Skagway can only be reached by plane, boat, the White Pass and Yukon narrow gauge railroad or the Klondike highway from Canada. There is no direct access from the United States. Haines is similar but not a tour boat destination and and there are no rail lines. Juneau the Alaska State Capital has no highway access at all but is a stop on the tour boat circuit.
We drove down the southern portion of the Klondike Highway from Whitehorse to Skagway passing the smallest desert in the world.
Before we got to the Alaskan panhandle we also passed a bridge to nowhere. Some entrepreneurs built a bridge over a water chasm and they charged tourists $18 to walk across it. We stopped and looked at the historic pictures but didn't pay and didn't go across the bridge. Not that they lost a lot of money because their were plenty of people off the tour boats and on buses down from Whitehorse who did.
Then when we were in Skagway we took the White Pass & Yukon excursion steam train on a round trip ride back into Canada to Lake Bennett.
For the most part, Skagway today is a National Historic Park and an Alaskan Tour Boat stop and little else.Most of the buildings in town are owned by the National Park Service. Some are used for display while others are rented to gift and jewelry stores.
Skagway was the port of entry for the gold rush of 1898, current home of the Gold Rush National Historical Park and a major stopping place for the tour ships that ply the Alaskan waters.
View from the campground
In Skagway we went on several hikes,
visited the National Park, attended several programs to learn about the gold rush in which almost none of the "stampeders" as they were called found gold, attended a show, went to a great restaurant and took an eight hour steam excursion on the White Pass and Yukon train.
We also visited the site of Dyea,
Skagway's rival for port of entry to the goldfields and the slide cemetery where the 73 victims of the April 1898 snow slide are buried. Our friend thought one grave was the resting place of a fellow Jew so she placed a stones on his tombstone .Somebody else must have put them on his neighbors.
Somehow the name Jeff Sally Weiser doesn't strike me as Jewish. I would have thought she would have picked Atkins
Who knows. May they all rest in piece and maybe they found gold where ever they are.
We also hiked on the beginning of the 33 mile historic Chilkoot trial for about an hour and a half. .
We didn't see any "stampeders'" but we did see grizzly droppings at several locations. The trial is popular with hikers who take from three to 5 days to hike the trail returning on the trains that carry tourists to Lake Bennett. These hikers have a separate car so there unwashed bodies don't offend the tourists. You may have seen the famous picture of the "stampeders" climbing the "Golden Staircase" one after the other on their way to the klondike gold fields.
There were two overland trails to the klondike gold fields. the White Pass in Skagway was 43 miles while the Chilkoot was only 39 but much steeper. Those with money bought horses many of which died on the White pass, others hired Indians called packers to carry their goods up to the top of the Chilkoot trail in Dyea. Those with only enough money for the bare necessities had to carry their own supplies up and over the mountains to Lake Bennett. During the winter of 1897 there had been a terrible famine in Dawson City and many people died. Since most of these gold seekers were American the U.S. Congress organized a relief mission comprised of a herd of reindeers. After that the northwest Mounted Police required each person crossing over into Canada to have in their possession all the supplies necessary to sustain someone for one year. It amounted to about a ton of supplies.Thus the line of "stampeders" climbing up a staircase carved in the ice with about 100lbs on their back. Each had to make about ten trips before the Mounties would let them in. If you left the trail for a rest it would be several hours before you were able to continue.
Skagway and Dyea were about 9 miles apart . Dyea had the shorter but steeper trail while Skagway had a better harbor. Even though most people went by way of the Chilkoot in Dyea when the railroad finally came it was built on the White Pass from Skagway and Dyea quickly disappeared.
This Snow Plow built in Patterson, NJ in 1899 (Fair Lawn people take note) and returned to service in 1996 doesn't get a lot of work these days as the trains only run during the tourist season. They carry over 40,000 tourists a year during it's short 5 month season.most of the employees are seasonal; and the train closes down when the last boat leaves.
The steam train excursion took us back into Canada to Lake Bennett where the "stampeders" hung out for the remainder of the winter and then when the ice melted they took to water on their trek to the Yukon gold fields immortalized by Jack London and Robert Service in their novels and poetry of the period. The conductor off loaded the train twice for a photo "drive by". The train backs up and comes forward for a "photo op". We had to pass through both Canadian and American custom checks and have our passports stamped when returning to the States on this trip. I suspect it's the only place in America that stamps the passport of returning citizens along with those of foreigners but it's a historical thing.
The only building standing at Bennett Lake where the "stampeders" built boats to go down the Yukon when the lake and river melted in the spring is the church but you can still see the depressions from their tents, their junk and rusted cans which were left over a 100 years ago.
The show we attended in Skagway told the story of "Soapy Smith" a notorious con man that made his living stealing and conning the stampeders out of their property. After his henchmen tricked and robbed people he offered to pay their passage back to Seattle. He wasn't a nice guy he just wanted the mark out of town so word didn't get out. Honest merchant's got together to rid the town of its bad element. Before their plans could materialize Soapy who is buried outside the town cemetery was eventually killed in a shoot out with Frank Ried a vigilante who died as a result of wounds he sustained in the shootout. Reid is buried in the cemetery and has a monument saying he died for the honor of Skagway. They latter found that this hero of theirs was wanted for various crimes in the lower 48.
While we were in Skagway we took a little plane ride to Juneau so that I could visit the hospital. It turned out I had a kidney stone which couldn't be treated in Juneau so we eventually headed for Anchorage. We flew aver the Mendenhall Glacier but didn't get to visit it although we did get to go out for dinner in a nice restaurant after my visit to the ER. Alaskan hospitals are very accommodating we got a room in Bartlett House for half the rate of the local hotels .Bartlett House is run by Bartlett Regional Hospital for out of town patients and their families.
Turns out the guy in front of us with the glasses grew up in Fair Lawn, NJ. How's that for a small world