Sunday, 2 August 2015

Skagway, Alaska and the Klondike Highway


Skagway, Alaska was the northern most point for many of our fellow passengers on the Alaska Marine Highway. You can go further, all the way to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, but after Skagway the ferries become less frequent and the connections trickier.

David is not a fan of places where he is likely to meet hordes of fellow tourists; even less so when those tourists arrive by their thousands. Skagway has a permanent population of about 1,000 people but during the cruise ship season it can host 10,000 or more visitors in a single day.


Skagway was not on our Alaska Marine Highway itinerary. We needed to get to Whitehorse to connect with the Alaska Highway but we could do that just as easily from Haines. Haines is a quiet little town of a few thousand people unspoiled by the massive Alaskan cruise industry. That may change in the next few years but for now Haines is much more our kind of destination. You can read about our stay in Haines by clicking - here.

However, with time to spare in Whitehorse (read about our stay in Whitehorse - here) curiosity got the better of us and we took a day trip down to Skagway. From Carcross, an hour south of Whitehorse, the Klondkike Highway travels much the same route as the White Pass & Yukon Railway Route, through spectacular mountain passes and beside beautiful alpine lakes. Even without Skagway as our goal this was a drive well worth doing.

I wish I could remember the name of this lake but I can't. I do know it was on the drive between Whitehorse and Skagway

Bridging a gorge on the south Klondike Highway.
We thought this was probably the remains of an old gold mine but we couldn't be sure. There was no sign and no pullout.

Skagway - 


We got lucky in Skagway. We were there on a Sunday and found out later that weekends tend to be Skagway's least 'cruise-ship-busy' days. I have no idea why. There were two ships berthed and both were relatively small. With only a few thousand fellow tourists around, and no doubt many of them out of town on excursions, we almost had the town to ourselves. We still got the full 'faux wild-west' experience. To be honest. this is the main reason to go there. It was best summed up by the spruiker outside the entertainment hall who called out to us -

"Come inside for a full hour of non-shopping fun".

I am not much of a shopper, the product of a poor childhood where every dollar counted, so his exhortation was wasted on me but he did make us laugh.

The town might have been wall-to-wall jewellery and souvenir shops but the street facades were beautifully restored period architecture, perhaps a little too new and colourful looking to be completely authentic but lovely to wander past nevertheless. The biggest disappointment was the lack of cafes. We had a long, leisurely lunch planned but Skagway's cafes were sadly, few and far between and none of them looked especially inviting. We put it down to the fact that most of the tourists arriving in Skagway probably ate lunch on board their ships or while they were out on excursions.


Period  streetscape in Skagway





The bar is fake, the customers are fake and the bar tender is fake - but it was still pretty interesting.

Skagway hides the 21st Century around a corner - but we found it.


Dyea and The Chilkoot Trailhead -

Not far out of town we took the road toward the now abandoned town of  Dyea and found the Chilkoot Trailhead. The Chilkoot Trail is a 33 mile (53km) trail leading to the Yukon goldfields. If you have ever seen a movie depicting the harsh conditions which the early gold miners suffered in their quest to get to the Yukon fields then you have probably seen them struggling along this trail in waist deep snow and blizzard conditions. Today you can take a multi-day guided hike along the trail and, unlike many of the early prospectors, expect to come back alive.

Today the Chilkoot Trail is a National Historic Site


This false front is all that remains of Dyea. False store fronts gave an illusion of permanence to hastily constructed buildings in a town which lived and died with the gold rush.

The Klondike Highway: Skagway to Whitehorse


The Canada-US Border

Don't forget your passport. The Canada-US Border is less than half an hour from Skagway. You might only be headed to Skagway or Whitehorse for a day trip but it is still worth paying attention to the rules about what you can and can't bring into the US or Canada. Your car will be stopped, your passport checked and you'll be asked about prohibited and restricted items. The border station operates between 7 am and 11 pm so don't stay out too late!


Lining up to enter the US

Emerald Lake

Make sure you stop at Emerald Lake. It is just gorgeous.


 Emerald Lake 


Carcross Desert

The tourist guides will tell you this is the 'world's smallest desert' but, despite being a bit of an oddity amongst all these high mountains, alpine lakes and pine trees, the Carcross Desert is not a real desert. The sand, which makes it look like everyone's idea of a desert, was deposited as silt when large glacial lakes dried up during the last Ice Age.










Carcross

We couldn't see what all the fuss was about with Carcross. To us it seemed like yet another town with a lot of souvenir shops and not much else. At least it appeared the businesses were owned by locals. It was worth a quick stop to see the colourful Tlingit designs on the buildings.


The souvenir businesses are heavily Tlinglit influenced.


For the next post in this series click - here

For more posts on our Alaska and Canada road trip click - here

22 Aug 2015

52 comments:

  1. Wow, Emerald Lake is stunning! A trip to Alaska is high up on our travel bucket list and your post has heightened our desire to go even more. It looks like such a fun place to experience and see not only nature but the quaint towns as well.

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    1. My photo of Emerald Lake doesn't do it justice. It was even more beautiful in real life. The quaint towns were the best part of the Alaska Highway.If you watch out for my next post it will be on all the little towns between Dawson Creek, where the Alaska Highway begins and Whitehorse. There were a couple of real gems.

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  2. You caught such great weather. I remember the area as constant gray skies and drizzle. Still beautiful. Know what you mean about the cafes too. HaHa.

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    1. Haha - we got a heatwave but the weather can be weird wherever you are. We are in Cairns in Qld right now and it is overcast and wet - really strange for August.

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  3. Skagway looks like an interesting town to explore. I wonder if it's less busy on weekends because the cruise ships are at their Embarkation port that day instead. I had been wondering if I should get the kids' passports renewed in time for our Alaska trip next summer. With the Canadian border that close, I suppose it would be a good idea just in case. Thanks for linking up with #WkendTravelInspiration.

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    1. I would definitely renew your childrens' passports. Both Skagway and Haines are very close to Canada. You don't want to get up there and find you can go for a drive.

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  4. What a quaint little town Skagway looks nestled amongst some stunning scenery. Loving the photos Lyn.

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  5. Lyn, I've only been to Skagway once, and felt about it the same way you did. We weren't as lucky as you either. There must have been 10,000 people in that tiny street. We left. Not my favorite Alaskan spot!

    Thanks for linking up with us at #WkendTravelInspiration!

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  6. I've only been to Alaska once and that was years ago when I was still at university. This really makes me want to go back for a visit. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Alaska is one of those places which has a way of drawing you back.

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  7. I just love the name Skagway and the gorgeous little towns; Emerald Lake looks so beautiful. You have certainly had an amazing time and a big adventure.

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    1. A few people told us 'Skagway' was Tlingit for 'windy'. We got great weather but apparently it can get very windy.

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  8. Many years ago, I did the drive from Whitehorse to Skagway. I remember the drive as being very pretty, but found Skagway a bit too touristy for my taste. It was fun to visit once though and we had a nice walk in the wooded area outside of Skagway. It is so long ago I don't remember if we stopped at Emerald Lake or not - what a beautiful spot.

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    1. You can't miss Emerald Lake. It is right beside the road so I am sure you would have seen it. I agree with you that the drive is very pretty. We do a lot of drives and this was one very worth doing.

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  9. I guess curiosity paid off because this looks like a nice to visit. And, you guys visited on a cruise light day? I wonder how many cruise can be there in any given day. I can picture those streets packed.

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    1. I had a look at the schedule and I think most days had four ships. We got lucky with only two.

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  10. Emerald Lake looks absolutely gorgeous, but then so too does the whole route you're taking. I love the variety of the terrain and the pristine nature of the countryside. Those cruise ships look enormous ... bet they disgorge tribes of people.

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  11. I didn't expect to find a desert there, interesting. The rest of the tour looks amazing, thanks for taking us to all these beautiful places on your road trip!

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    1. As an Australian I think of deserts as spinifex and saltbush rather than just sand but it was still a bit of fun to stop and look at a landscape so different from the surrounding countryside.

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  12. I just love those lakes! I'm plotting to go to Alaska but don't want to go on a huge cruise and be one of the hoards of people swarming a small town. It's always useful to know what days the cruise ships tend to be there so you can plan around it. Contacting local tourism offices can get you the info.

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    1. Some places like Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau have got multiple ships on every day but others like Haines and Sitka have far fewer ships. There is a cruise ship timetable you can access on the internet which tells you which ships are in particular ports on any given day. If you want the link, just let me know and I will dig it out.

      It sounds to me like you would enjoy the Alaska Marine Highway. You can work out your own schedule, take your time and avoid the crowds to the extent that is possible. If you want to read a bit about it here is a link to my Alaska Marine Highway posts - http://www.thetravellinglindfields.com/search/label/Alaska%20Marine%20Highway

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  13. Beautiful shots - I want to travel along!
    Thanks for linking up at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2015/08/bennett-place-bit-of-history.html

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  14. WOW. Great post about your trip. Never seen a fake bar complete with people props! cheers from kid can doodle.

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    1. North Americans do fake things brilliantly. Look at Disneyland and all the living museums.

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  15. We took an Alaska cruise last year and loved it. I could spend months photographing the landscape. One can only imagine what it is like when all of the tourists are gone.

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    1. Even when you don't go on a cruise it is difficult to get away from the tourists. Sitka and Haines are two towns where you can manage it.

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  16. Skagway was high on my list of places to visit when I "do" that part of the world. Now it sounds disappointing, and, from your pictures, it looks a lot like Sacramento, CA's old town. I'm looking forward to reading about the littler towns in your next post! I hope they're better!

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    1. The truth is that Alaska has a massive and very successful publicity machine. I enjoyed it but David thought it just didn't live up to the hype. I would say to anyone - if you really want to see Alaska then go but try to manage your expectations or you stand a good chance of being disappointed.

      My next Alaska post might be a few weeks away. We are currently on an island in Nth Queensland, Australia and I'm taking a short break but when we get home I have a couple more Alaska posts planned.

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  17. Lovely photographs! I do so love the period architecture in Skagway - so pretty!!

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    1. I agree. The period architecture was lovely.

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  18. Your comment about the lack of cafes is really interesting...a by-product of the rise in popularity in cruising - thousands of people come ashore to these places each day, but their $ spend is mostly on tours and souvenirs...and restaurants, cafes, supermarkets etc are not really patronised. Which means more and more of the town/city/island/destination becomes gift shops and tour focused, and then I think there is a danger that the place loses the very authentic appeal that people came for in the first place?

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    1. I agree with you in relation to small towns like Skagway. We live in Sydney and with a population of four million the city can absorb cruise ship crowds without it having an impact on everyone else but I do sometimes wonder what Sydney gets out of so many tourists who eat and sleep on board the ships.

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  19. I apologize if you get a duplicate comment from me, Lyn, as my 1st one vanished! We were in Skagway while on an Alaska cruise and thoroughly enjoyed exploring it.

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    1. I didn't get a duplicate. Your first comment must have been absorbed into the internet ether somewhere along with the partners to all the odd socks in the world -lol.

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  20. Absolutely stunning photos and a dream destination of mine! Looks like you had quite the experience :)

    Lexie

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  21. Fabulous images - I would love to take a trip in Alaska, although like your husband hoards of tourists would put me off. The countryside and Emeralde lake look fascinating and I love the colour on the buildings.

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    1. If you don't want hoards of other tourists then try to avoid tours and cruises - drive or fly yourself and go for the less visited places. Haines, Whitehorse and Sitka were all very uncrowded. There is a website which tells you how many cruise ships will be in given ports on given days - that helps a bit with planning.

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  22. I'm from Arctic Norway, but this looks great!

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    1. Arctic Norway sounds fabulous. My brother is there right now so I see lots of photos on a daily basis.

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  23. Love the photos! Skagway and Carcross do look like great places to get away from hordes of fellow tourists.

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    1. We were lucky. Normally Skagway is packed with cruise ship passengers and Carcross can be busy when the train arrives.

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  24. Beautiful photos! I love the lakes and the mountains.

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  25. I love it when curiosity leads us 'astray', and that Emerald Lake is gorgeous.
    Thanks for linking up for #wednesdaywanderlust

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    1. Absolutely - The best things in travel are the highlights you didn't plan.

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  26. I think this is a great trip. The image of Alaska are very far north and too cold, certainly not comfortable for the body.

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    1. I agree. When people think of Alaska theytend to think of much further north when most Alaskans live in the panhandle.

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