Last month, to celebrate my in-law’s 30th wedding anniversary, the whole family voyaged away on an Alaskan cruise! We enjoyed a week full of relaxation, breath-taking views, and, of course, delicious food.
Today I wanted to share some information about one of our favorite port stops, Skagway. If you are considering a trip to Alaska, you won’t want to miss these sights!
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A Little Introduction To Skagway
Skagway is located on the Southern Coast of Alaska, at the most Northern Point of the Inside Passage (the route our cruise ship traveled) and shares a border with British Columbia. In fact, be sure to bring your passport along as you will want to cross the border into Canada.
With only about 1,000 residents and over 460 square miles of land, this city is small by population but vast in magnitude. To put it in perspective, San Antonio (Texas) is nearly the same size, but has almost 1.5 million residents!
However, during the summer the population in Skagway can almost double in order to accommodate hundreds of thousands of tourists flocking to visit the area. In fact, tourism is a major industry here, bringing in approximately $100,000,000 of taxable revenue, according to the Business Climate Survey of 2016. Many of the residents work as hard as possible during peak season so that they can “hunker down” or travel elsewhere throughout the long winter.
The climate in Skagway is considered Continental. During your travels in the summer, you should prepare for cooler temperatures in the morning (fifty degrees or so), but consider the possibility of warming up if the sun peaks out in the afternoon.
Thin, water-proof layers will be your BFF. Though the average precipitation level is less than some other popular travel spots in Alaska, we did endure a good amount of mist for the majority of the day. (Read on for more tips to dress for Skagway weather and a free packing list cheat-sheet! I’ve also tagged all the information on my outfit towards the end of the article, too!)
Traveling Through Skagway
In preparation for our visit, we researched how best to explore the vast area and its surroundings. Not only did the cruise line recommend their fair amount of guides and tours, a quick Google search brought up hundreds of additional options; to say the least, it was a bit overwhelming.
After some researching, we decided to book a tour with Matt, from Skagway Van Tours. He picked us up in a comfortable, private van (large enough to fit 10) and promised a personalized, seven-hour tour of all the Yukon has to offer – and it did not disappoint!
Matt was very kind and knowledgeable. His deep insight and appreciation for the natural surroundings of Skagway and Northwestern Canada, as well as the history of the areas, really manifested in the conversations throughout the day and made the tour that much more special.
Even before arriving at our first destination, the beauty of the surroundings left us speechless. Miles and miles of the Klondike Highway (the only route of travel through these remote areas) stretched on, seemingly untouched by humans. We paralleled the White Pass railroad, which gave an interesting perspective of the well-known landmark.
Here is just some of what you can expect to find traveling North from Skagway along the Klondike Highway:
Waterfalls Along The Highway
A few miles before leaving Skagway, Matt pointed out a massive waterfall named Bridal Veil Falls. It’s interesting to note that this is a generic title, given to a waterfall resembling – you guessed it – the veil of a blushing bride! A quick Google search brought up at least 25 falls sharing the name all around the world!
Photo-Op: Welcome To Alaska Sign
Thankfully, we all remembered to bring our passports! Very soon into the journey North, we came to the border between the United States and Canada. If you like pictures, this is a great spot to take a group photo and peer towards the Canadian wilderness into which you’re heading.
First Stop: Tormented Valley
Heading North, we paused the drive to explore an area in the Stikine Region nicknamed the Tormented Valley. This alpine tundra consists of sharp, mossy rocks; beautiful aquamarine lakes; and tiny, wind-blown trees.
Matt explained that, though their petite stature, some of these trees were hundreds of years old. Apparently, the winds are so brutal in the winter that, if the trees were to grow any taller, they would be plucked right out of the ground – roots and all!
I loved to see the moss and tiny blueberries growing right in the crevices of the uneven surroundings, providing sustenance for the locals – goats, I mean. 🙂
Second Stop: Tutshi Lake
Driving just a bit further North along the Klondike Highway lead to our next photo-op: Tutshi Lake. Much to my chagrin, it’s pronounced “TOO-shy”, not “toot-she”.
The vibrant flowers growing here are fittingly called “Fireweed”, Matt elaborated, as they are the first to re-bloom after a fire. I couldn’t help but marvel at what a stunning example this is of how nature was created to restore itself after a tragedy.
There are quite a few areas along the highway where you can pause to enjoy the spectacular sight of the lake. We were so happy to get out of the van and enjoy the beauty from various viewpoints.
The lack of sun could ruin someone’s day, but I think the mist evoked a serenity, a bit of mystery, even. Just look at that delicate fog gently surrounding the mountains; they seem as if they were timidly trying to sneak a peek out at us!
Pit Stop to Visit the Sled Dogs
Our family has a huge love for four-legged friends, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet some sled dogs! We opted to take a pit stop at the Tagish Lake Kennel, home of award-winning mushers Michelle and Ed, and, of course, their beautiful canine athletes!
These top-tier sled dogs need to be tethered together during the work-day for a few different reasons. With so many dogs on the property, some could get into fights with each other or the strays that roam the area. Chaining the dogs together in smaller groups keeps them all safe.
Since we visited in the summertime, we had the privilege to see sled dog pups, too! These little guys were sleepy and trying to find some solace from the rain, but it was a fun treat to pet and play with them.
Second Photo-Op: Yukon Border
Once we tore ourselves away from the pups, we continued our travels North until stumbling upon the Yukon welcome sign! This massive landmark signifies your departure from the Canadian province of British Columbia and invites you to explore the pristine lands of the Yukon territory.
Third Stop: Bove Island Viewpoint
The western portion of Tagish Lake (called Windy Arm) meanders alongside the Klondike Highway. This ‘arm’ is fittingly named, as many boats shipwrecked here during the gold rush due to powerful winds!
There are a few pull-off areas to observe the serene water, but we stopped about 8 miles North of the Yukon border. Here Matt showed us a great viewpoint of Bove Island and Lime Mountain. This oft-photographed location speaks for itself in terms of beauty and serenity – something a camera can never truly capture.
Lunch Break in Carcross Village
We finally stumbled upon our first “village” after traveling along the Klondike Highway, about 65 miles from our starting point in Skagway. This is where we chose to spend some time getting a bite to eat (at the Bistro on Bennet; I’d recommend the pizza) and stretching our legs.
“Caribou Crossing” was the original name for this town of 300 or so inhabitants, dubbed by the gold miners traveling between Bennet/Tagish lakes and Dawson City. Apparently, the miners had noticed the large herds of deer migrating through the same area developed to assist these workers.
Though small, this town is full of historical gems that everyone in the family will want to see. In fact, the 3-year construction of the White Pass (referenced earlier) culminated in this very spot, marking the completion of the monumental project.
Another historical point of value to visit in Carcross is Matthew Watson’s General Store. Hard to miss, with its surprising pink exterior, this 1890’s establishment is the oldest operating in the Yukon. Make sure to browse the densely-packed aisles for a unique souvenir. And, don’t forget to come back after lunch to grab a delicious ice cream cone!
Before continuing on our Yukon journey, we wandered through “Carcross Commons”, a small retail square near the center of the town. Don’t turn away from the opportunity to visit, as these aren’t just regular ‘ol “tourist shops”; the locals who own these places can share once-in-a-lifetime insight on what life is really like in this remote area. Many of their products are locally sourced or inspired by the distinctive surroundings.
Make sure to ask a local about the story behind the massive totem pole and beautiful paintings adorning the outsides of these tiny boutiques.
After Lunch: Carcross Desert
No, that’s not a typo. Traveling just a half-mile North from our lunch stop we found a spot nicknamed The Smallest Desert in the World!
Okay, okay: if you feel a bit skeptical, your doubts are not unfounded. This so-called desert is technically a group of sand dunes, left over from the bottom of a glacial lake that disappeared as did the ice-masses that fed it. Nowadays, strong winds blowing off of Bennet Lake help replenish the sand.
Though small, don’t miss out on visiting this marvel. I will never forget the juxtaposed scene of sand below and snow-capped mountains above.
Final Stop: Emerald Lake
Our final stop heading North, Emerald Lake was the conclusion to an absolutely beautiful day.
The lake is named for its deep green color, caused by light reflections of the mineral deposits under the water. Again, melting glaciers played a large role; water run-off carried the limestone gravel down the mountains and into the lake, causing it to be quite the landmark it is today.
Though the clouds and rain didn’t ruin our time in the Yukon, the sunlight definitely would have helped to see Emerald Lake in its full glory. I guess we will just have to go back. 😉
Heading Back To Skagway
After stopping at Emerald Lake, we turned around and headed South – about 75 miles on the Klondike Highway.
Matt was super nice to let us stop again at any of our previous locations to get another look. A few times, the weather was clearer than when we had stopped earlier, so it was great to see some enhanced views! He also kept a good lookout for wildlife, even pulling out a telescope so we could see high up the mountains.
He dropped us off, per our request, near the ship’s dock so that we could do some walking in town. (If you didn’t pick up any souvenirs earlier, here is your chance to do so!)
We grabbed a few items, boarded the boat for dinner, and sailed away, left with memories never to be forgotten!
Your Skagway Cheat-Sheet (and Free Packing List!)
- Dress for success! You don’t want cold weather to distract from the breathtaking sights. Dress in thin, waterproof layers. Pack an umbrella, sunglasses, hat, gloves, and even an extra thin hoodie or jacket in a backpack – just in case. I was super comfortable in my outfit, pictured above:
- Base Layer: Express jeans and an Old Navy t-shirt.
- Outer Layers: Adidas Pullover Hoodie, Under Armour Fleece Vest, and a light scarf (also from Old Navy). I also carried along my favorite jacket, this Free Country 3-in-1. I originally bought mine at JC Penny on Black Friday, but it’s on Amazon as well. It’s a super comfy jacket and protected me from the heavier rain throughout the day.
- Feet Layer: Hiking socks and Sperry-brand rainboots. I bought my boots a few years ago (they last forever!) so I couldn’t find the exact design online anymore, but here are a few options: neutrals, patterns, trendy.
- Prepare your excursion in advance! Tours guides and rental cars both sell out quickly, especially when larger ships come into port on the same day. Research what you want to do and book it in advance, just to be safe!
- Bring extra batteries or a portable charger for your camera and cell phone. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to photograph these once-in-a-lifetime sights.
- Speaking of cell phones, make sure you plan your route and download important digital documents in advance. In most areas of the Yukon you will not have any cell signal, so don’t rely on reaching for Google Maps if you get lost!
- If you plan to hike or stray farther than designated lookout points, bring bear-spray and make noise as you walk. Bug repellant is also a good idea as well.
- Bring along some water and small snacks. There are little places to stop for a bite to eat or drink, and you don’t want to become dehydrated. This is especially important if you have health issues or little ones traveling along.
- Always remember to be kind to our environment; never litter or leave any food remnants behind.
If you are visiting Skagway by way of a cruise, be sure to snag my free Alaskan Cruise Packing Checklist – click here to download it now!
We loved our time in Skagway, and I think that you will, too! Feel free to leave me a comment below with any questions or for additional information regarding our travels in Alaska.
Have you been on an Alaskan cruise? I want to know which port stop was your favorite!
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