Location / Coordinates: Skagway, Alaska is situated at the very north end of Tiya Inlet, in South East Alaska. The South Klondike Highway, which connects with the Alaska Highway, ends in Skagway. Ninety miles north of Juneau via air, a little over 100 miles south of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, and one of the last stops for the Alaska Marine Highway Southeast ferry system.
Coordinates Latitude 59.46 & Longitude 135.31
Population / Elevation: Skagway, Alaska is just shy of 900 people all living at sea level. The summer season brings in a few more residents.
Description: Skagway, Alaska today remains much as it did in its infamous heyday at the turn of the last century. The Klondike Gold Rush brought thousands of gold seekers to Skagway and nearby Dyea. Broadway Street is still lined with old-time storefronts housing shops filled with jewelry, books & newspapers, fabrics & needlework, clothing & shoes, eateries & saloons, and adventure tours. Skagway, Alaska is very picturesque, original buildings against the Tongass National Forest coupled with the residents dressed up as stampeders.
What to do there: Skagway’s visitors’ center is housed in the Arctic Brotherhood Hall on Broadway Street. The hall is famous for its façade—over ten thousand piece of driftwood arranged in a pattern with the Brotherhood’s AB letters and symbols, and the year. The visitor’s center is full of pamphlets of things to do and see in Skagway and the surrounding area.
Skagway has a couple of museums worth a look. The Skagway Museum is the place to go for historical material about Alaska and Alaska’s Pioneers. Nice displays of Tlingit baskets, beadwork and carvings and a canoe are exhibited here as well as tools and gambling equipment form the gold rush days. The Corringrton Museum of Alaska History offers a record of events from prehistory to the present—all engraved as scrimshaw on a walrus tusk.
Visit the Soapy Smith’s grave and everyone else who’s buried in the Gold Rush Cemetery. The cemetery sis north of town not quite two miles walk from downtown. Bring your camera, there are some nice shots to be taken along the way as well as in the cemetery. Both Soapy Smith and his killer, Frank Reid are buried there. They had a shootout and both were killed.
July 8th every year there is a Wake for the legendary Soapy Smith. Come in costume, pay $5.00 to attend the party, and at 9:15 p.m., raise your glass of champagne and toast, “Here’s to Soapy’s Ghost!” This usually followed by the “Sprinkling of Frank.” (Frank Reid is credited with the killing of Soapy Smith.) The “Sprinkling of Frank” has caused this event to be banned from being held in the cemetery and is now held in town. This event has been going on for over one hundred years.
The only International Historical Park in the United States is in Skagway—or at least part of the park is located in Skagway. There are other units of the park in Seattle, British Columbia and the Yukon. The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is designed to preserve and interpret the history of the Klondike
Gold Rush of 1897-98. The park has restored 15 of the original buildings in Skagway, and also administers the Chilkoot Trail and a portion of the White Pass Trail. What’s left of the Dyea Townsite at the foot of the Chilkoot Trail is part of the park as well. During the summer season, there are many activities and ranger-lead programs in and around Skagway and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Some of those activies include backpacking, biking, bird watching, boating, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, kayaking, nature walks, and wildlife viewing. In the winter season there is cross-country skiing, snow skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.
For those with a love of hiking and the more strenuous the better, hike the Chilkoot Trail. This is the trail that thousands of would-be-gold-seekers traveled in 1897-98. Nearly 30 miles long, the hike lasts anywhere from three to five days. The summit is 3,739 feet in elevation. Permits are required by both the U.S. and Canada.
Driving to Dyea is a nice afternoon activity. Drive slowly as the road is narrow and winds a lot. The road takes you to the old Dyea townsite and the cemetery—the resting place for the people killed in the Palm Sunday avalanche on the Chilkoot Trail, April 3, 1898. In its heyday,around 1898, Dyea had anywhere from five to eight thousand residents, almost 50 hotels and another 50 restaurants, and not quite that many saloons. This was the place to cross Chilkoot Pass and head for the goldfields of the Klondike. Then the completiton of the White Pass & Yukon Railway happened. Dyea was abandoned overnight. Everyone left for Skagway. Not much is left of Dyea, most of the buildings were disassembled and moved to other areas closer to Skagway, or they were burned. The weather and the river have reclaimed the rest.
Fishing is popular in and around Skagway, Alaska. There are local charter boat operators available or go on your own. Trout and salmon are plentiful. Check with Fish & Game for the best time of year and location to fish for these fish.
History: The original inhabitants of the area, the Tlingits, called this area
“Skagua”, meaning “the place where the north wind blows.” In July 1897 gold was discovered in the Klondike. Prospectors, and gold-seekers, nearly 20,000 of them, arrived from all over the world. In Fevruary 1898 alone over 5,000 stampeders arrived according to the Customs Office. Arriving by boat from Seattle, up the coast of Canada, into Lynn Canal and Taiya Inlet was as close as you could get by boat. Thus “Skagway” was born. Almost overnight, this area went from a few tents to a real town with everything a stampeder could want, saloons, dancehalls with girls, gambling houses, and supply stores. Many of them met their deaths here, some via the thugs hired by Soapy Smith to rob newcomers in their sleep. From Skagway gold-seekers traveled one of two routes to the Klondike, the Chilkoot Pass from Dyea, or the White Pass trail out of Skagway.
Roughly 20,000 people were required by the Canadian Mounties to have enough supplies to last them a year, about one ton of goods, to enter into Canada. The Chilkoot Pass was an often exhausting climb, at one point, up an exposed 35-degree slope. It took numerous trips up this slope to haul one ton of supplies. Once over the top, there was a short, steep drop-off to Crater Lake, the headwaters of the Yukon River.
The White Pass Trail, was another popular route to the Klondike Gold Fields from Skagway. It was a narrow, tortuous path to the summit of White Pass. Traffic was so heavy in just a matter of weeks, that the White Pass Trail soon became an impassible marass of rocks, roots, and mud. Horses and other beasts of burden died by the hundreds here, their broken bodies pushed out of the way to rot. The Trail of 1897 soon became infamous as the “Dead Horse Trail.”
The Klondike Gold Rush ended almost as quickly as it had begun. Skagway was all but abandoned. It was saved by the completion of the White Pass & Yukon Railway which ran, and still runs, from Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada. This was the first railroad in Alaska providing jobs, supplies, and transportation to those called Skagway home. In 1979, the completion of the Klondike Highway gave Skagway a road link to the Alaska Highway and now the Alaska Marine Highway ferries connect Skagway to the rest of the world.
Today, summer tourism is the main, and in many cases, the only economic support for Skagway. Every summer thousands of tourists, much like the stampeders of 1898, travel to Skagway by cruise ships. Skagway, once again provides everything a tourist could want, dancehall girls, saloons, and shopping.
How to get there: Most visitors to Skagway arrive by cruise ship. Everyone else drives the Alaska Highway down to the Klondike Highway to Skagway, or take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry. The White Pass & Yukon Railway is available from Whitehorse, call ahead for reservations. There is a bus service from Anchorage, Fairbanks, Haines and Whitehorse, again make reservations in advance. Private boats are welcome in the small boat harbour, gas, diesel fuel and water are available. There are charter planes available as well.
Facilities: Skagway is a busy place in the summer season, call ahead for reservations. Skagway has several places to eat—cafes and restaurants. There are several hotels, a bank, a grocery store, hardware store, a clothing & shoes shop, and lots of souvenirs, jewelry and novelty shops. There is also a post office, a few churches, and a gas station.
RV info: Skagway has aa few RV parks, with full hookups, water, laundry facilities and showers, and dump facilities. Please call ahead for reservations.