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Location/Climate: Northernmost end of the Lynn Canal, 95 air miles north of Juneau. 26"/yr. precip., 18°F67°F.
Population: 811 (5.5 percent native).
Travel Attractions: Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, Chilkoot Trail, Dyea site, White Pass and Yukon Railroad excursions, Historic District, various private museums and tourist attractions.
Getting There: Scheduled A.M.H.S. ferries from Haines, Juneau, and points south; scheduled air service from Juneau, Haines, and Whitehorse, Yukon; scheduled water taxi from Haines; vehicle access via the Klondike Highway (AK 2) from the Alaska Highway; bus/rail from Whitehorse.
Information: Visitor Information Center in the Arctic Brotherhood Hall, Broadway between 2nd and 3rd in the Historic District, 983-2855, www.skagway.org.
In 1897 thousands of gold seekers began arriving in the new towns of Skagway and Dyea. They came from Seattle and other Pacific ports, most having no idea that the majority of worthwhile Klondike claims had been staked the year before. Early seekers found a Skagway that was no more than a lawless jumble of tents and shacks. By the turn of the century, Dyea was fading fast, the White Pass and Yukon Railroad was shuttling people inland, and Skagway was a bustling, established town.
Situated at the head of the Inside Passage, Skagway is 600 miles from Dawson City and the historic gold fields. Before the railroad was completed, miners could choose between two 35-mile trails to reach Bartlett Lake, the beginning of a long downriver passage to their goal. The Chilkoot Trail from Dyea was the toughest on the miners. Pack animals couldnt manage the high pass, forcing men to shuttle their gear into Canada on repeated foot trips. Only at the end of 1897 were trams completed to aid in the task. The other route was the White Pass Trail out of Skagway. Over 3,000 pack animals, overloaded and unsuited to the trails rocky terrain, perished on this route.
The Canadian authorities, fearing a famine, demanded that miners come equipped with enough food to last a year. It took an average of three months for each of the 20,000 to 30,000 men to shuttle their gear to the lakes. Crime and disease took a heavy toll on the American side of the border. Though life was better ordered by the mounties in Canada, most miners who reached Dawson were lucky if they found jobs working the "diggins" for others. By the end of 1898, the lode was failing and miners began to leave for home or newer strikes elsewhere.
Today Skagway is a tourist town catering to cruise-ship visitors who come for the gold-rush history of Skagways historic district, excursions on the narrow-gauge White Pass and Yukon line, and the other attractions of the Klondike Gold Rush Historic Park. More adventurous travelers enjoy a four- to six-day hike over Chilkoot Pass on the Chilkoot Trail, certainly one of the best of Alaskas developed trails. There are also several good day hikes and overnight options out of the basin.
Hiking Trails near Skagway
Lower Dewey Lake Trail (0.7 mile, 500' gain)An easy trail, the Lower Dewey starts at the east end of 2nd Avenue and climbs to the north end of the lake. At the lake, head south along either shore to the Sturgills Landing Trail (3.2 miles total from town, 1,000' gain mid-hike, no net gain) for moderate forest hiking and picnic/camping options on the shore of Taiya Inlet. From the north end of Lower Dewey Lake, a strenuous trail climbs to Upper Dewey Lake (3 miles total from town, 3,080' gain) and on to Devils Punchbowl (4.2 miles total from town, 3,700'). A reservable Forest Service cabin is found at the upper lake and the views above treeline are stunning. RT1.5 hours to all day.
Icy Lake Trail (2 miles, 1,000' gain)An easy trail contours north from Lower Dewey Lake, or you can start directly from the east end of 2nd Avenue. Icy Lake is a good picnic spot; a mile beyond is pretty Upper Reid Falls. RThalf day from town.
A.B. Mountain Trail (4.8 miles, 5,000' gain)Plan for a long, strenuous day to earn the stellar views from this ridge summit on the spur between the Taiya and Skagway Rivers. Some good views lower down. Cross the airstrip and footbridge at the west end of 1st Avenue. Trail follows ridgecrest from bend in Dyea Road. RT810 hrs.
Denver Glacier Trail (3.5 miles and 1,200' gain from train drop-off)Have the WP&Y train drop you at the trailhead before it crosses the East Fork of the Skagway River. A difficult and poor trail climbs above treeline to the glaciers moraine. Good high-basin exploring. RT812 hrs.
Laughlin Glacier Trail (1.5 miles and 200' gain from train drop-off to cabin; 2 more miles and 1,900' gain to glacier)Easy trail into wonderful cirque with hanging glaciers. Reservable cabin available (park visitor center in Skagway or Forest Service office in Juneau). Have train make flag stop at south side of Skagway River bridge. Stay overnight if possible. RT610 hrs.
Things to See and Do in Skagway
The old buildings and boardwalks of the Historic District are themselves the main attraction in touristy Skagway. Stop at both the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park visitor center at the train station and the Visitor Information Center in the Arctic Brotherhood (A.B.) Hall, both near 2nd and Broadway. Walking-tour informational pamphlets are free.
Alaskan Wildlife Adventure and MuseumThis new museum features about 70 mounted Alaskan and Yukon animals, including moose, musk ox, bear, lynx, and Dall sheep. Located at 480 Spring Street, open daily in summer, 983-3600.
Corrington Museum of Alaskan HistoryExhibits of Alaskan history and prehistory are featured, including original art and a collection of scrimshawed walrus tusks. Located at 5th and Broadway, open daily in the summer from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Gold Rush CemeteryGraves include that of Soapy Smith, the local crime boss during the first year of the gold rush. Located 1.5 miles north of the Historic District (take State Street north and follow signs). A short walk from the cemetery is Reid Falls, named for Frank Reid, the town hero who shot Soapy Smith and died from the wound he received at the time. Guide booklets to the cemetery can be purchased at the visitor center.
Skagway OverlookTake State Street and the Klondike Highway out of town, then drive 2 miles up Dyea Road for a great view of Skagway and the harbor.
City of Skagway Skagway MuseumLocated in the Arctic Brotherhood Hall, Broadway between 2nd and 3rd, though it may be moved back into old McCabe College. Features a collection of gold-rush and native Alaskan artifacts. Gold-rush centennial films are shown. Open daily in summer 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 983-2420.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park
Location/Size: Several small units in Skagway.
Main Activities: History appreciation, hiking, backpacking.
Gateway Towns/Getting There: Skagway/scheduled ferry service from Haines and points south; scheduled air service from Juneau, Haines, and Whitehorse; vehicle access via the Klondike Highway (AK 2) from the Alaska Highway; bus/train from Whitehorse.
Park access is on foot in downtown Skagway, via 9-mile road or boat shuttle to Dyea and head of Chilkoot Trail, via White Pass and Yukon Railroad or Klondike Highway (AK 2) for views of White Pass (inaccessible on foot).
Facilities, Camping, Lodging: Visitor center, established trails, historic buildings and sites. Established campgrounds along Chilkoot Trail and at the Dyea site.
Headquarters and Information: Headquarters, P.O. Box 517, Skagway, AK 99840, 983-2921, www.nps.gov/klgo; visitor center and White Pass and Yukon Railroad Station, 2nd Avenue and Broadway.
The main tourist attraction in Skagway is the downtown Historic District with its vintage buildings. For adventurous visitors, the Chilkoot Trail is the big draw. Both are a part of Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, as are the historic site of Dyea, much of the White Pass Trail route, and an area of Pioneer Square in Seattle. Gold-rush history dominates Skagway, and the park manages the best of it. Stop at the visitor center for a park map, displays, and information.
Chilkoot Trail (33 miles, 3,700' gain northbound, 1,200' gain southbound)Perhaps the best developed of Alaskas relatively few long-distance trails, the route begins at the abandoned town of Dyea, a short drive or boat shuttle from Skagway. Climbing along the Taiya River to Chilkoot Pass, the trail crosses into Canada and continues through lake country to the train station at Lake Bennett. Northbound walkers enjoy the same experience the miners had on their first trip into Canada. Southbound walkers can enjoy a hike with less elevation gain.
At the north end of the Chilkoot, hikers can take a cutoff trail to the train tracks from Bare Loon Lake, then walk the tracks to the highway (5 miles). A daily train departs Lake Bennett for Skagway at 9 a.m., while a tour train that runs Thursday through Monday arrives in Lake Bennett from Skagway at noon, then returns at 1 p.m. (see White Pass & Yukon Route below). A water taxi shuttles travelers from the Lake Bennett station to Carcross, Yukon, (867) 667-1486.
There are established campgrounds every 3 or 4 miles along the route, as well as numerous historic sites and random artifacts from the gold-rush days. Stop at the park visitor center in Skagway for detailed information on conditions, Canadian customs, north-end transport, and easy-to-get permits. Through trail34 days.
Where to Stay in Skagway
Golden North Hotel, P.O. Box 343, 3rd and Broadway, 983-2451. $45$75 (some private bath, some shared). Skagways oldest operating hotel, in the heart of the Historic District.
Portland House, 5th and State Street, 983-2493. $30$45. Nine-room inn built in 1897, shared baths, restaurant, in Historic District.
Skagway Home Hostel, 3rd between State and Main, 983-2131. $15. Fifteen beds, curfew, shuttle, laundry, kitchen, common room.
Westmark Inn, 3rd and Spring Street, (800) 544-0970, 983-6000. Large, modern hotel. Alaskas nicest chain. Restaurants, free shuttle.
Wind Valley Lodge, Klondike Highway, half-mile north of Historic District, 983-2236. $62$80, under 12 free. Nice motel, AAA, courtesy shuttle, restaurant.
Where to Eat in Skagway
Corner Cafe, 4th and State Street, 983-2155. Breakfast and lunch.
Red Onion, 2nd and Broadway, 983-2222. Pizzas, nachos, entertainment, and tourists.
Sweet Tooth Cafe, 3rd and Broadway, 983-2405. Real home cooking and ice cream.
White Pass and Yukon Route
Skagways most popular single attraction for tourists is also of interest to backpackers and those traveling between the Southeast and the Yukon or Alaskan Interior. Completed in 1900, the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Route replaced the trails as the main mode of transit for the first leg of the trip to the Klondike. Today the routes historic trains offer spectacular views, flag stops at trailheads, and a 5-times-weekly round-trip to Lake Bennett where the early miners finished walking and took to the water. Its also possible to link with a bus to Whitehorse.
Three trains operate regularly. One takes three-hour round trips to the summit of White Pass, two or three times daily. A second is based in Fraser, British Columbia, and serves the daily train/bus run between Skagway and Whitehorse. A third takes an all-day tour between Skagway and Lake Bennett. Chilkoot Trail hikers can catch Skagway-bound Fraser-based train at Lake Bennett at 9 a.m. Thursday through Monday. The Lake Bennett tour train arrives at the lake at around noon and departs for Skagway at 1 p.m. About six times a summer, a special train does the Lake Bennett tour, pulled by a Mikado-class 282 Baldwin steam engine. Its a must for rail buffs (call for schedule).
The station is at 2nd Avenue and Broadway, (800) 343-7373, 983-2217, www.whitepassrailroad.com. Summit trips are $80; the Lake Bennett tour goes for $120 (includes coffee, lunch, Lake Bennett guide), the Chilkoot Trail pick-up or drop-off for $65, and the special steam-engine tours for $160. Kids are half-price on all trips.