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Skagway To Emerald Lake: The Ultimate Alaska Road Trip

Alaska offers some beautiful road trips, but none are as scenic as the one from Skagway to Emerald Lake in the Yukon. The picturesque drive provides a unique perspective of glacial lakes, rugged mountains, and cascading waterfalls.

If you’re arriving by cruise ship and seeking a way to spend the day in Skagway, consider renting a vehicle and driving a portion of the highway from the coast to Dawson City in the Yukon.

The route from the coast to Emerald Lake is approximately 78 miles and takes around 2 hours. However, allow for at least six hours to make the return drive, although we took eight hours.

Driving an electric car in the Yukon

The Klondike Highway, or Alaska Route 98, is well-maintained and offers stunning views of the mountains and forests. Along the way, we stopped at scenic viewpoints and enjoyed contrasting vegetation in different climate zones.

Emerald Lake, the turnaround point, is a glacial lake with a stunning blue-green color located in the Yukon Territory of Canada. The lake is surrounded by mountains, making it a picturesque location for photography.

Renting A Car

Renting a car is a popular option for those who want to make the Yukon road trip. While tour companies offer group excursions, having a private vehicle allowed us to explore at our own pace and stop at the places that piqued our interest.

Skagway has several car rental companies, and making a reservation is advisable to ensure availability.

Gasoline Vs. Electric

When renting a car, travelers can choose between gasoline or electric vehicles. Gasoline cars are more common and readily available, but electric cars are also an option.

We made the journey in an electric car that we rented from Klondike Electric Car Rentals. We liked that we saved on the cost of a fill-up and were doing our part to reduce environmental emissions.

Electric cars come fully charged and have sufficient battery power to drive to the Yukon and back. Our road trip lasted eight hours, and we returned the car with 40% battery life remaining.

Our rental came with binoculars, although we carried our own and a road trip binder. The binder had information on wildlife in the area and the most popular roadside attractions.

Electric car from Klondike Electric Car Rentals
Electric car from Klondike Electric Car Rentals

Here are the options for car rentals:

  • Klondike Electric Car Rentals (398 5th Ave) has five electric cars and electric bike rentals. When fully charged, the Ford Mustang Mach-E has a range capacity of over 200 miles, more than enough to get to Emerald Lake and back. The cars accommodate five passengers.
  • DIY Jeep Tours (2nd and State Street) is another popular option. Guests can pick up their Jeep rentals ten minutes from their cruise ship. Jeeps seat up to five with sufficient room for bags and accessories.
  • Affordable Car Rental (Skagwaycarrental.com) at 648 Broadway offers convenient pick-up and drop-off at the port. Guests can opt for a USD 10 Bites on Broadway brown bag lunch to supplement the drive.
  • Avis (2020 2nd Ave) has a limited number of rental vehicles.
  • Drive About Car Rental (202 9th Ave) offers 7—and 15-passenger rentals with its Ford Explore XL and Econoline 350 vehicles. These are the best options for large families.
  • Turo allows you to rent from a local host. You can pick a vehicle and price point within your budget.

Travel Essentials

Before embarking on this road trip, you’ll need a passport as the route crosses the border into Canada. Since there were few services along the way, we carried water and snacks.

A jacket is highly recommended regardless of the weather conditions in Skagway. The road travels through different climatic zones where temperatures can fluctuate widely.

We started in Skagway, where it was 60F, hit the White Pass, barely 40F, and finished in Emerald Lake for a high of 80F. Early road trips in May or late ones in September may encounter snow in White Pass.

While our car came with GPS, it isn’t necessary for the road trip. The route follows the same highway all the way.

Wildlife Encounters

When driving the Klondike Highway, visitors may spot wildlife such as bears, goats, caribou, and other smaller creatures.

Bears are common in the Yukon. If you see one, do not entice or feed it. Better still, don’t stop and keep driving. A fed bear is a dead bear. So, do your part to keep the bears wild.

Key Attractions On The Klondike Hwy

There are many attractions along the Klondike Highway. We reviewed the route before arriving in Skagway and chose where to stop within our allowable time.

Pitchfork Falls

Pitchfork Falls
Pitchfork Falls

Located just off the right-hand side of Klondike Highway, about 7 miles north of Skagway, Pitchfork Falls is a stunning cascade. The waterfall descend from Goat Lake, which provides Skagway with 100% hydroelectric power.

William Moore Bridge

The William Moore Bridge is a historic bridge on the Klondike Highway, about 10 miles north of Skagway. Built in 1904, it is one of the few remaining examples of a wooden truss bridge in the area.

Summit Lake Lookout

Summit Lake Lookout is a scenic viewpoint on the Klondike Highway, about 17 miles from Skagway. From the lookout, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Summit Lake and the surrounding mountains.

Fog may shield the area when driving through White Pass and by Summit Lake in the morning. As the day progresses, the fog may lift, allowing views on the return drive.

Around this area and further up the highway, there are opportunities to see the White Pass & Yukon Route train on its route into the Yukon. The train journey was the highlight of another trip we took to Skagway.

Tormented Valley

The Tormented Valley
The Tormented Valley

Tormented Valley is a scenic valley on the Klondike Highway, about an hour north of Skagway. It is known for its rugged beauty and is a popular area for wildlife viewing and hiking.

We couldn’t see the mountains or lakes due to fog when we passed through in the morning. However, we stopped to appreciate the area’s beauty on the drive back. The Tormented Valley was my favorite area of the drive.

Crossing the railroad tracks, I noticed a plethora of purple wildflowers blooming next to the tracks.

Canadian Customs

Canadian Customs is located on the Klondike Highway, just north of the border crossing into Canada. Visitors must stop here to clear customs before continuing to the Yukon.

We found the process quick and straightforward despite a few tour buses.

Yukon Suspension Bridge

Visiting the Yukon Suspension Bridge
Visiting the Yukon Suspension Bridge

We are big fans of suspension bridges and rarely pass one without crossing. The Yukon Suspension Bridge is a small pedestrian bridge located on the Klondike Highway, about an hour and a half north of Skagway.

The bridge spans the Tutshi River and offers panoramic vistas of the river and surrounding mountains. Klondike Car Rentals offered tickets which we pre-purchased when we booked our rental.

View of the Tushi River from the bridge
View of the Tushi River from the bridge

We spent an hour crossing the bridge, touring the huts, and getting selfies with their Yukon Suspension Bridge picture frames. We loved their world map, which invites visitors to add a pin to indicate where they are from.

If you’re hungry, a shop at the suspension bridge sells beverages, sandwiches, and snacks.

Tutshi Sled Dog Tours

Dog mushing in the Yukon
Dog mushing in the Yukon

The stop at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours was the highlight of our drive to Emerald Lake. Michelle Phillips and her partner, Ed Hopkins, own Tagish Lake Kennels, which currently has 65 dogs at the time of our visit.

At the kennels, we petted the 17-week-old husky pups and took a ride with Michelle Phillips and a husky team.

Our dog team
Our dog team

During the ride, it was nice to gain more insight into the world of dog mushing and hear Michelle’s experiences of doing the Iditarod. Riders could sit or stand on the back of the four-wheeled UTV.

Tagish Lake

Tagish Lake is a beautiful lake about two hours north of Skagway. The lake is known for its stunning blue-green color and is a popular spot for fishing and boating.

Welcome To Yukon Sign

No visit to the Yukon would be complete without taking a selfie at the Welcome to Yukon sign, which is located five minutes north of Tutshi Sled Dog Tours.

Beyond the Yukon sign, you’ll pass the Venus Silver Mine on the highway’s right. There is no pullout, but seeing a historic mine shaft hanging off a steep rocky cliff is interesting.

Bove Island

Drive another 8 minutes beyond the mine shaft to Bove Island Viewpoint. Here, we enjoyed stunning views of Bove Island, the surrounding mountains, and Tagish Lake.

Bove Island
Bove Island

The greenery in front of the viewpoint is overgrown, shielding views of the island. As my husband left the viewpoint, I snapped a better picture as there was a small clearing.

Carcross – Lunch At Bistro On Bennett

Sixty-five miles from Skagway is Carcross, a great stopping point for lunch. The Bistro on Bennett might be busy, but we found the service quick and the food decent. My husband ordered the Bison burger, and I had the Elk Sausage on a gluten-free bun.

Carcross is known for its historic buildings and stunning natural beauty. Be sure to see the Carcross Railway Bridge and visit the Matthew Watson General Store.

Carcross Desert

Just north of Carcross, the Carcross Desert attracts visitors to see its mounds of sandy dunes. This is a quick stop for a photo shoot, or you could attempt to climb one of the dunes.

Carcross Desert
Carcross Desert

The dunes are a sensitive area, and I was disheartened to see tourists bottling the sand as souvenirs. Please don’t be one of those visitors.

Caribou Crossing Trading Post

Caribou Crossing is a wildlife museum and petting zoo that families should visit if they haven’t stopped at Tutshi Sled Dog Tours. Admission is inexpensive: CAD 15 for adults and CAD 10 for children, making it a budget-friendly stop.

Visiting with the husky puppies is popular, but it’s also an excellent place for lunch if you didn’t opt for it at Carcross. The facility offers dog sled rides, a Yukon Museum, and a great ice cream parlor.

Emerald Lake

Just north of Carcross, the highway passes Spirit Lake on the right. Slow down as Emerald Lake creeps up fast on the left. This is the turnaround point for the Klondike Highway road trip.

Visiting Emerald Lake, Yukon
Visiting Emerald Lake

The lake is known for its stunning blue-green color and is a popular spot for hiking, fishing, and photography. It isn’t the only lake with turquoise hues, as others in the area, including Spirit Lake, emit the same colors.

Welcome To Alaska Sign

On the return drive, the Welcome to Alaska sign is reached after a 70-minute drive or 58 miles. The Welcome to Alaska sign is located south of the border crossing into Alaska.

The sign marks the border between the Yukon and Alaska and is a popular photo spot. The views are stunning as you look down into the valley beyond the sign.

Bridal Veil Falls

Just south of the Captain William Moore Bridge, there’s a small pullout for Bridal Veil Falls on the right. Small bus tours frequently visit this area, so there may not be room to stop.

From here, it’s a 15-minute drive back to Skagway. Before planning the drive to Emerald Lake from Skagway, make sure you have sufficient port time and plan the stops accordingly. Most visitors do the drive in six hours, but we took our time and completed the journey in eight hours.

Our rental car that we drove from Skagway to Emerald Lake in the Yukon