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How To Spend A Day In Skagway: Activities From Cruise Port

Skagway, Alaska, attracts many cruise ships and tourists seeking to immerse themselves in the region’s stunning landscapes and fascinating past. If you’re visiting Skagway as part of an Alaska cruise and want to know how to spend a day there, we’re here to help.

Located at the northern end of the inside passage, Skagway was a significant entry point for gold miners during the late 1800s Klondike Gold Rush.

Today, the town exudes its charming gold rush era with a mix of historic buildings, and cultural attractions. As a cruise port, Skagway offers a wide range of activities to keep guests entertained.

White Pass & Yukon Route railway carriages

The number of hours spent in Skagway may factor into the excursion chosen or the distance traveled.

Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or an adventurer, Skagway has something for everyone.

Where Is The Skagway Cruise Port

Skagway is located in southeastern Alaska, near the Canadian border. Its port can accommodate four ships at Railway, Broadway, or Ore Docks and is one of the busiest cruise ports in Alaska, after Juneau.

Its port serves cruise ships and, as a major shipping port, transports goods in and out of the Yukon. The Klondike Hwy is the only road option from Skagway to British Columbia.

A Royal Caribbean ship docked in Skagway
A Royal Caribbean ship docked in Skagway

In 2019, a landslide occurred near the water, causing damage to the port and making it unsafe for cruise ships to dock there. 

While repairs are ongoing, some ships have changed their port of call to Haines, while others use tenders. This is a common practice in Alaska, where weather conditions, too many ships, or a vessel’s size may factor into the need to tender.

Transportation Options

When arriving by cruise ship, the four docks are within walking distance of downtown. Whether you prefer to walk around the town, rent a car, or take a ferry to nearby Haines, there are plenty of options for one day in port.

Skagway Rental Car Services

With the Klondike Hwy giving access to the Yukon, renting a car provides a DIY road trip. Here are the options for car rental services.

  • Klondike Cars – offers electric car rentals for a sustainable drive.
  • DIY Jeep Tours – its 4×4 vehicles are popular and often book up fast.
  • Skagway Affordable Car Rental – has 5- to 7-passenger rentals.
  • Drive About Car Rentals – they have SUVs, minivans, and passenger vans.
  • Avis Rent-A-Car

When renting a car in Skagway, check with the rental car company for any restrictions on where you can take the vehicle. This includes areas that are off-road or where you can drive into Canada.

Riding an e-bike in Skagway
Visiting the Skagway Lookout on an e-bike

Also, Klondike Electric Bicycles offer e-bike rentals. Their easy to operate bicycles offer an easier way to cover ground than walking. We rented bikes from them for a few hours, and took the road to Dyea, and covered some highlights downtown.

Skagway Ferry Connectivity

Another option for transportation in Skagway is the ferry system. The Alaska Marine Highway offers a ferry service to Haines; the journey only takes 45 minutes. 

So, if you’re docked in Skagway and want to visit Haines, or vice versa, the fast ferry provides service between these ports. For wildlife enthusiasts, the Kroschel Wildlife Center in Haines may be the best draw for taking the ferry.

If you plan to use the ferry, check the schedule and book tickets early, as the ferry can fill up quickly during peak travel times. 

Also, check the weather forecast before you go to ensure there are no ferry delays or cancellations due to inclement weather.

Things To Do In Skagway

Skagway offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the rugged wilderness, learn about the gold rush, or enjoy activities such as hiking or dog sledding.

Gold Rush Historical Attractions

Skagway was a central hub during the Klondike Gold Rush, and visitors can still experience the history of this exciting time. We felt like we were walking into a Western movie set when browsing the town.

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park visitor center
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park visitor center

The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park has two sections: one in Seattle and the other in Skagway. Since six blocks of Skagway’s downtown are part of the National Historic District, much of its character and history remain.

Take a ranger-led tour or explore on your own. Here are some historic buildings to visit.

  • The Railway Building at 103rd 2nd Ave is the administrative building for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway.
  • The Mascot Saloon at 208 C Broadway has historic exhibits and an authentic 1920 saloon.
  • Red Onion Saloon on 205 Broadway was originally a brothel during the Klondike Gold Rush. Today, it’s a bar, restaurant, and brothel museum.
  • Arctic Brotherhood Hall is located at 245 Broadway. Its exterior façade features thousands of pieces of wood. Originally built to house the Arctic Brotherhood organization, it’s now home to the Skagway Visitor Bureau.
Skagway's Arctic Brotherhood building
Arctic Brotherhood building
  • Historic Moore Homestead is the home of the first Skagway family. Learn about it’s history at 400 Spring Street.
  • The Pantheon Saloon at 399a Broadway, has seen many changes and was once a hotel, merchandise store, and then a saloon.

A short walk from town, the Gold Rush Cemetery is the resting place of some gold prospectors. Two notable characters, Frank Reid and Jefferson “Soapy” Smith, are buried there after a gunfight that took both their lives.

White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad

The White Pass and Yukon Route train is one of the most popular attractions in Skagway. We enjoyed a journey on this narrow-gauged railway, which travels through the mountains and valleys on route to the Yukon.

This historic railroad was built during the Klondike Gold Rush and was used to transport gold seekers to the Yukon. There are several route options which travel over wooden trestles, through a tunnel, all while learning the history of the railroad. 

Riding the White Pass & Yukon Route scenic railway
Enjoying a scenic ride on the White Pass train

The wooden trestles were the highlight for us, and we liked that we could stand on outside platforms to get pictures when the train went around curves.

While we did the roundtrip train journey, there are options to do the train one way and a bus the other, for contrasting views.

Dog Sledding

While most cruise guests do dog sledding in Juneau, there’s also an option in Skagway. Dog sledding is a popular activity, and visitors can experience the thrill of this Alaskan sport on both ice and dirt in Skagway.

Several dog sledding tours are available, including ones that take visitors through the beautiful wilderness surrounding Skagway. This one uses a wheeled cart on dirt, making it a more affordable option.

Those without a budget might prefer the real experience on snow and ice. I’ve enjoyed this experience and felt it was worth every penny. TEMSCO Helicopters offers this tour to Denver Glacier.

Drive To Emerald Lake

One of the primary reasons to rent a car in Skagway is to make the picturesque drive to Emerald Lake. Located in the Yukon, you’ll need a passport to make the drive.

Emerald Lake in the Yukon
Emerald Lake in the Yukon

Expect the 71-mile route to take several hours depending on the number of stops. Emerald Lake, a glacial lake known for its stunning blue-green color, might be the turnaround point, but it’s the stops that make the drive worthwhile.

Along the way, we visited a suspension bridge, the “smallest” desert in the world, and the Tagish Lake Kennels. At the kennels, we took a sled dog cart ride and learned about the Iditarod race from experts Michelle Phillips and Ed Hopkins.

Gold Panning

No visit to an old gold rush town would be complete without trying your luck at panning, too. One popular spot is the Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp. Visitors can pan for gold, an experience combined with an all-you-can-eat salmon feast.

Klondike Gold Dredge Tours offers a guided experience that includes a tour of a restored dredge and a chance to pan for gold. 

Another option is Klondike Tours Gifts, located in downtown Skagway at 351 Broadway. It provides an affordable panning experience without the gold panning setting.

Hiking In Skagway

Skagway is encompassed by breathtaking natural scenery, with numerous hiking paths suitable for individuals of varying fitness levels.

Lower Reid Falls
Lower Reid Falls

Lower Reid Falls, at the back of the Gold Rush Cemetery, is an easy stroll from town. Once near the waterfall, there is only a slight elevation gain. 

The Chilkoot Trail is a popular Skagway hiking route that takes visitors through the same mountain pass that gold seekers used during the Klondike Gold Rush. 

You can’t hike the entire route with only a day in port. However, I did the Chilkoot Hike and Float Tour, which combines part of the trail with a rafting experience. Although with a 2-mile (3.2-km) trail, some of it uphill, it does require some level of fitness.

The trail to Upper Dewey Lake provides quite the workout for avid hikers. At 8 km roundtrip and rated difficult, expect to take almost 5 hours to complete the trek. Since rainforest surrounds Skagway, remember to carry mosquito repellent to prevent being bitten.

Upper Dewey Lake
Upper Dewey Lake

Ocean Raft Adventure

This tour combines nature with a high-adrenaline ocean raft ride. Donned in red waterproof suits, guests can see sea lions, eagles, seals, whales, and beautiful cascades along Skagway’s coastline.

Zip Lining

If zip lining is more your style, there are two options in Skagway. The Klondike Adventure Park, off the Klondike Hwy, has a rope course, suspension bridges, balance beams, and six zip lines.

The Grizzly Falls course in Dyea has 11 lines, the longest being 750 feet. Guests reach the top of the mountain on a Unimog, which adds to the adventure.

Shopping And Food

For shopping enthusiasts, Skagway has a unique blend of shops, art galleries, and boutiques. The Corrington Alaska Ivory Gift Shop has a complimentary museum with lots of mammoth ivory pieces.

Shops in Skagway
Shops in Skagway

Here are some others to check out.

  • Alaska Christmas Store – has all things Christmas.
  • Rushin’s Tailor – a wonderful quilt shop.
  • The Train Shoppe – for all White Pass & Yukon Route railway merchandise.
  • Buckshot & Bobby Pins – has an eclectic selection of goods.
  • Knife & Ulu Store – sells ulu knives with bone and antler handles.
  • Klondike Gift Supply – has curated items from Alaskan artists.

When hunger hits, Skagway has a variety of restaurants and cafes to choose from. Some popular restaurants in Skagway, Alaska, include the Skagway Brewing Company, Olivia’s Bistro, Glacial Coffeehouse, and The Red Onion Saloon.

Nothing beats a tasty treat from the Kone Kompany on Broadway Street on a hot day. But our favorite restaurant, The Skagway Fish Company, by the Railway Dock, serves delicious Alaska king crab. 

Skagway's White Pass train and Emerald Lake in the Yukon