Cruise ships dock at the Port of Skagway at one of three deepwater berths, all of which are within a 10-minute walk from the center of town. A shuttle carries guests between the docks and Broadway, Skagway’s main thoroughfare. Although for most of the year the local population is a mere 950 people, Skagway becomes a busy port destination during the summer months, welcoming more than a million visitors from around the globe. Original gold-rush-era buildings with false fronts and wooden sidewalks line the streets, exuding a captivating, living-museum-like atmosphere. This Wild West aura is fitting for the United States’ best-preserved gold-rush settlement.
Start off any visit to Skagway at one of its most famous watering holes: the Red Onion Saloon. Located at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Broadway, the swanky spot was once Alaska’s classiest dance hall and most exclusive bordello. Today, the first floor houses a restaurant/bar where costumed servers add to the fun, energetic atmosphere that evokes the spirit of ’98. Upstairs, a provocative museum displays relics left by the saloon’s former working girls, including a priceless silver dress that was discovered beneath the floorboards.
The red wooden structure across the street from the Red Onion Saloon is the former depot for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, now headquarters for the National Park Service Visitor Center. The building was the heart of the railroad’s operations well into the 1960s, before the depot moved to its current location just two doors away. The yellow building next door contains the Gold Rush Museum, which displays old photographs and an abundance of artifacts from the pioneering days. Stop by and learn the dramatic tales of the men and women who left their lives in the Lower 48 in hopes of striking it rich in the Klondike.
Moore’s Cabin, built in 1887 by notable gold prospector Captain William Moore and his son Ben, was the first structure to be erected in Skagway, and the captain is regarded as the founder of the town. Today, the National Park Service operates the restored log cabin and its adjacent Victorian home, which was built by Moore’s son in 1897.
The McCabe College building, just off Broadway on 7th Avenue, became home to Alaska’s first institution of higher learning when it was established in 1899. It’s now home to the Skagway City Hall and the Skagway Museum, which holds relics from the late 1800s as well as an assortment of arts and crafts showcasing the heritage of the region’s Natives. Stop in for a quick bite and a brew at the neighboring Skagway Brewing Company, where hydroelectricity transforms pure Alaskan water into fresh, unfiltered ales. Along with exclusive craft beers, the spot serves great pub fare—everything from specialty burgers and Buffalo wings to smoked salmon and halibut fish and chips.
For a complete tour of downtown, board the yellow 1920s-style Skagway Street Car. A costumed conductor imparts a century of knowledge of behind-the-scenes tales and stories of life in small-town Alaska as the streetcar passes through the historic district, the Gold Rush Cemetery (where fabled local villains Soapy Smith and Frank Reid are buried), and nearby residential neighborhoods famous for their flower gardens—and for being the childhood home of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.