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Original Railroad Depot in Skagway now serves as NPS Vistiro Center
Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park Visitor Center in the original Railroad Depot.

Skagway is Gonna Get You: How to Catch Gold Fever with Kids

As the northernmost deep water port of Alaska’s Inside Passage, Skagway boomed during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896. Revived during WWII and again as a cruise port, Skagway boasts beautiful historic buildings and unique adventures.

Admire maritime graffiti

Initially a bit appalled by the port’s hillside, we learned the paintings showcase Skagway’s maritime history. Since the 1920s, crews have marked their safe arrival to the top of the Inside Passage by adorning a rock in harbor with their captain and ship’s name. Over time, the outdoor gallery has expanded to include affirmations and marriage proposals.

painted rocks in Skagway
Painted hillside greets cruise passengers in Skagway.

Stroll Skagway’s historic streets

At four blocks wide, and just over a mile long, the entire town can be covered in a couple of hours. Strolling the main downtown is an easy hour at most. We highly recommend following your nose to Yukon Heath’s Popcorn Emporium and marveling at the driftwood facade on the Artic Brotherhood. While we found general Alaskan souvenirs to be cheapest in Ketchikan, there are plenty of tchotchkes around Skagway too;)

Catch Gold Fever at the Klondike NHP

With dozens of buildings spread around town, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park shares the story of the 100,000 people who sold everything and rushed to potential riches. Sadly only 30,000 ever made it and only a few actually struck riches. Many opened businesses along the 500 journey to accommodate and supply the rushers including the 45th US President’s Grandfather in Bennet! If you’re a fellow passport stamper, make sure to double check the limited visitor center hours.

Junior Ranger badges in Skagway
Earned Junior Ranger badges in Skagway.

Appreciate the Railroad’s History

The real target of the prospectors during the gold rush was over the towering Coast Mountains and across the Yukon territory in Dawson City. While the Chilkoot trail out of nearby Dyea was shorter, the White Pass trail from Skagway was less steep. After deaths of underprepared rushers, Canada passed a law requiring a 2000lb supply list to enter the Yukon. Requiring up to 30 trips by foot between every camp, the animals and wagons on White Pass surged in popularity. With the still arduous pass earning the moniker Dead Horse, it wasn’t long before railroad discussions began.

Prospectors summit Chilkoot Pass in 1898
1898 photo showing prospectors summiting Chilkoot Pass.

Wildly, by the time the railroad reached Whitehorse in the Yukon in 1900, the gold rush was over! Between the daunting voyage and commercial miners gobbling up the best claims, interest in the Klondike dissolved. The rails turned to carrying passengers, freight and ore running just once per week by 1941. Proximity to Russia meant rails boomed again during WWII then busted with the completion of the Klondike Highway in 1978. As cruise excursions gained popularity, the railroad was revived and purchased by Carnival to become a $72 million annual enterprise!

White Pass & Yukon Railway engine in Skagway
White Pass & Yukon Railway Engine awaits passengers in Skagway.

Head up White Pass

Having already taken the Coastal Classic train during our Seward adventure, we opted for a van tour along the Klondike Highway. A little internet sleuthing uncovered a 6-hour Yukon adventure up the Klondike highway with Southeast Tours for a $150 each, much more reasonable than the $300 per person offered through the cruise line! Unlike the train, we stopped several times allowing for a snowball fight among the stunted Tormented Valley trees and great photo ops.

Get a taste of the Yukon

First order of business at the Caribou Trading Post in the Yukon was a delicious chicken lunch in the taxidermy adorned cafe. With warmed hands and full bellies, we made our way thru the Royal Canadian Mounted Police museum to learn how they kept the wild north safe and civil. The true highlight of our time here was the fantastic taxidermized display of modern and historic animals. Beringia Lions and Wooly Mammoths were really something!

And of course we couldn’t be this close to a kennel without visiting sled puppies. Since we’d already done a ride at the Iditarod Headquarters, we loved on some teen dogs and “Oooh-ahh”-ed at the new pups in the nursery. On our return trip, we braved the sleet to grab some pics at the stunning Emerald Lake then attempted a sandman at the world’s smallest desert just in Carcross.

Were we to take the trip again, we’d splurge for a a half bus half train excursion. The speed of the bus travel and photo ops were perfect on the way up. But the highway and tracks follow opposite sides of the canyon, which was so beautiful I’d love to see both sides.

family at Welcome to Alaska sign
Photo stops like this are only available on the bus tours.

Missed Opportunities

With only one day in port, we just didn’t have time to check out:

What’d we miss? What’s the best way to spend a day in Skagway?

family posing next to welcome to the Yukon sign.
Can’t go to the Yukon Territory without the pic!

Eternally on the hunt for the science in every adventure.

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