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Hiking in Skagway: 8 Easy To Challenging Routes To Explore

If you’re seeking a hiking adventure in the heart of Alaska, Skagway beckons. With its awe-inspiring natural beauty, this Alaskan port unveils a myriad of trails, each a gateway to a unique exploration, catering to hikers of all experience levels. 

From leisurely strolls perfect for families to demanding treks that will push even the most seasoned hikers, this town ensures there’s something for everyone.

One of the most popular hikes is the Chilkoot Trail, a historic route once used by gold rush prospectors. Today, it offers picturesque views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. I hiked part of this route on a Chilkoot Trail & Float excursion, and it made for a fun outing.

A section of the Chilkoot hiking tail in Skagway, Alaska

For those looking for a more leisurely hike, the coastal destination offers an option to Smuggler’s Cove. This trail has stunning ocean views and a chance to see marine wildlife. I was lucky enough to see humpback whales frolicking in the waters near the coastline.

The hike to Gold Rush Cemetery and Reid Falls might be considered a walk than a hike, but I enjoyed learning more about the area’s rich gold mining history.

Preparing For A Hike

Hiking is a great way to spend a day in Skagway for those who want to avoid a costly tour. Before heading out on a hike, having the right gear and supplies can elevate the experience.

Here are some items we found helpful:

  • I recommend sturdy, comfortable boots with good traction and hiking poles for challenging trails, although good runners were fine for easy trails.
  • Wear weather-appropriate clothing, including layers for changing temperatures.
  • Wear sunscreen and sunglasses to protect against UV rays.
  • Carry a backpack for gear and supplies.
  • Take plenty of water and high-energy snacks.
  • Mosquito repellent is a must from mid-May onwards until the frost keeps the bugs away.
Mountainous scenery near Skagway
Mountainous scenery near Skagway

Expect muddy trail conditions in the spring and fall. This is when hiking boots are preferred over everyday runners. Here are some of the most popular trails in Skagway, Alaska, most of which are near the cruise port for visitors coming by ship.

Lower Dewey Lake

The Dewey Lakes Trail System provides a series of popular routes, from the easy option to the Lower Dewey Lake Trail to the more challenging hike to the Upper Lake. 

Be cautious when crossing the railway tracks to reach the trailhead behind the east end of 4th Avenue.

The trail to the lower lake is a 1.5-mile hike through a pine forest, with an option to circumnavigate the lake, which doubles the distance.

This trail is easy to moderate and suitable for hikers of all skill levels. My calves burned on the first quarter mile, but it got easier after 25 minutes.

Lower Dewey Lake
Lower Dewey Lake

The lake is pretty but doesn’t compare with Emerald Lake in the Yukon, another option for a port day in Skagway. However, it requires a rental car and a road trip to Emerald Lake from Skagway.

At the lake, I found a canoe and life jackets that were complimentary to use. Please respect someone else’s property and return it in the same manner.

Upper Dewey Lake

The Upper Dewey Lake trail is more moderate, but the breathtaking views were rewarding. To reach the lake, the trail branches off the loop at the northern section of Lower Dewey Lake.

This trek is reserved for the more experienced hikers and those not concerned about the hours to reach it. To put it into perspective, the route to the lower lake climbs 500 feet, and the trail to the upper reaches a little more than 3,000 feet above sea level. Quite the difference!

The 3.5-mile trail travels through dense forests, offering many opportunities to see wildlife. In the wooded area, look for grouse and ptarmigan, which are hard to spot because they are well camouflaged.

Once into the alpine terrain, pikas and marmots are often sighted amongst the rock piles, and mountain goats might grace the peaks above. While I’ve seen marmots and pikas, I’ve only ever seen one grouse, but not at this location.

Upper Dewey Lake
Upper Dewey Lake

At the end of the trail, the upper lake is much more picturesque than its lower neighbor. It provides an ideal place to swim or fish in summer.

There’s an option to continue onto the Devil’s Punchbowl. However, this difficult route takes over 6 hours due to elevation gain, and only the most experienced hikers should tackle it. 

Prior to tackling this trail or any other challenging route, a stop at the Visitor’s Bureau will provide current hiking conditions, maps, and trail closures.

Yakutania Point

The Yakutania Point trail is a short, easy route, suitable for families and those without prior hiking experience. When I arrived by cruise ship, I could see the point from the port side of my vessel.

Head to Terminal Way from town and walk south to a metal footbridge that crosses the Skagway River near the cruise port. Turn left and follow the Yakutania Point Trail, which travels through a rainforest. 

Yakutania Point
Yakutania Point

At the trail’s end, I had to scramble across rocks to reach the ocean, but the views were worth the effort. Here, I enjoyed the beautiful vistas of the Taiya Inlet, Mount Harding across the inlet, and the cruise ships in port.

Expect to spend 30 minutes on this out-and-back hike. That leaves plenty of time to explore the rest of Skagway or continue onto Smuggler’s Cove.

Smuggler’s Cove

The Smuggler’s Cove trail is an extension of the Yakutania Trail. It is 2.5 miles roundtrip and takes up to two hours to complete, depending on your hiking ability.

From Yakutania Point, the route narrows and meanders through a dense coastal forest, but I enjoyed peekaboo views of the ocean. The coastline between Yakutania Point and Smuggler’s Cove is a favorite spot for harbor seals, especially in spring.

Smuggler's Cove
Smuggler’s Cove

At the end of the trail, a grassy cove with lovely views of the mountains across the water welcomed my arrival. This cove is a bird lover’s paradise, with chances to see Arctic terns, blue herons, and a variety of other waterfowl.

Lower Reid Falls

The route to Lower Reid Falls and Gold Rush Cemetery is a leisurely walk, with an ascent before the cascade. From Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center, follow State Street north to the end.

Gold Rush Cemetery
Gold Rush Cemetery

After the road curves left, walk two blocks, cross the road, and continue on the gravel road past the White Pass & Yukon Route railway yard to the Gold Rush Cemetery.

This cemetery is the oldest in Skagway and has an interesting history. Here, I found graves of get-rich prospectors, including those of Frank Reid and Soapy Smith, who died in a gunfight.

At the back of the small cemetery, a small, marked trail leads to Lower Reid Falls. While I have visited several times, the amount of water flow will depend on the season.

Lower Reid Falls
Lower Reid Falls

Chilkoot Trail

The Chilkoot Trail is 33 miles long and takes hikers through some of the most astounding scenery from Alaska to Canada.

The rugged trail follows the historic route the gold prospectors took many years ago. It is challenging, and trekkers require a permit to hike it.

If you’re up for a challenge, the Chilkoot Trail takes three to five days, starting at Dyea in Skagway and ending at Bennet Lake in British Columbia. The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway provides a one-way journey back to Skagway.

stairs on the Chilkoot Trail
Steps on the Chilkoot Trail

If arriving by cruise ship, guests can hike a two-mile portion of the trail from Dyea to the Taiya River. I took this hike and recommend boots with ankle support due to the numerous roots and rocks on the ascending path.

Mosquito repellent is also a must. I hiked in late May, and the mosquitoes were rampant. Expect the pesky bugs until frost arrives, which keeps them at bay. 

Denver Glacier

To access the next two trails, hikers must catch the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad to a specific drop-off point. The train offers this Denver rountrip service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and space is limited.

Stop for Denver Glacier Trail
Stop for Denver Glacier Trail

Denver Glacier trail is 5 miles long and should take 2-1/2 hours round trip. It passes through a dense forest of spruce and hemlock and has a steep uphill climb.

The trail offers stunning views of the Denver Glacier and the surrounding mountains. Watch the time as the train picks up either 2.75 hours or 8 hours later.

Laughton Glacier

The Laughton Glacier trail is accessed by the same train further up the mountain pass – make sure to purchase the Skagway to Laughton roundtrip pass.

Riding the White Pass train in Skagway
Riding the White Pass train

It’s a 6-mile hike through a beautiful valley with rocky terrain near the glacier. If you plan to explore Laughton Glacier, wear suitable footwear and prepare for wet feet.

If you opt for the later train pick-up, exploration is possible at the glacier.

Time Management

When hiking from the cruise ship, time management is crucial. Be sure to check the all-aboard time and get back to the cruise ship before it departs.

I recommend hitting the trail early in the day, leaving adequate time to explore the town or do something else. Those unsure about hiking alone can purchase a tour to enjoy a group hike.

Guided Hikes And Tours

Guided hikes and tours can be an excellent option for those new to the area or wanting to learn more about the local history and terrain. It also provides an element of safety for solo travelers.

One of the main benefits I liked about taking a guided hike was I never had to worry about getting lost. 

With a local guide, I also learned about the local flora and fauna, as well as the history and culture of Skagway. This made my hiking experience more enjoyable and educational.

On a group hike on the Chilkoot Trail
On a group hike on the Chilkoot Trail

My guide knew the terrain and any potential hazards, which allowed us extra time to navigate tricky sections of the trail. They can also provide first aid if needed.

How To Choose A Tour

When choosing a guided hike or tour in Skagway, consider your fitness level and hiking experience. Some tours may be more strenuous, and it’s vital that hiking ability and trail difficulty must match.

You should also consider the length of the tour and what’s included. 

Some tours may include transportation to and from the trailhead, while others may provide snacks or lunch. Most tours will go ahead, rain or shine, so dress appropriately for changing weather conditions.

Finally, reading a few reviews gives me an overview of the excursions and whether others felt they were worthwhile. 

Whether hiking independently or taking a guided hiking tour, Skagway offers a beautiful landscape waiting to be discovered.

So, step outside your comfort zone and try a hike, because sometimes, the unexpected brings the best surprises.

Hiking trails in Skagway and me wearing hiking boots