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White Pass Summit: More than a Train, a Ride through History

One of the best ways to experience the beauty and history of Skagway is by taking a ride on the Skagway Train. This historic train ride takes you on a scenic journey through time as you travel across rugged mountain passes and breathtaking landscapes along the same rails used by ancient prospectors. When cruisers visit Alaska, they make sure to include this railway experience on their must-do shore excursions bucket list.

Skagway — Home of the White Pass Summit

Nestled in the heart of Alaska is Skagway, a rustic borough of about 1,200 residents with a rich history that dates back to when the first few flecks of gold were found in Bonanza Creek in 1896. A map of Skagway, Alaska and the surrounding area will show the town’s location toward the top of Alaska’s Inside Passage, and a short drive from neighboring Canada.

Skagway became a literal overnight boom town during the gold rush period as thousands of gold seekers passed through it on their way to find their fortunes in the gold fields. Skagway’s population peaked at around 30,000 during this time, and it quickly gained a reputation as a wild and unruly outpost with its gambling, stealing, prostitution, and 70-plus saloons.

Fortunately the town didn’t disappear four years later along with the gold rush; the railroad that was built to transport supplies and prospectors helped to keep Skagway’s economy from total collapse as it pivoted to transporting goods to and from Skagway’s port. In recent years Skagway has blossomed into a thriving tourism industry, thanks to its colorful history and close proximity to the lush Alaskan wilderness.

Today Skagway is known for its stunning natural beauty, and is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time as you come face to face with its frontier-style buildings and 19th century artifacts.

Visitors to Skagway can view the Aurora Borealis (aka Northern Lights) from a variety of locations around town. The best time to visit this amazing place is during the summer months, when the weather is mild and the days are long.

Fun facts:

  • Skagway lies about 59.5 degrees north, in the same latitude as Greenland and just over 30 degrees south of the North Pole — quite possibly the farthest point north that most people ever get the chance to travel to
  • This town was the setting for many books including Jack London’s The Call of the Wild; in addition, John Wayne’s movie North to Alaska (1960) was filmed in the surrounding area

Our Most Popular and Best Selling Excursion

What can you do in Skagway? The answer: A lot! There are many things to do in Skagway; our most requested excursion whisks you from the cruise ship to the White Pass Summit along a heritage railway in a vintage parlor train car. This round-trip tour is a must-do for all newbies to Skagway!

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. It was used to transport prospectors and supplies via the Skagway Train to the gold fields in Dawson City on the other side of the mountains, and played a vital role in the development of Skagway. Once the gold rush died down, the railroad was used to transport ore and precious minerals from Yukon to the town’s port. In 1994 the railroad was designated as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and it is commonly referred to as the “Scenic Railway of the World.”

Today, the Skagway Train is a popular tourist attraction; it runs along the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, offering visitors a unique glimpse into the history of this fascinating town. One of the highlights of the train ride is the White Pass Summit. Also known as the Klondike Summit, this is the high point in the White Pass Trail, one of two main routes across the northern end of the Coast Mountains that were used by prospectors during the gold rush years.

White Pass Summit’s scenic overlook crests almost 3,300 feet above sea level, offering jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers, and gorges as well as Dead Horse Gulch, Bridal Veil Falls, and Inspiration Point. Needless to say, it is a popular spot for photographers and nature enthusiasts!

On our excursion you will take a 28 mile ride along the tracks, across trestle bridges and through tunnels built into the mountainsides, with guided narration and spectacular views until you reach the Fraser Train Depot in Fraser, British Columbia. During the train ride you can also expect to see a variety of wildlife, including bald eagles, bears, and moose.

Upon arrival into Fraser you will be transferred to a bus for a short trek to the Yukon Suspension Bridge to savor panoramic views of the pristine Canadian landscape. Pop into the museum and gift shop or the cafe, then it’s back on the bus for some exciting new views as you make your return trip to Skagway and back to your cruise line.

Some noteworthy tips:

  • This excursion crosses the Canadian border, so passports and photo IDs will be needed (and possibly visas, depending on your nationality)
  • The train route hugs the mountainside so most of the landmarks are on one side of the train; sit to the left side going up to the summit, or on the right side leaving the summit for a chance to see them
  • There is a small balcony in the rear rail car that you can access for exclusive views and pics
  • The train has bathrooms onboard and can accommodate those guests with walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters

Other Things You Can Do in Skagway

Another popular attraction in Skagway is the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. This preserve is home to one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles in the world, as well as a popular spot for bird watchers and nature enthusiasts.

For those who are interested in history, the Skagway Museum and Archives should be on your list. This museum offers a fascinating look at the early days of Skagway and the Klondike Gold Rush, and is home to a variety of artifacts and exhibits.

If you’re looking for an adventure, the Scenic Waterfall Adventure is a great option! This excursion takes you to Reid Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Pitchfork Falls, where you can enjoy dazzling views of the waterfalls and surrounding landscapes along the way.

Outdoorsy types will love paddling alongside snow capped glacier peaks with a visit to Summit Lake. You can board a 12-passenger voyageur canoe, similar to the canoes used by gold rush prospectors, to explore the lake’s narrow channels and rocky coves.

If self-guided explorations are more your style, say no more! Take a drive on the Klondike Highway in your private Jeep to Dawson City, following a route similar to those used during the gold rush. You will have a map, guide booklet, and audio program to help you navigate the way. Keep an eye out for eagles, caribou, mountain goats, and more as you visit Emerald Lake, Lake Bennett, the Carcross Desert, Pitchfork Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls at your own pace.

A once-in-a-lifetime treat awaits you with a helicopter tour above Alaska’s massive glaciers! Enjoy a bird’s eye view of the mountains and waterfalls, then land on an actual glacier to get up close and personal with crevices, ice rivers, and the mesmerizing blue colors of the glacier itself.

For those interested in learning about the Klondike Gold Rush, the Gold Rush Cemetery is not to be missed. This cemetery is the final resting place of many of the gold seekers who passed through Skagway during this incredible period.

History buffs will also enjoy a walking tour of the city with its wooden boardwalks, well-preserved buildings, and shady history just steps from the docks. Head to the Red Onion Saloon, a popular bordello-turned-restaurant, to sip a beer and tour the upstairs brothel museum. Learn about the early pioneers including the infamous con man and crime boss Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith II and the prospector-turned-town storyteller Martin Itjen.

Travel in the footsteps of the gold miners as you hike along the historic Chilkoot Trail. This is one of the state’s most famous gold mining trails and was an early trading route for the Tlingit people. It is nicknamed the “33 meanest miles in history” due to the trail’s unforgiving 1,000 foot climb — but don’t worry; you can get a taste of it by walking the lower, saner part of the trail.

If you’re looking for non-touristy or cheap things to do in Skagway, there are plenty of options. You can explore the town on foot, canvass the area on a bike, or pick one of the many hiking trails starting at the edge of town. Watch a movie about the gold rush in the Klondike Gold Rush National Park’s Visitors Center, then browse the town’s shops to admire the local Tlingit artwork, try on some unique jewelry, and pick up a souvenir or two.

Of course, the easiest, best, and free thing to do in Skagway is to look to the skies at night to see the famed Northern Lights! They are on display all year, though your best chance to see them is between September to April.

But What About the Food?

Skagway is a small town that is big on flavor! From fresh, local seafood, pizzas and pub fare to international dishes and gourmet coffees, you will find something for everyone.

Jerky is a favorite snack of the locals, and comes in many varieties such as beef, salmon, and moose. Smoked salmon is also coveted. Berries — especially blueberries, raspberries, and lingonberries — are abundant here, and are used for jams, pies, and as an ice cream topping.

While in Skagway you have to try the Klondike Doughboy! This enticing deep fried dough is dusted in cinnamon and sugar (similar to a funnel cake), and can be easily shared between 2 to 3 people.

What to Pack

When packing for a trip to Skagway, it is important to keep the weather in mind. The weather in the area can be unpredictable and there is the constant possibility of wind or rain, so it is important to bring layers and waterproof clothing. Visitors should also bring comfortable walking shoes and a camera to capture the stunning views.

During the Winter

Temperatures in Skagway can reach the 40s and 50s during the day in the fall, and drop to the 20s and 30s for daytime highs in the winter months. The streets are quieter, and snow starts appearing around October. Daylight hours can become extremely short, averaging around 6 hours in December.

A good water-resistant, insulated coat is a must if you are visiting in the colder months. Waterproof boots are a good option as well. Wear a warm hat and gloves, and be sure to include an extra pair of warm socks in your backpack.

During the Summer

Daytime highs average between 50 to 70 degrees in the summer months, with longer days — sometimes up to 18 hours of daylight in the month of June! Crowds are larger too, as this is the most popular time to visit.

Layers are key for the warmer months, as winds and rain can make things chilly. A warm sweater helps as well. A rain jacket, rain boots, and water-resistant pants will help protect you from the elements.  

The Skagway Train is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Skagway, offering visitors a rare glimpse into the history and natural beauty of this fascinating town. Whether you’re interested in history, nature, or adventure, Skagway will quickly become your favorite port stop!
Call us to reserve your seat on the train now, as this excursion sells out fast.

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