Skagway, a Classic Alaskan Western Town

The 49th state of the United States, Alaska, is famously known as “The Last Frontier.” Because of its distance from the contiguous US, many people have not visited this expansive area. Even though Alaska has an enormous variety of culture and geography, a cruise is an easy way to experience multiple regions in the same trip. One of the most interesting and historically rich regions is at the northernmost point of the panhandle, in a little town called Skagway.


Skagway is merely 22 blocks long and 4 blocks wide, with a local population of 910. The population grows past 2000 with an influx of summer employees to handle the five-month tourism season. Despite the town’s small size, Skagway is one of the top cruise destinations in the world, famous for its connection to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-99.

During the height of the Gold Rush, Skagway teemed with life. Over 30,000 people had set up tents, saloons, and false-front stores to attract the masses lured by the gold of Dawson City. Skagway, and the nearby settlement of Dyea, provided the shortest routes to Canada for incoming prospectors, but they were difficult and costly paths. The White Pass was informally known as the Dead Horse Trail, due to the steep and narrow terrain that claimed the lives of many pack animals.

Skagway still reflects the small-town feel that existed during the Gold Rush. The main street in town, Broadway Street, was still a dirt road until the mid 1980s, when it was paved to better accommodate the new airport. The street still sports the wooden boardwalk from 1898, supplementing the wooden buildings and false fronts iconic to the western style.


As a major tourist stop, Skagway welcomes over a million visitors every summer, the majority arriving on almost thirty different cruise ships. Many others drive RVs in through Canada via the Alaska-Canada Highway. Because of its convenient location on an inlet in the Alaskan panhandle, Skagway offers easy access to glaciers, whale watching, fishing, and many other excursions. The most popular attraction in the town is the famous White Pass & Yukon Railroad, a narrow-gauge rail built to bring miners and their supplies into the Interior for the Gold Rush, though it was completed near the end of the migration. The scenic train ride winds through the mountain passes and offers exquisite views of mountains, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and glaciers. Longer train excursions follow the paths of the original miners to the shores of Lake Bennett, where they built boats and floated the rest of the way to Dawson City.


For the adventurers who enjoy brisker weather, Alaska is an ideal travel destination. Depending on the time of year, vacationers may see bald eagles, black bears, brown bears, and even moose. The Last Frontier is a remarkable land of natural beauty, remaining mostly preserved from modern life and architecture.

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