One of the best stops during an Alaska cruise is to the traditional seaport town of Skagway, Alaska. Once famous for the gold rush era in the late 1800’s, Skagway has preserved the old-world charm that makes it so special. Walking around the streets of Skagway is like stepping into a time machine, and there is no better way to get a feel for the history than to take the historic White Pass and Yukon Trail train ride!
White Pass and Yukon Rail Train Ride
An excursion you can do once you dock in Skagway is to board the traditional train to explore into the northern reaches of the territory, eventually crossing into Canada. Labeled the “Most Scenic Railway in the World”, the train certainly lives up to its name! Built in 1898 during the Gold Rush, the White Pass & Yukon Train will let you learn about the immense history of the area from the comfort of your own train car.
You will board the train in Skagway town shortly after arriving in port. As soon as you walk up to the train you know it will be a special experience! The train looks like it was straight from a vintage movie set, complete with large windows and a furnace to keep you warm on the journey. There are no bad seats in the train, though it is best to sit on the left side of the train as you depart for some spectacular valley views. Another insider tip is to be sure to take a step outside onto the platform during the trip for some once in a lifetime pictures. The train ride is about 2 hours and covers 20 miles winding through the mountains, into the snowy landscape and elevations over 3,000 feet above sea level!
A Historic Journey
The White Pass & Yukon adventure will not just improve your Instagram page, but it will expand your knowledge as well! During the journey the tour guides share incredibly interesting information over the speaker system in the train. You will learn about the very beginnings of Skagway and some of the harsh conditions faced by its initial settlers in their pursuit of striking it rich during the gold rush.
These conditions are really put into perspective as you admire the beautiful but inhospitable landscape from the train. The guides also share information about Skagway’s founder Captain William Moore, the required provisions all settlers had to bring with them, the different options for navigating the trails, how the train itself was built, best places to spot local wildlife, and more!
Onwards to Canada
The day is made even more special because there is so much else to see even after disembarking the train in Canada. After crossing the Canadian border you will take some beautiful pictures at the lake reflecting the snow capped mountains in the distance, then board a bus who drives you through the Yukon. Along the way you make several stops at other scenic sites, including the “world’s smallest desert” and the absolutely breathtaking Emerald Lake, all while the driver shares more knowledge and history about the area.
Caribou Crossing Trading Post
The entire day is unique and interesting, and lunch is no exception! After exploring the area via bus, you will be taken to the Caribous Crossing Trading Post. The Trading Post serves a wonderful chicken barbeque lunch, complete with all the sides and even homemade cinnamon donuts. This stop is about more than just the great food, as the entire small village looks like a scene from a Hollywood set! You have a full hour to run around and take vintage style pictures, and when you want a break from the photoshoot you can explore the on-site indigenous wildlife museum, buy some traditional goods at the gift shop, get a ride on a training cart from real working sled dogs, and even see the sled dog puppies!
Carcross and Back to the States
Once your stomachs are full and you are tired out from all the fun sled dog activities, you’ll board the bus again and head back towards Skagway. On the way back you’ll do a brief stop in downtown Carcross, a small town that was started during the gold rush in the late 1890’s. You’ll take a look at the famous Caribou Crossing bridge, order a scoop of the town’s famous ice cream, and even have the option to stamp your own passport with a novelty stamp at the historic post office! Afterwards, you continue back towards Skagway, including a stop at the “Welcome to Alaska” sign in front of a beautiful mountain range.
Exploring Skagway on Foot
After the full day White Pass and Yukon adventure you will be dropped off back in Skagway town. The bus driver can either drop you off in the town center so you can explore, or you can go back to port to go back on the cruise ship. It is worth exploring the town if you have the energy, because there is something special about Skagway that feels like you are back in time. The town itself is very small, with the main boardwalk running down the center of the town, so take a leisurely walk to window shop, buy any odds and ends at the town hardware store, and see a vintage snow plow attached to the front of an old train. After you’re done exploring, head back to the boat and start sorting through all the pictures you took on your amazing adventure filled day!
I hope that this article has inspired you to visit Skagway and take the White Pass and Yukon Train. If you have any questions, comments or tips for our readers please share in the comments below.
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