In 1897, gold stampeders from all over the world arrived in Skagway by steamship, bound for the Dawson Gold Fields in Canada's Yukon Territory. It wasn't long before the rough-and-tumble tent town was festooned with boardwalks, dance halls, inns and saloons.
More than 100 years later, Skagway still retains the feel of those Gold Rush days, though most travelers now arrive by cruise ship and follow part of the original Gold Rush route by tourist train. (Learn more about the Gold Rush at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center on 2nd and Broadway.)
The immensely walkable -- four blocks wide by 22 blocks long -- historic downtown has also largely been restored to its roots, complete with false-fronted buildings and wooden sidewalks. It's an utterly charming place -- if a tad precious. But a brief walk off the beaten path of Broadway reveals fresh-faced businesses, like Skagway Spirits, offering a unique take on local business.
Skagway consistently ranks as one of Alaska's most popular ports. It's not unusual to find four ships docked there on the same day.
Ships line up at one of three deep-water docks, all an easy walk from the heart of town. Small ships may dock at a fourth location, the Ferry Dock, also a few minutes from town.
The port doesn't offer a cruise terminal or facilities. Cruise ships share the port with industrial traffic. Inexpensive municipal buses run from the dock to town. Skagway Visitors Center, 245 Broadway, is about an eight-minute walk.
Given that most goods and foodstuffs are flown or shipped into Alaska from the "outside," you might be a bit surprised by the higher-than-average costs of food and other essentials.
Also be aware that many flightseeing tours, including dogsledding on a glacier, are weather dependent and could be canceled due to high winds or poor visibility. Keep a Plan B on hand to reduce disappointment.
On Foot: Skagway is an easy walking town. Most shops are on one street: Broadway.
By Bike: You can rent a bike at Sockeye Cycles, 381 5th Avenue, 907-983-2851. Consider a ride down the White Pass Klondike gold route.
Renting a Car: To explore the outer reaches of this region of southeast Alaska, you can rent a car through Avis, located at the Westmark Hotel, Spring Street near 3rd, 800-331-1212, advance reservations highly recommended; Sourdough Rentals, 351 6th Avenue, 907-983-2523.
You're better off signing up for a tour of some sort -- whether through your ship or via the handful of independent trip companies.
Currency is the U.S. dollar. There is an ATM at the Wells Fargo Bank at 6th and Broadway (the town's only bank).
For such a small town, you won't be hurting for lunch or drink options during your day in port.
No trip to Skagway is complete without popping into the Red Onion Saloon (205 Broadway) for a bite and a brew. Built in 1897, Red Onion was the finest brothel in town and a behind-the-scenes tour reveals original wallpaper and cheeky humor from "in character" guides.
Skagway Brewing Company has outgrown its original location and expanded operations to 4th Avenue off Broadway. Lunch is served daily, from 11 to 5, and it's locally sourced pub fare with crab artichoke dip, fish sandwiches, salads, burgers, pastas (with gluten-free options) and more. But come for the beer, made in house, and don't leave without trying the spruce tip blonde ale, a local specialty.
Sweet Tooth Cafe is right on Broadway and offers "home cooking" in the form of hamburgers and sandwiches on homemade bread, doughnuts, milkshakes and more.
Skagway Fish Co., near the Railroad Dock, offers terrific seafood as the name would suggest (get the fish and chips), along with marina views.
For a snack between sightseeing, stop in at Klondike Doughboy, offering a local sweet treat called fry bread. You can also pick up Alaskan honey, tea, syrups and other specialty items to bring home for friends and family.
Olivia's at Skagway Inn is the place for a white tablecloth lunch, offering local fare with a nouvelle twist from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
For a cocktail and a spirited souvenir, head to Skagway Spirits (941 Alaska Street) for a spruce gin and tonic. Family-owned and -operated, the small but thoughtful tasting room offers a one-of-a-kind cocktail list along with bottles of gin and vodka. Everything is made in house.
Hand-painted gold-mining pans are great souvenirs. Nestled between totally touristy "outlet" stores and shops full of cheap tchotchkes are veritable gems. For books, try the Skaguay News Depot (Broadway between 2nd & 3rd). The Quiviut Store (in Skagway Bazaar between 5th and 6th on Broadway) sells fine muskox yarns and fibers. The Train Shoppe in the White Pass and Yukon Route Depot (2nd & Spring) has tons of choo-choo souvenirs.