Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cruising to Alaska and the Port of Skagway

Skagway is the historic hub of any Alaskan cruise.  It all dates back to 1896 when George Carmack and Skookum Jim chiseled a gold nugget from the bed of Rabbit Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River in Yukon, Canada and set in motion one of the most frenzied gold rushes in history. Over the next two years, at least 100,000 eager would-be prospectors from all over the world set out with dreams of making a fortune. Only about 40,000 actually made it to the Klondike, and precious few of them ever found their fortune. Fast forward to present day Skagway in which the town's eight hundred residents have gone to great lengths to recreate the original appearance of the boom town. I must say, the effort is much appreciated by the many cruisers that disembark for a day in Skagway!

The Skagway portion of Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park (free) includes a six-block downtown area as well as the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail.  The corridor along Broadway is lined with historic looking shops and restaurants, wooden sidewalks, and locals in period costumes. There is a Park Visitor’s Center located 2nd and Broadway and every day at 10AM there is a free ranger presentation on various topics. They also show a short film entitled “Gold Fever: Race to the Klondike” in the visitor center auditorium every hour (free). One hour Historical District Walking Tours (free) are led by park rangers several times during the day.  Sign up at the Visitor’s Center, as space is limited.

Hiking around the Skagway area is a great way to see the history and beauty of the area. Trail maps of hikes that vary in the degree of length and difficulty are available from the Skagway Visitor Information Center or at the National Park Visitor Center. The most popular that can be done within port time are Dewey Lake, Sturgill’s Landing and Upper and Lower Reid Falls.

You can visit the Gold Rush Cemetery and Lower Reid Falls on a tour or on your own.  Should you choose to set out on your own it is an easy 4-mile roundtrip hike.  Follow Main Street north to 23rd Avenue.  Cross over 23rd Avenue and follow the signs to the cemetery. To reach the 300-foot Reid Falls, walk through the cemetery and continue on another quarter-mile.

The most popular excursion in Skagway is a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad ($112 adult / $56 child). Board the train in Skagway (sit on the left side for better views) and travel 20 miles from tidewater to the Summit of the White Pass – a 2,865 foot elevation!  This narrow gauge railroad was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush and is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  The ride is fully narrated and passes through two tunnels, over sky-high trestles, cascading waterfalls and the original Klondike “Trail of ‘98”. I chose this trip for my family and we all thought it was spectacular! By booking through the cruise line (price depends on whether you solely do the train or pair it with another activity) you will be able to take advantage of the dockside service and can board the train on the pier alongside your ship.

After all the gold rush stories it seems only natural to want a piece of the action! Children will love the opportunity to try their hand at panning for gold and there are several places where you can do just that.  My family headed for Liarsville ($49 adult /$33 child or choose a combo tour), a hokey trail camp just outside of Skagway. They have a little outdoor theater set up for a show about the Gold Rush and it was really quite funny. The included salmon bake was delicious…they grill the Alaskan-caught wild salmon over an open alder wood fire. If you’re not a fish eater don’t worry; there’s chicken too and lots of sides.  But the reason we went was so my son could pan for gold.  After watching a demo he gave it a try and lo and behold, his found treasure was put in a souvenir bottle to be cashed in when he’s ready for college.  Okay, maybe I exaggerated the worth of his find, but the fun he had that day was certainly worth his weight in gold!  Another option is the Klondike Gold Fields ($48 adult / $39 child), a restored 1937 Gold Dredge from the Klondike Gold Fields of the Yukon.  After touring the Dredge and Living Museum, visitors will enjoy a funny yet informative gold panning demonstration from one of the “prospectors” before giving it a try. Kids are guaranteed a lucky strike!

Looking for other suggestions for enjoying your day in Skagway, Alaska?  How about rafting, fishing, dog sledding, flight seeing or biking! This is the great outdoors at it’s best and there are no bad choices!  When you’re ready to book an Alaska cruise give the Alaska cruise specialists at Direct Line Cruises a call.  We’d love to help you."

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