Some small towns just have more to do than others—like, Skagway, Alaska, for example. It’s small, with a population not much higher than 1,000, but its historic role in the Klondike gold rush makes it a great place to visit. It’s been developed for tourism, since it’s one of the stops on the cruise route the Inside Passage, but not everything Skagway has to offer is for tourists. Whether you’re just stopping by for the day or working in town for the season, here are nine things you shouldn’t miss.
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Get scandalized at Red Onion Saloon
Once a dancehall, saloon and brothel, the Red Onion is now a museum, restaurant and bar. You can stop in for a pizza, but be sure to stay for a tour. The ten cribs (rooms) upstairs—where miners would meet with the madams—are still filled with antiques and relics of the gold rush days.
Hop on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway
For a general history of the area and the 1897 gold rush, check out this scenic, narrow-gauge railroad tour. The ride snakes along scenic cliff sides, gorges, glaciers and waterfalls. You’ll ride in comfy vintage railcars and get a taste of the landscape around Skagway as well as a history lesson.
Tour Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park
During the first year of the gold rush, between 20,000 and 30,000 people packed themselves up and made tracks up the White Pass Trail hoping to find gold at the end. The prospectors faced harsh conditions, hunger, violence and disease, and many turned for home. The historic park is brimming with interesting details about their harrowing tales, and in the summer you can go on a ranger-led tour.
Check out Davidson Glacier
Mysterious cobalt-blue ice caves and sculptural melt patterns await visitors at the Davidson Glacier outside Skagway. You can take a boat ride or kayak from town and then hike or ride in a vehicle up to the glacier, which at one time reached all the way to the tidewaters. Now it has receded into the mountains almost a mile, creating its own glacial lake.
Go fishing with a charter tour
If reeling in giant King salmon in view of massive peaks and glaciers sounds like your cup of tea, get on board a chartered fishing tour. The fishing is only minutes from Skagway’s harbor. Chartered tours will provide all the gear and support you need for when a fat salmon is tugging hard at your line.
Sip on local brews at Skagway Brewing Company
Love craft beer? Sample the fare at this microbrewery, where the signature ale is brewed with zesty spruce tips. From brown ales to porters, the brewery has an array to please many palates, and the hearty bar food will keep your belly full while you drink the night away.
Get your laughs at the Days of ’98 Show
Sit back and let yourself be entertained by the vaudeville-style musical show featuring can-can dancers, ragtime music and the humorous story of the most notorious outlaw to swindle Alaska, Soapy Smith. The show is based on a true story, and a version of it was first performed by Skagway locals in 1923.
Nosh at local favorite Bites on Broadway
If you’re looking for good local food, stop by this spot for a tasty home-cooked meal or dessert. Try the popular salmon chowder and take an extra bakery item for later.
Watch local glass blowers and blow your own
Skagway is home to Alaska’s only public glass-blowing studio, where visitors can blow their own glass. Watch a demo or get hands-on experience. Even if you don’t live close by, Jewell Gardens will ship your final product home to you once it’s cooled.
Whether you’re into art, spirits, history or the outdoors—or all of the above—Skagway has many sights to see and activities to do. A land full of lore and scenery, it earned its place as one of the settings in Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. Whether you’re planning a short visit or there working for a season, there are plenty of things to fill your down time with fun.