It’s hard to choose, but among Alaska cruise ports, Skagway is probably my favorite. Skagway is a weird, wild, wonderful destination: it has been home to a confluence of history, culture, and outdoor adventure that dates back to the late 19th century. The shore excursions in Skagway reflect that, too!
After all, Alaskan Natives called this area home for centuries, and most gold rushers in 1898 passed through Skagway on their way to the goldfields. Their ‘wild west’ lifestyle also drew shady businessmen and intrepid ladies of the night… all of whom left their mark on the region. Add in beautiful scenery and opportunities for outdoor adventure, and Skagway is a unique place that’s well-worth exploring during your port stop on an Alaska cruise.
I’ve visited Skagway several times during my various adventures living in and traveling to Alaska. During my most recent trip, I spent the whole day just exploring the historic downtown – but there are some amazing Skagway cruise excursions to choose from if you want something more structured.
As you plan your Alaska cruise and compare Skagway cruise excursions, it’s hard to choose one. To help, I’ve reviewed all of the excursions offered by Alaska cruise companies, and have picked my 10 favorites. I also keep in mind some of the other tips on choosing Alaska cruise excursions. For each excursion, I list which cruise companies offer that one – so you can see whether your cruise is on the list. Read on for the best Skagway cruise excursions!
While I personally do not support the mega-ship cruise industry due to its negative impact on local economies, damage caused to the environment, and evasive tax practices, I created this resource to allow you to make your own choice. Please consider booking a small-ship cruise instead, carbon offsetting, and buying local souvenirs to help reduce the negative impact of your Alaska cruise.
This post was originally published in March 2020, and was updated in May 2021.
Planning an Alaska Cruise in 2021
With the passage of The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, Alaska cruise lines are planning to resume cruises as early as mid-July 2021. Here are the cruise lines and their planned first sailings:
- Royal Caribbean – July 19
- Celebrity Cruises – July 23
- Holland America – July 24
- Princess Cruises – July 25
- Carnival Cruises – July 27
- Norwegian Cruise Line – August 7
Each of these companies requires proof of vaccination, and most make stops at Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, and some also stop at Icy Point Strait and visit Glacier Bay National Park. You will see these companies listed below on each excursion they offer (as well as others who will resume cruises in 2022).
The Best Alaska Cruise Excursions in Skagway
Once I reviewed all of the shore excursions in Skagway, I’ll admit: it was obvious which one should be #1. As you’ll see, the top Skagway cruise excursion I’ve picked really is the most popular and offers the best sample of Skagway life and culture. After that, doing a rank order of the rest was really tough! Though whether you’re craving Alaskan scenery and wildlife or local food and culture, there’s an option for everyone in Skagway.
1. Best of Skagway
Like the top Alaska cruise excursion that I recommended in Seattle, the best Skagway cruise excursion is a ‘city tour’ that shows you the best parts of this small Alaskan community. The ‘Best of Skagway’ tour does exactly that, and is offered by many of the cruise companies that make port stops in Skagway.
On this 6.5-hour tour, you’ll have three incredible experiences – and three that are totally unique to Skagway. First, you’ll board and ride the White Pass and Yukon Route, a narrow-gauge railroad that ascends the White Pass for epic views and scenery. Next, most tours disembark at the “Liarsville Gold Rush Trail Camp and Salmon Bake” for a bawdy historic reenactment about Skagway’s history and a meal of fresh Alaska salmon. Finally, some tours add on a saloon stop at Red Onion Saloon – you can raise a glass in camaraderie with the legions of intrepid gold miners who passed through Skagway over the centuries.
2. Ghosts & Goodtime Girls Walking Tour
Want a bit deeper dive into Skagway’s unique history? The Ghosts & Goodtime Girls Walking Tour is the excursion for you!
Join a Skagway madam for an alleyway tour of Skagway’s saucy former tourism industry then tour the city’s brothel museum. Along the way, learn about the women who lived here – and perhaps still haunt the halls of their working establishments. End by enjoying a champagne toast in the Red Onion Saloon, whether you’ve seen a ghost or not!
(While Disney offers this excursion, I would imagine it’s better for older children than younger ones.)
3. Gold Panning, Gold Rush Sled Dogs & 40 Below
What I love about this excursion is that, like the Best of Skagway tour I put in the #1 spot, it offers a combination of distinctly Alaskan experiences all within a single tour. Especially in Skagway, dog sledding, panning for gold, and experiencing the frigid cold are all critical parts of the city’s history.
On this 3-hour tour, you’ll meet sled dog puppies and a musher, try your hand at gold panning, and feel the deep cold of an Alaskan winter at the 40 Below Experience – a cold chamber that does a remarkably good job simulating the bitterness of winter in The Last Frontier. (Having just spent time in Fairbanks in the winter, I can tell you it’s a very unique experience you only need once in life! ?)
4. Legends & Lies: Gold Rush Saloon & City Tour
Have you figured out the theme of Skagway excursions? It’s all about history! As an alternative to the Best of Skagway tour, the Legends & Lies tour is a great option for adults (or groups with kids 16+*, the minimum age requirement for this excursion).
The excursion takes you to the Klondike Gold Rush National Park Historic District where you’ll learn from historic actors about life in a stampede town during the gold rush era. You can also try your hand at making a few stampede-era cocktails (including one with edible gold!) and snack on funky Alaskan snacks (salmon quesadilla, anyone?).
*On certain cruise companies, guests as young as 16 can go on this excursion, but you must be 21+ to make and enjoy an alcoholic drink during the tour. There are non-alcoholic options for underage guests.
5. Musher’s Camp and S’more Roasting Adventure
If you’re traveling with kids – or just a kid at heart, in which case, I feel you! – this is a perfect Skagway excursion for your whole group. On this roughly 3-hour tour, you’ll visit Dyea, a former gold rush town where you can meet a musher and his sled dogs today. The musher will give a talk and give you a chance to meet any puppies they have in the camp that day. Afterward, you’ll roast s’mores around a campfire surrounded by the Alaskan wilderness.
6. Chilkoot Trail Hike & Float
Looking to stretch your legs in Skagway after all those days on the ship? This two-activity Chilkoot Trail hike and float is the best option for you.
On this excursion you’ll do a coach transfer to Dyea, hike two miles of the Chilkoot Trail (the easy part, not this part), then board an 18-foot raft to float down the Taiya River. It’s a relatively easy excursion – easy hiking and sitting rather than paddling on the raft – but offers a bit more activity than other options.
7. Skagway in Focus: Guided Photography Adventure
If one of your goals in Alaska is getting amazing photographs to wow your friends back home, this is the Skagway cruise excursion you should choose. This three-hour tour pairs you up with a local photographer to explore the whole region. (Note: you may cross the Canadian border as part of this excursion so you must bring your passport!)
There’s no specific location or itinerary you’ll be guaranteed to visit. The guide will choose a few spots based on their local knowledge and recent good experiences (like wildlife they’ve spotted in a specific area). You might shoot wildlife, historic buildings, stunning scenery, or all of the above. Pack your camera gear for this one!
8. Eagle Preserve Float
I grew up in the town of Eagle River, Alaska, so I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to eagle viewing opportunities. ? That’s why I’m happy to promote this excursion on the list, even though it’s pretty niche-y – you wildlife lovers will want to consider this one.
This is a 6.5-hour tour that’s pretty much exclusively on boats. You’ll board a catamaran to Haines, then transfer to an 18-foot raft to float through Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. I mean, if an eagle preserve doesn’t have eagles, where else will you see them? (Juneau has a large eagle population too but no specific excursions for them.)
9. Klukwan Native Culture Experience
If your cruise doesn’t take you to Haines and/or you didn’t do a cultural excursion in Ketchikan, I highly recommend considering this Skagway cruise excursion from Skagway. During the 6.5-hour tour, you’ll board a catamaran to Haines, then learn about the Native Alaskan culture there.
Specifically, you’ll visit the Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center to learn about and view Tlingit crafts and art – this is one of the most recognizable Alaskan Native cultures. You’ll also watch a traditional dance (and hear traditional music) and learn about Tlingit traditional dress. Basically, this is a great one for you culture vulture cruisers!
10. Taste of Alaska Food Science Tour
Isn’t there something so satisfying about making and then enjoying a super-healthy meal of local food? I mean, there’s like a whole generation of people who have transformed the restaurant industry with that preference. That’s why this Food Science Tour, which admittedly isn’t offered by many of the cruise companies, makes my list.
The Taste of Alaska Food Science Tour will take you into the kitchen with the chef and owner of the Historic Skagway Inn. You’ll learn about fresh produce and seafood in the Skagway area, the science behind cooking those foods, plus how to prepare that food for maximum delicious-ness. In the end, you’ll enjoy a salmon dish with fresh greens, and homemade ice cream. (This is a great one if you plan to buy Alaska salmon on your trip – that’s one of my most-recommended Alaska souvenirs!)
There you have it – my take on the best Alaska cruise excursions in Skagway. Have other questions about visiting Skagway, taking an Alaska cruise, or choosing Alaska cruise excursions? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
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