Situated at the end of the picturesque Lynn Canal, Skagway is the quintessential Gold Rush Town. When gold fever hit in 1897, it brought total anarchy to Skagway, with a swarm of opportunists arriving with the prospectors to either service or swindle them usually both. Some things haven’t changed: Most of the folks you see in the summer are seasonal workers, brought in essentially as actors to man the set.
It’s some set, with the wide main drag, Broadway, lined end to end with gold-rush-era buildings and protected as a National Historic District. A few that look like real businesses turn out to be displays showing how it was back in frontier days, but most house gift shops lots and lots of gift shops, mostly selling either cheap tourist gimcracks or jewelry. Ships dock at the cruise pier, at the foot of Broadway or off Congress or Terminal Way. Though the docks are in sight of downtown, it’s about a 20-minute walk, so free shuttle buses are provided.
Top draw The famous White Pass & Yukon Route narrow-gauge railway (www.frontier-excursions.com ) takes you from the town and past waterfalls and still-visible parts of the famous Trail of ’98 to the White Pass Summit, the boundary between Canada and the United States, a 3-hour round trip. Beware: On an overcast day, you won’t see a damn thing from the train.
Off the beaten track The ghost town of Dyea, about 9 miles west, was established around the same time as Skagway, but was abandoned completely after the gold rush. Tours head to Dyea by bus, bicycle, or on horseback.
Tee ’em up Over the White Pass, the Yukon town of Carcross has a 9-hole golf course at the Meadow Lakes Golf & Country Club (meadowlakesgolfresort.com ). Golfing in the Yukon! Now there’s something to tell your regular partners.
Cheesy but fun The Days of ’98 Show has been playing at the Fraternal Order of Eagles Hall since 1927, which tells you how long Skagway has relied on tourism. A melodrama of the Gay ’90s, it features dancing girls, ragtime music, poetry recitations, and actors portraying a legendary shootout.
Also cheesy but fun On Skagway Streetcar tours (www.skagwaystreetcar.com ), guides in period costume relate tales of the boomtown days as you tour the sights both in and outside of town in a 1920s limo.