Skagway is on the itinerary of just about every cruise ship sailing Alaska’s interior passage. Ours was no exception. There are more things to do in Skagway than hours ashore in this former gold rush town. The options range from expensive to free.
The popular Skagway shore excursions include riding the famous White Pass Railroad, zip-lining, dogsledding, or visiting a glacier. If you don’t have deep pockets, or if none of these expensive options appeals, there are more than enough free, or nearly free things to do in Skagway. We opted to skip the excursions as we had already spent 16 hours on trains in Alaska, had landed on Fox Glacier in New Zealand a few years earlier, saw the husky dogs in Denali, and I am terrified of zip-lining.
15 Free or Nearly Free Things to do in Skagway
1. Have a look at the Snow and Ice Cutting Train
Sitting right at the end of Broadway it would be difficult not to see this ice cutting train car on display as you walk into town from the port of Skagway.
2. Photograph the Skagway Visitor Center (a.k.a. Arctic Brotherhood Hall)
Located in the historic Arctic Brotherhood Hall (Notice the AB on the front), the Skagway Visitor Center is now a destination on its own. The exterior pattern is made from over 8,000 pieces of driftwood. One look and you know why this is considered to be Alaska’s most photographed building. Going inside, we were able to get maps and information on all the things to do in Skagway.
3. Learn Something New at the Daily Ranger Talks or Movie
Each morning at 10 am, the Park Rangers offer a 45-minute talk on various topics. The day we were there, the topic was Gardening in Skagway, so we opted to skip it. There is also a free daily 30-minute film on the history of Skagway. Both are at the Ranger Visitor Station (2nd and Broadway).
4. Walk the Residential Streets
We like to turn off the main streets, leave the tourist area, and get the real feel of a town. Had we not done this, we never would have seen this garage.
5. Utilise the Free Wifi at the Library
The library opens daily at noon, but the Wifi was available just outside starting at 10 am (8th and State). A crowd of locals sitting on the benches alerted us to this freebie.
6. Hike Along the Tracks and Through the Forest
The lush green forested area offers lots of hiking opportunities, my favourite of the things to do in Skagway.
7. Hike to Yakutania Point or Dewey Lake
I am not sure why we opted to skip both of these hikes. The first, an easy walk to Yakutania Point provides a lovely view of the inlet and our cruise ship. We were told later that there were whales in the bay on the day we were docked. The hike to Dewey Lake is considered to be more challenging than Yakutania Point. However, once there it is an easy walk around Dewey Lake.
8. Gold Rush Cemetery
Skagway was a sleepy town until word got out about gold in the late 1890s. For less than two years the town boomed, growing faster than the infrastructure and without enough doctors. Typhoid, meningitis, and lawlessness wiped out most of those buried here, and the majority of the grave markers we saw are dated 1898. The cemetery is about 2 miles from the port of Skagway.
9. Ried Waterfall
Walking less than a half mile beyond the cemetery, we came to Ried waterfall cascading over the rocks much faster than I would have expected.
10. Pan for Gold at the Klondike Gold Fields
We did not pan for gold; we just had a look from a distance. I am sure this is not a free or near free activity, but one that we passed by as we walked to the Gold Field Cemetery. A bit farther from town is the larger Lairsville Goldrush Camp.
11. Have a Coffee or an Ale in Town
We discovered the Klondike Cafe, a great little coffee shop. We are coffee drinkers, but others told us the most refreshing beverage in town is a Spruce Tip Ale from the Skagway Brewing Company.
12. Take a Free NPS Ranger-led Historic Walking Tour
Numbers are limited, so you need to pick up your tickets at the Ranger Visitor Station. The tour went through the heart of town and was under an hour and very educational.
13. Shop and Explore Broadway (the main street)
We are not shoppers. We travel light and buy almost no souvenirs. However, it’s always fun to window shop. The Native American crafts are plentiful, plus we found some totem poles.
14. Skagway Museum and Sculpture Garden
More gold rush history, and gold nuggets. It was an interesting, although not terribly photogenic place to visit. We ran out of time and didn’t visit the sculpture garden next door to the museum.
15. Enjoy a Meal at the Red Onion and then Tour this Former Brothel
Head upstairs in the Red Onion for an innuendo-laden tour of one of the 70 former brothels in Skagway from the days of the gold rush. Some 15,000 men flooded the town in hopes of finding their fortune. In reality, no gold was found in Skagway. The madams may have been the most well-off in the town as they kept half of the girls’ earnings. The working girls charged $5 for 15 minutes of “service”. This was more than a miner’s day wage. (There was a small charge for this tour).
More Information and Tips for Skagway:
- There is a city shuttle bus that drives around Skagway offering $5 on/off all day.
- Should you be visiting on July 4th, head to Pullen Creek for the annual Skagway Rubber Duck Derby. If you are there in salmon season, Pullen Creek is also a great place to see the salmon run.
- If you are taking the White Pass Railway: for the best uphill views, try to get a seat on the left side of the train if you are heading uphill. Also, for the best photographs, walk out between the cars.
- This article is another in my throwback series encouraged by moving all my photos to Lightroom. This post has been updated and republished with new images. We visited Alaska in 2013.
- We visited Skagway as a cruise port. However, if we went back, we would stay longer and would check for current hotel prices –> at Agoda.
- Don’t forget to bring your Lonely Planet Alaska guidebook.
Skagway was one of the several beautiful ports on our Alaska cruise. Before it, we went whale watching in Juneau and next, we will head to Ketchikan. Regardless of which ship you sail in the interior passage, the ports will be the highlight.
If you are arriving to Skagway on a cruise ship:
- Make your time onboard better with some of these 25 tips for cruising that everyone should know.
- Before you go, explore the shore excursion options provided by the ship. We often prefer to save money with independent shore excursions from Viator. Be sure to read about their worry-free shore excursion guarantee.
If you’re still in the planning process be sure to the check the current specials offered by Princess Cruise lines.
Have you been to Skagway? Are there enough things to do in Skagway to keep you busy?
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