1899. Of Skagway’s saloons, the Mascot operated the longest, being forced to close in 1916 due to prohibition.
On the west side of Broadway, just before 4th Avenue, is the former Pantheon Saloon.
Junior Ranger Activity Centre
This building is dedicated to the NPS Junior Ranger Program. The kids can earn their Junior Ranger badge, learning about the gold rush using tablets and hands-on activities. The building was built in 1897 and became a saloon in 1903.
If it is time for a break, Skagway Brewing Company is down 4th Avenue to the right (east).
Skagway Brewing Company
This Skagway Brewery is popular for both food and beverage. Sample some of the popular local microbrews such as Prospector Pale Ale and Chilkoot IPA.
Rockhounds should wander west down the alley between 4th and 5th Avenues.
Back Alley Rock Shop
Discover rocks, including jade, and fossils of many shapes and sizes, all found in Alaska. Gems, ivory, gold nuggets, jewellery and more make perfect take-home memories. Pan for gold, like the stampeders, in the troughs filled with water and gold-bearing gravel from a mine in the Yukon. If you find gold, it is yours to take home.
The Rock Shop is also accessible by a walkway from 5th Avenue. The historic Moore Cabin and Homestead is at the east end of 5th Avenue.
Moore Homestead Museum
This NPS museum provides insight into the Moore family and life in Skagway. Son Ben Moore constructed the house in 1897 for he and his wife, Minnie. Two rooms are depicted in their full Victorian splendour. The first log cabin, built by Captain William Moore in 1887, stands beside the homestead. The Moores prospered from the influx of stampeders, having built a dock, warehouse and sawmill which supplied them.
The alley, behind the homestead which leads back out to Broadway, has a number of frontier buildings. See the Frye-Bruhn Refrigerated Warehouse, several tiny buildings which were houses of ill-repute and a cigar store. A former bakery is on the left on Broadway.
NPS Trail Center
At the Trail Center hikers pick up their permit and complete the pre-hike briefing, both required before hiking the Chilkoot Trail. Park rangers also provide bear and trail safety information.
The late-1897 building was the Boss Bakery. It supplied fresh-baked breads, cakes and pastries during the peak of the gold rush until the early 1900s. It was used as a grocery store until WWII when it became a café. After a fire burned much of it, the smaller building operated as a museum. When the NPS purchased and moved it to the current site, it was restored to its early 1900s appearance as Boss Bakery.
Skagway City Hall is at the end of 7th Avenue.
This excellent museum presents local Indigenous and gold rush history. Learn about gold-rush villain Soapy Smith, Dead Horse Gulch on the White Pass Trail, Tlingit basketry and much more. Outside find several White Pass train cars.
Alaska’s first post-secondary school operated from the 1899 building until 1901 when it became the Skagway court house, jail and marshal’s office. In 1961 the beautiful, sandstone building became Skagway’s City Hall.
The Gold Rush Cemetery is on the city’s outskirts and worth a look if time permits. It is about a 3-kilometre (1.8-mile) walk ( west on 7th Avenue to Alaska Street, turn right and walk to the cemetery at the road’s end). We recommend a shuttle bus out to the cemetery. Take the shuttle back or walk depending on time constraints.
Gold Rush Cemetery
The cemetery’s first burial was in 1898 and the last in 1908. Its tombstones hint at the dangers of life in early Skagway. It has been a tourist attraction since the 1920’s. Both outlaw Jefferson “Soapy” Smith and local hero Frank Reid are buried here.
There are several options for hiking depending on the amount of time available. For a summary of the trail details, check our table of hikes.
Lower Reid Falls
The best hiking for 1-day visitors is the easy hike to Reid Falls. This pretty waterfall is a series of steep cascades with a total drop of 90 metres (300 feet). The falls are named for Frank Reid. The trail starts at the cemetery.
Dewey Lakes Trail System
The trail system explores alpine and subalpine lakes, waterfalls and historic sites. The trailhead is just east of downtown at the end of 2nd Avenue. Cross the creek and head north for about 400 metres (1/4 mile). The trail marker will be on the right. Lower Dewey Lake is the perfect destination for those arriving by cruise ship with great views over Skagway. Hike around the lake to continue to Icy Lake and Upper Reid Falls or Upper Dewey Lake. Spend 2 hours to a full day depending on the ultimate destination.
For experienced backpackers, one of the best outdoor adventures in Skagway is to hike the Chilkoot Trail. This steep, often wet, trail was travelled by over 30,000 stampeders to reach the Klondike Gold Rush. The 53-kilometre (33-mile), strenuous hike begins in Dyea, 15 kilometres (9 miles) to the west of Stagway. It crosses the Canadian border and ends at Bennett. A hike typically takes 4 to 5 days.
The trail has primitive campsites strategically placed along trail. The pass is often covered in snow until late summer. Permits and a pre-hike briefing are required. Check at the NPS Trail Center or online for details. Hikers typically return to Skagway on the White Pass & Yukon Route train. Packer Expeditions offer outfitter services and guiding.
Denver Glacier Trail
The Denver Glacier trailhead is at Mile 6 on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway where there is a caboose for accommodation rental. See the Skagway River, Sawtooth Range, Lower and Upper Elway Falls and the Denver Glacier.
Laughton Glacier Trail
The Laughton Glacier Trail is a relatively short trail following the Skagway River to the hanging glacier between walls of the Sawtooth Range. Its trailhead is at Mile 14 on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway.
These are the details of several hiking trails in the Skagway area.
|Name||Type / Difficulty / Elevation Gain||Length (roundtrip) / Trailhead|
|Lower Reid Falls||Out and back/ Easy / 15 m (50 ft)||6.4 km (4 mi) / 2 hours from 1st & Broadway|
|Lower Dewey Lake||Loop around lake / Moderate to Strenuous / 150 m (500 ft)||5.8 km (3.6 mi) / 2 hours from end of 2nd Avenue|
|Icy Lake and Upper Reid Falls||Out and back / Moderate / 260 m (850 ft)||11.1 km (6.9 mi) / 3 hours from north end Lower Dewey Lake|
|Upper Dewey Lake||Out and back / Strenuous / 945 m (3100 ft)||11.1 km (6.9 mi) / all day from north end Lower Dewey Lake|
|Laughton Glacier||Out and back / Moderate to Difficult beyond trail end / 185 m (600 ft)||5 to 8 km (3 to 5 mi) / all day From Mile 14 WP&YR railway flag stop|
|Denver Glacier Trail||Out and back / Moderate to Difficult beyond trail end / 360 m (1200 ft)||6 to 10 km (4 to 6 mi) / all day From Mile 6 WP&YR railway flag stop|
|Chilkoot Trail||*linear / Strenuous / 1140 m (3739 ft)||*53 km (33 mi) / 4 to 5 days from Dyea AK|
*type and length given for one-way travel.
The most popular cruise excursion, by far, is the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway journey noted above.
However, there are many interesting excursion options available for multi-day and return visitors.
Sockeye Cycle has cycling day tours or rent a bike from the Skagway shop (on 5th Avenue) for local riding. One of their best day tours is the White Pass Train and Bike Tour. On this day trip, ride the train one-way up to the pass. Then, hop on a mountain bike for the 915-metre (3000-foot), 24-kilometre (15-mile) descent back to Skagway, along the Klondike Highway.
Skagway Float Tours offer half-day rafting trips and full-day rafting and hiking trips.
Klondike Tours range from gold panning in town to sled-dog experiences and a number of White Pass tour options. Tours range between 2 and 5 hours in length.
Alaska 360’s Dredge Town experience can be for several hours or a full day. It’s up to you. Wander the period buildings, tour a working gold dredge, meet sled dogs, and pan for gold. There is an Alaskan BBQ restaurant and brewery on site too!
The vaudevillian musical The Days of ’98 Show has been running in Skagway since the 1920’s. Discover gold rush Skagway, the deeds of Soapy Smith and his eventual demise.
On the 90-minute Skagway Street Car Tour, enjoy a tour on the bright yellow 1920s buses to see the city and learn its history. Reserve a seat well in advance. Most seats are allotted to cruise ship passengers.
Temsco Air flies Skagway passengers to the Denver Glacier to learn about driving a dogsled and mushing. They also visit one of the local glaciers for a glacier walk. Both tours are 2 hours.
Alaska Fjord Lines offer a number of tour options. A popular one is the 12-hour full day tour. Take a high-speed catamaran from Skagway to Haines to Juneau and see sea lions, humpbacks, marine mammals. A bus at Juneau takes travellers to the Mendenhall Glacier before the catamaran return from Juneau to Skagway.
Alaska Excursions have wheeled sled-dog tours, horseback riding, zipline adventures and more, taking from 2 to 6 hours.
Skagway exploded from a cabin or two in the Skagua Valley in 1896 to a thriving town with thousands of residents and a busy commercial area by the end of 1898. It was all due to the Klondike Gold Rush. Here’s an introduction to Skagway’s growth in its early years.
Who was William Moore?
Moore was born in Germany and a steamboat captain by trade. He worked in British Columbia for 25 years as a steamboat captain, prospector and farmer. He believed there would be a gold discovery in the northwestern interior and that the Skagua Valley’s natural, deep water harbour was the perfect entry point.
When did William Moore lay the foundations for Skagway?
1887 – William Moore, son Ben and a Tlingit named Nan-Suk worked building a small cabin and clearing land on a 190-acre homestead claim in the Skagua Valley.
1890s -The Moores build a sawmill, expand the wharf and improved the White Pass Trail.
1897 – Ben Moore’s Skagway home was completed beside original cabin. Skagway is barely a village.
What was the timing of events leading to the Klondike Gold Rush?
1874 – Prospectors begin searching for gold in the Yukon River basin, including William Moore.
1885 – Tributaries of Yukon River show promising signs of gold.
1896 – 1600 prospectors are in the Yukon River basin.
1896 Mid-August – Kate and George Carmack, Keish (aka Skookum Jim Mason) and Káa Goox (aka Dawson Charlie) discover gold on Rabbit Creek (renamed Bonanza Creek), a small tributary of the Klondike River. Many claims are staked by those already in the area.
1897 July – First processed ore reaches Seattle and word is officially out that there is GOLD in the Klondike. The Klondike Gold Rush is on.
1897 End – 100,000 have made it to Alaska to trek to Dawson City.
When was the Klondike Gold Rush?
August 1896 to 1898
What did it take to get to Dawson City, Yukon, Canada?
The Klondike Gold Rush stampeders had a huge journey to Dawson City with many challenges and obstacles.
First – The sea voyage along the western North American coast from San Francisco, Portland, Seattle or Victoria to the ports of Skagway or Dyea was a long journey. There were other route options but going through Skagway or Dyea accounted for 90% of the stampeders. The other options were either completely impassible (the east side of the Rockies) or were not navigable during the winter.
Second – Upon arrival, stampeders had to climb over the Coast Mountains. From the lawless town of Skagway, they travelled the White Pass Trail. It was frequented by bandits and earned the nickname the Dead Horse Trail for the number of pack animals which died on its narrow, steep sections. Those ending up in Dyea were bound for the famous Chilkoot Trail, a traditional Tlingit trade route, too steep for pack animals and bitterly cold.
Third – Both trails met at Lake Bennett. From here the journey was another 800 kilometres/500 miles in boats or rafts that needed to be constructed at the lake. In the winter of 1897/98, more than 10,000 stampeders stayed in tents by frozen lakes building rafts and boats waiting for the ice to thaw.
Fourth – Once the ice thawed they paddled into the dangerous rapids near Whitehorse. Many boats were destroyed and some people killed.
Finally, heartbreak often met them upon arrival in Dawson City, finding the most promising claims already staked. Many ended their journeys working as general labourers.
What is the Chilkoot Trail?
The 53-kilometre (33-mile) Chilkoot Trail from Dyea included a nasty, 305-metre (1000-foot) climb called the Golden Stairs. Prospectors carried their packs up narrow stairs carved in ice. Higher and steeper the wind whistled through the Chilkoot Pass at 1075 metres (3525 feet). This was the more established trail and more popular until an avalanche in April 1898 killed over 60 people.
The Chilkoot Trail is now part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Dyea mushroomed to 3500 residents at the peak of the gold rush with restaurants, hotels and saloons. It is now a ghost town of a few cabins, old wharf pilings and the cemetery where those who died in the avalanche are buried.
What was the White Pass Trail?
The 72-kilometre (45-mile) trail started in Skagway and climbed to the White Pass at 870 metres (2865 feet). Pack animals could be used but it was often muddy, narrow and treacherous. It became known as the Dead Horse Trail for the huge number of pack animals which died on it. The trail was abandoned when the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway was completed.
Who was Jefferson “Soapy” Smith?
Soapy led the local network of criminals and con-men, capitalizing on the naiveté of prospectors. One famous scam was charging homesick stampeders $5 to wire a message home from his Telegraph Office but the visible wires went nowhere. Soapy’s grave is close to the entrance of the Gold Rush Cemetery.
Who was Frank Reid?
He was a civil engineer who assisted with laying out the grid of wide Skagway streets still visible today. He became famous for defending the town against Soapy Smith and his outlaw gang. He shot Smith dead in July 1898 and died later himself from injuries sustained in the gunfight. Reid’s tombstone in the Gold Rush Cemetery notes “He gave his life for the honor of Skagway”.
Who was Martin Itjen?
Itjen arrived in Skagway during the Gold Rush and stayed. He was an early promoter of Skagway as a tourist destination, preserving buildings and tales of the rush. He opened Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum in 1935 to tell stories of Skagway’s gold rush era and Soapy Smith.
What was Skagway like during the Klondike Gold Rush?
1897 Fall – 20,000 people are in Skagway, which has little to offer, as they take either the Chilkoot Trail or the White Pass Trail to Lake Bennett. Skagway becomes a city quickly, with most people living in tents stretching into the valley for at least a mile. A 19-kilometre (12-mile) toll road is built up the canyon of White Pass but the toll gates are ignored and the business fails.
1898 Spring – Skagway is wild and lawless with outlaw Soapy Smith and his gang of con-artists and bandits robbing naive stampeders and intimidating the community. Gunfights and wild entertainment are common.
1898 July – Frank Reid holds a secret meeting to discuss Soapy Smith. Smith hears of the meeting, barges in and is shot dead by Reid. Reid died of his own injuries days later. Soapy Smith’s gang are rounded up and arrested.
1898 End – Skagway has electricity, telephone service and running water. There were over 300 businesses (including 33 saloons). The Gold Rush is essentially over.
1899 – Gold discovered in Nome, Alaska so fewer prospectors come to Skagway.
1900 End June – Skagway incorporated becoming Alaska’s first city, population 3,000.
1902 – Skagway population declines to around 700.
When was the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway constructed?
1898 April – White Pass & Yukon Railroad Company (WP&YR) forms and buys the bankrupt toll road.
1898 End May – WP&YR construction starts.
1899 February – WP&YR reach summit of White Pass, railroad climbs almost 915 metres (3000 feet) over 53 kilometres (20 miles).
1899 July – WP&YR reaches Lake Bennett in Canada.
1900 End July – WP&YR crews meet in Carcross Yukon completing railroad between Skagway and Whitehorse at a final cost of $10 million using 35,000 men.
Know Before You Go
Where is Skagway?
Skagway is on the Alaskan Panhandle, a sliver of land in southeast Alaska. It is the most northern town of the Inside Passage, a coastal shipping route weaving through the islands on the Pacific Northwest coast of North America.
Is there a Skagway ferry?
The state-run Alaskan Marine Highway Ferries service Skagway and all southeast Alaskan cities connecting them together and to Bellingham, Washington state (USA) and Prince Rupert, British Columbia (Canada).
How do I get from Skagway to Whitehorse?
The Klondike Highway, Highway 2, connects Skagway to Whitehorse and on to Dawson City Yukon, paralleling the route of the stampeders.
What is the population of Skagway?
Its permanent population fluctuates between 850 to 1000 people. This swells during the tourist season.
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