Cruise and Beach Destinations
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Skagway Alaska Cruise Port: Tips, Attractions, Weather

Skagway train takes cruise visitors into mountains. © 2019 Scott S. Bateman
Skagway train takes cruise visitors into mountains. © 2019 Scott S. Bateman

The Skagway cruise port is a colorful small town with a charming atmosphere and one fantastic excursion by train.

Nearly 1 million people visit the Skagway Alaska cruise port every year, according to the Skagway Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Yet the town has a year-round population of only 900 people. Despite its small size, it can host more than 10,000 people a day, the bureau says.

This small town, 100 miles north of Juneau, is nestled among the hills and mountains of Haines State Forest. Ships reach it by traveling through the long Chilkat Inlet, often after stopping at Juneau. Skagway is near the world class Glacier Bay.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

Walking Around Attractions

Skagway Cruise Port Map

Passengers whose ship berths at the main dock simply walk off the ship and onto Broadway Street, which is the main tourism district. It has the usual shops and restaurants catering to tourists. It also is clean, bright and colorful.

Not surprisingly, the tourism district isn’t large for a town of 900 people, although it is large for a town of this size because of summer-only businesses and employees. A casual, browsing walk from the cruise dock to the other end of Broadway and back again can take about two hours—assuming some stops along the way. A handful of nice shops are on a few of the short side streets.

The main attractions of Skagway are natural and outside of town, but the town itself has several interesting points of interest. They include the Arctic Brotherhood Hall, the visitor center for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and the “haunted” Golden North Hotel.

All of them are on Broadway street. Simply walk about three tenths of a mile northeast toward the town to reach them.

The Arctic Brotherhood Hall, 245 Broadway, has nearly 9,000 driftwood sticks nailed to it. The visitors bureau says it may be the most photographed building in Alaska. The building at 245 Broadway is three tenths of a mile northeast of the cruise port. As a seasoned traveler, I can say it’s one of the weirdest-looking buildings I have ever seen.

The visitor center for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park at 2nd and Broadway has hourly showings of historic films, Ranger presentations, guided walking tours of the Skagway Historic District and special evening presentations.

Owners of the “haunted” Golden North Hotel, just beyond the Klondike visitor center, claimed it was the oldest operating hotel in Alaska. But the hotel part of the business recently closed, and it now has a bar and restaurant.

Captain William Moore cabin at Fifth Avenue and Spring Street was the first house built in Skagway before the Gold Rush. Built in 1887, it is the oldest structure in Skagway. The U.S. National Park Service has restored several interior rooms using photographs taken by the Moores in 1904.

Gold Rush Cemetery, Main Street and 23rd Avenue, has the graves of milers, criminals and con artists dating back to the late 1800s. It is about two miles from the cruise docks. But for anyone who walks to the end of Broadway while shopping, it’s only a half mile.

Budget travelers who can’t or don’t want to walk it can take the low-cost town shuttle service to reach it. The shuttle is $2 one way or $5 for the entire day.

Another half mile beyond the cemetery is Lower Reid Falls. It has a two-mile trail with moderate elevation.

Shore Excursions

Skagway Alaska downtown
Town of Skagway. Credit: Pixabay license

The town is a pleasant and free attraction. But nothing among the Skagway attractions is quite as memorable as the White Pass and Yukon Route railway.

The train takes visitors from downtown Skagway on a 40-mile excursion to White Pass Summit. The trip lasts three to three-and-a-half hours going up to the summit at nearly 3,000 feet above sea level and back again.

The route includes two tunnels, trestle bridges and waterfalls. Prices at the time of this writing were $134 for teens and adults and half off for children 3-12. Look for discounts in coupon books.

We chose a unique variation on the train trip. We road the WPYR railroad up to White Pass, got off the train and road bikes with guides almost entirely downhill back into Skagway. The four-and-a-half hour excursion was $219 per person. The minimum age is 13.

Another option for visitors with more time is an eight-hour, 120-mile excursion between Skagway and Carcross in the Yukon Territory. The trip includes a 45-minute layover at Bennett Station, an historic gold town In British Columbia. Tickets including lunch were $234 per person and half price for children 3-12.

Like several other ports, Skagway has a dog sledding camp. Visitors don’t actually dog “sled” because there is no snow in the summer. They dog “wheel”. The dogs pull visitors in carts along various nearby trails. Still, it’s a fun excursion, especially for families with young children who get to play with the puppies. The cost is about $139 per person with discounts for children, although other discounts are sometimes available.

Anyone who wants real dog sledding while on a glacier can spend $500 or more per person for a two-hour tour.

Skagway has plenty of other adventure excursions including ATV rides, rafting, canoeing, rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding and river floats. Prices usually range between $85 and $150 per person depending on any transportation needs and the length of the excursion.

The 33-mile Chilkoot Trail begins the route to the Yukon Goldfields. Hikers can go from tidewater at Dyea to Bennett Lake in Canada (17 trail miles in US; 16 miles in Canada). Anyone thinking about going on the trail should first visit the Trail Center on Broadway between 5th and 6th Avenues. It is open from May to September.

Getting Around / Transportation

Skagway has a seasonal transit system that runs from May 1 to Oct. 1. The SMART shuttles run every 20 minutes between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. from all cruise ship docks into town. They stop at 3rd, 5th and 7th avenues.

Between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., the shuttles run every 30 minutes from 3rd Avenue to the north end of town. They stop at 3rd, 5th and 7th avenues as well as the Gold Rush Cemetery road, Alaska 360 and Jewell Gardens.

Prices are $5 per person for an all-day pass or $2 per person for a one-way trip.

Otherwise, Skagway is small enough for visitors to see most of the town on foot.

Weather / Best Times to Go

The U.S. National Weather Service doesn’t have any historical records for Skagway weather patterns. But it does for nearby Juneau, which will give visitors some ideas about what to expect.

For good reason, cruise ships usually limit their visits to the months of May through September. May and September have average high temperatures in the upper 50s Fahrenheit. June through July have average highs in the low 60s Fahrenheit.

May and June are the driest months with average precipitation (snow, rain or both) of nearly five inches a month. July climbs to more than five inches, August leaps to eight inches and September leads even more to nearly 13 inches.

On the day we visited in late July, the sky was clear with afternoon temperatures in the mid 70s Fahrenheit.

Other Tips

  • Skagway’s original name, Skagua, means “Home of the North Wind” in Tlingit.
  • Skagway is one of only three cities in Southeast Alaska accessible by road.
  • The Lynn Canal is the deepest and longest fjord in North America.
  • Visitors can hike to Harding Glacier.
    Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
    June 08, 2022