Skagway is a community of about 1,200 people located on the Alaskan mainland in the northern part of the Southeast Alaska panhandle.
The name comes from the Tlingit expression “sha-ka-ԍéi,” which literally translates as “pretty woman,” but is an idiom that refers to the rough seas encountered in the nearby Teiya Inlet, which are caused by strong winds.
The name refers to a Tlingit legend about a woman named Kanagoo who turned herself into stone in Skagway’s harbor and created those strong winds that blow in from the north.
A majority of places in Southeast Alaska were founded as either mining towns or fishing towns. Skagway was originally a mining town, although fishing is very popular as well.
The town is primarily divided into two sections, a retail core downtown served by a series of boardwalks and a more residential section, although there are a few businesses that operate outside of the downtown area.
Skagway, much like the rest of Southeast Alaska, is part of the Tongass National Forest, the largest rainforest in North America.
Many cruise ships that travel from Seattle or Bellingham and travel through the Inside Passage through Southeast Alaska end in Skagway before returning back to Washington.
Things To Do
Skagway has several museums in town, mostly dedicated to the town’s mining history, as well as the life and times of Soapy Smith, the con man who ran the town in its early days. Of special interest are the cemeteries in town (where you can see Soapy’s grave), particularly the Goldrush Cemetary.
M&M Tours offers several round-trip train journeys from Skagway to Canada’s Yukon Territory, featuring amazing scenery and historical points of interest.
For non-cruise ship passengers who enjoy hiking, Skagway offers several options. The ghost town of Dyea lies about seven miles outside of town, although not much remains of the former mining camp.
Dyea sits at the trailhead for The Chilkoot Trail, a mountain pass that was originally used by the Tlingit people for trading purposes.
The Chilkoot Trail runs 33 miles through the Coast Mountains to Bennett, British Columbia. It is a difficult trail that requires a permit, as only a limited number of travelers are allowed per day.
There are also several fishing charters available, which allow visitors the chance to catch their own Alaskan fish, which are then taken to a processor and mailed home for your convenience.
How To Get To Skagway
Skagway is one of the most easily accessible of all the towns in Southeast Alaska because it is one of the only ones that is connected to the road system.
Although it will require driving through Canada, drivers can reach Skagway from Anchorage or Fairbanks in the north, as well as Seattle or Bellingham to the south.
There are four cruise ship docks near downtown, which means Skagway can potentially receive up to 10,000 visitors in a day.
The walk into town from the cruise ship docks can be as long as 10-15 minutes, but the city does offer a $3 shuttle service that takes you right into town.
The Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System also serves Skagway, with trips from Bellingham, Juneau, Ketchikan, and many other cities in Southeast Alaska.
From Juneau, Skagway is easily accessible as a day trip, with ferries leaving around 7:00 AM and arriving in Skagway just after 1:00 PM. After a few hours in port, you can take the ferry back around 4:00 and arrive in Juneau around 9:00.
Where To Stay, Shop, and Eat
Skagway has many great hotels, including Sgt. Preston’s, the Morning Wood, and the Westmark, all of which are conveniently located downtown.
Related Post: Best Hotels In Skagway, Alaska
Most of the shopping and dining options are also downtown on the boardwalks, making it not only easy to navigate but also one of the most walkable cities in the state.
The largest gift shop in town is the Skagway T-Shirt Company, a sister store to the one in Juneau. This is a great place to buy souvenirs, t-shirts, and much more.
There are several high-quality restaurants in town, including the Skagway Pizza Company, the Skagway Fish Company, and the Red Onion Saloon.
All salmon, halibut, trout, and other fish sold by these restaurants are locally caught and served fresh, giving visitors a true Alaskan experience.
For a snack, the Kone Company sells ice cream and fudge right downtown on Broadway. There is also a grocery store called The Fairview Market a few blocks over on 4th Street.
History of Skagway
The area was originally used as a hunting ground for the Chilkoot and Chilkat peoples, primarily coming from what is now the Canadian side of the border.
The Alaska-Canada border was not well-defined in those days and much of the area was claimed by both sides.
The dispute started with the Russians prior to the Alaska Purchase and the issue continued after the land had been transferred. It was finally resolved in 1903 as a result of arbitration.
One of the first settlers in the area was a steamship captain named Billy Moore, who saw the mountains and realized they likely contained gold, as similar sites had been mined in British Columbia, South America, and other parts of the world.
The lure of gold brought many travelers to Skagway, which is why the city’s nickname is “The Gateway to the Klondike.”
One of the most famous of these prospectors was a con man and a gangster by the name of Soapy Smith, who had previously been associated with Jesse James before coming north.
Today Skagway invites you to celebrate the town’s rich history and enjoy some amazing views on your next journey to Alaska!