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 Skagway Alaska excursions to free tours, hikes and other mini-adventures.
Skagway excursions: Popular activities when arriving via cruise ship
Some of the most popular and best Skagway excursions include riding the famous White Pass Railroad, dogsledding, or enjoying a traditional Alaskan salmon bake. If you don’t have deep pockets, or if none of these options appeals, there are more than enough free, or nearly free things to do in Skagway (see below).
However, if you are arriving in Skagway on a cruise ship, you will want to maximize your limited time here. Basic options include:
- Shore excursions from the ship are popular because they are easy. The ship handles all the details, you are refunded in the event of a port change, and the cruise guarantees your return to the ship should the tour run late. The downsides often include larger tour group size, a less personal experience, and a much higher price for the same activities as you can book independently.
- Shore excursions run by independent companies typically offer smaller groups and more activities for less money, while still having the advantages of both an informative guide and someone else to do the organization. We like Viator, a TripAdvisor company, as they often offer a worry-free shore excursion guarantee to get you back to the ship.
- Do it all yourself keeps you in charge. Simply disembark the ship, and make your way to the things you want to see. While you have total control, you miss out on the added culture, history, or other information provided by a guide.
Check out these independent Skagway shore excursions
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All excursions recommended here included Viator’s worry-free shore excursion guarantee at the time of article publication. Note: the first three tours below cross into Canada and require a valid passport plus will refund if your ship is delayed and you are unable to attend this activity. Be sure to check the current details prior to booking.
- Bennett Train Journey on the White Pass Rail: On this popular 8-hour excursion, you will travel 68 miles on a replica vintage train along the scenic trail of the Gold Rush explorers into the Yukon. While you will enjoy lunch on the train, you will also have time to explore at two stops. The first, Bennett Station house, is now a museum accessible only by train, while the second offers fabulous views of Emerald Lake. ⇒ Check price and reviews
- Full-Day Tour of the Yukon: This 6.5-hour tour takes you to the Yukon via mini-bus. Wildlife is often spotted and the drive includes several stunning photo stops along the Klondike highway. You will stop at Emerald Lake, visit a wildlife museum, meet sled dog huskies and puppies, and enjoy a traditional Yukon style lunch. ⇒ Check price and reviews
- White Pass Summit and Skagway City Tour: This 2.5-hour mini-bus tour allows you time for other activities while in Skagway. It begins with a city tour, and then it parallels the White Pass Railroad to the summit along the Klondike highway. Photo stops include a waterfall and the “Welcome to Alaska” sign. ⇒ Check price and reviews
- Chilkoot Trail Hike and Float Tour: This 4-hour tour requires a strong level of fitness. It includes a 2-mile hike along the Chilkoot Trail before you board a rubber raft and float through the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Read the conditions carefully. ⇒ Check price and reviews
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 contains 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 topic on 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, but we skipped both of these hikes. The first, an easy walk to Yakutania Point provides a lovely view of the Skagway port and inlet as well as 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. Hiking is one of the great things to do in Alaska in summer.
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 activity. A bit farther from town is the larger Liarsville Goldrush Camp that offers a 1.5-hour shore excursion that includes transport and an authentic salmon bake complete with costumed 19th-century characters. ⇒ Check price and reviews
11. Have a Coffee, Ale or Meal at one of the Skagway Restaurants
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. 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. Shopping in Skagway Alaska
We are not shoppers. We travel light and buy almost no souvenirs. However, it’s always fun to window shop along Broadway, the main street. 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 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. No one found gold 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 daily wage. (There was a small charge for this tour).
More Information and Tips for Skagway
- It’s a very short walk from the Skagway cruise port into town.
- 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 try to get a seat on the left side of the train for the best uphill views. Also, for the best photographs, walk out between the cars.
- We visited Skagway as a cruise port. However, if we went back, we would stay longer. Our first choice for accommodation is the Historic Skagway Inn. This charming bed and breakfast is highly sought after. Be sure to book well in advance. Our second choice is the centrally located Westmark Skagway Inn, rated as the best value in the city.
Other Alaska Cruise Ports We Have Visited
We sailed from Anchorage (Whittier) to Vancouver as part of our USA adventure and hitting one stunning port after the next. We admired Hubbard Glacier from the ship and visited the beautiful ports of Skagway, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, and Juneau. See Alaska Cruise Tips: Know Before You Sail for our best recommendations at each port.
⇒ If you’re still in the planning process, click here for current specials offered by Princess Cruise lines.
Cruise and port planning tips
Spending 160+ days at sea, we discovered a few cruising secrets. In addition to our list of cruise tips, here are our best planning tools:
Cruise: We check Cruise Direct to find great deals.
Flights: Planning to arrive at least one day prior to disembarkation, We use Skyscanner to discover flight options at the best prices.
Accommodations before and after: We use Booking.com to find accommodations.
Private tour guides: Looking to maximize our limited time at a port, we often hire private guides from TourHQ.
Rental Car: When we need a car, we always use RentalCars.com, a rental car search engine with no hidden costs.
Travel Insurance: We purchase insurance that covers medical and travel emergencies when we head overseas. We start with World Nomads.
Packing Tips: Get a copy of our free packing light for cruise travel checklist when you sign up for our mailing list. (We pack light, yet have everything we need.)
**Find more money-saving resources on our Travel Resources page.
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