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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 best Skagway shore excursions 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, including during my Windstar cruise in 2022. During my most recent trip, I picked an excursion to ride the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad, then spent the rest of my time just exploring the historic downtown.
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 ranked the best 10. I also keep in mind some of the other tips on choosing Alaska cruise excursions. Read on for that top 10 list, as well as the top 5 I think best match different traveler styles and desired experiences.
(If you want to do Skagway on your own, I recommend checking my guide for how to make the most of one day in Skagway!)
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the Lingít Aaní (traditional lands) of the Tlingit peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in March 2020, and was updated most recently in December 2023.
Skagway vs Haines: Excursion Differences Explained
As you start planning your Alaska cruise and choosing an excursion in Skagway, be aware: some excursions don’t actually happen in Skagway, they take place in nearby Haines.
Haines is a small Alaskan community with Native Alaskan roots and plenty of its own unique history. It’s also a 45-minute fast-ferry ride from Skagway. Both Haines and Skagway have limited moorage spots, so some boats moor in one and transfer guests to the other by said fast ferry; this is what happened when I visited Skagway (Haines) with Windstar in 2022.
It’s important to read the description for any Skagway excursions you’re interested in, since they may actually occur in Haines – but all of the ones on this list are actually in Skagway. (And I’m working on a list of Haines excursions coming soon.)
The Best Skagway Shore Excursions
Given how many cruise companies offer a number of interesting and unique shore excursions in Skagway, it was hard to choose which ones to recommend. But, I’ve weighed the options and consider these nine to be the best Skagway cruise excursions.
Here’s how I calculated the scores:
- I went through all of the Skagway shore excursions (238) on every company (7) that has any cruise(s) that stop there in 2024.
- I looked at the number of cruise companies offering that excursion this year.
- I force-ranked the excursions by “uniqueness” with no ties.
- I calculated what the cruise should cost with my “Money-to-Time” calculation and then gave a bonus (or penalty) based on the actual excursion price.
- Finally, I added up the metrics to come up with a final score.
- To break ties, I used the “uniqueness” score, since I want to encourage you to try new things in Alaska!
For 2024, here’s my list of the best Skagway excursions:
|# of Cruises
|White Pass Scenic Railway
|Skagway Street Car City Tour
|Chilkoot Trail Hike & River Float
|Gold Fever & Sled Dogs
|Musher’s Camp & Sled Dog Discovery
|Klondike Rock Climbing & Rappelling
|Alpine Lake Canoe Adventure
|Glacier Discovery By Helicopter
|Grizzly Falls Ziplining Expedition
|Adventure Park & Ziplines
As you can see, the top options for cruise excursions in Skagway have changed a lot recently; many of the shore excursions I recommend are new on the list this year, and most of those are more traditional Alaska cruise excursion activities you’ll see in other ports (ziplining, flightseeing, etc.) – but there are a few great ones that have held on to the list in 2024.
For the rest of this post, I’ll highlight five of the excursions on this table and which type of Alaska traveler I think each is best for. Let’s go!
🥾 Best for Adventure Travelers: Chilkoot Trail Hike & River Float
As a community born of the adventurous spirit of making one’s fortune and pushing the limits of human endurance to do it, it should be no surprise that there are some really cool adventure-oriented shore excursions in Skagway… or should I say in the neighboring ghost town of Dyea, which is where the actual Chilkoot Trail sets out for those prospectors seeking gold.
In any case, the Chilkoot Trail Hike & River Float is an excellent option if you want a two-fer of Alaskan adventure experiences: you’ll start with a two-mile hike on the Chilkoot Trail – not the steepest part you might have seen in photos! – followed by a calm river float back down to Dyea.
You’ll also have a scenic 30-minute drive each way between Skagway and Dyea to learn about the history of the area and the Gold Rush. Best of all, this tour is limited to groups of 10 or fewer, so it’s also not a long straggling trail of hikers like those historic photos.
For an alternative, the “Klondike Rock Climbing & Rappelling” excursion is even more adventurous and will help you burn off plenty of cruise calories in a safe environment – with stunning views.
🗿 Best for Culture Vultures: White Pass Scenic Railway
As I updated this post for 2024 Alaska cruisers, I was shocked to see that the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway was not on my list! I think this is mostly because the cruise companies have been renaming and re-organizing their tours in the past few years, and this experience was included in the “Best of Skagway” tour that was always on my list. In any case, if you only have time for ONE excursion in Skagway, this has gotta be it!
The White Pass & Yukon Route (also called the White Pass Scenic Railway in many excursion titles) sets out from the heart of Skagway, climbing up to White Pass and – depending on which of the many railway excursions you book – traveling further into the Yukon to Bennett Lake or Fraser. When I rode this train in 2022, we only went as far as the Canadian border before returning back by rail (due to Canadian border restrictions at the time), but some excursions continue all the way to the Yukon, or have you disembark for a drive back to Skagway, or have other activities added on while up in the pass… there are lots of options to ride the train and do more, if you want to!
Best of all for you culture vultures, this tour is narrated with an excellent history of the region and what makes Skagway a significant location to the native peoples, the prospectors of the Gold Rush, and visitors today.
For a couple of alternatives to the many White Pass Scenic Railway excursions available, two other tours I think are worth doing are the “Skagway Street Car City Tour” and the “Ghosts & Goodtime Girls Walking Tour” – both give you a nice, nuanced look at Skagway’s history. Additionally, you could just strike it out on your own to visit the Klondike National Historical Park which is easy to visit in the heart of town.
👨👩👧👦 Best for Families: Gold Fever & Sled Dogs
Whenever I’m looking for a good tour to recommend for families, I have two main criteria: would Baby V enjoy this (when she’s older, of course), and is it offered by Disney Cruise Lines? Disney – say what you will about them – knows what kids like (and what parents are willing to pay for!) so the excursions they offer are usually family-oriented; this Gold Fever & Sled Dogs excursion exactly fits the bill.
Over the course of the three-hour tour, you and your family will visit the recreation of a historic town (harkening back to the Gold Rush era in Skagway), try your hand at gold panning, learn about the importance of dog sledding in Alaskan history and industry, and meet some pups! It really hits all the high notes for both animal-loving kids and history-interested adults.
If you want to add-on and have the money, this tour is also offered as a combo with the White Pass Railway, called something like “Gold Nugget, Sled Dogs & Exclusive Scenic Railway” by the cruise companies that offer it.
🦪 Best for Foodies: Hands-On Kitchen Science With Alaskan Chef
You might be looking at the table of excursions above and thinking – hey, this one isn’t on that list! And you’re totally right: there’s an alarming dearth of food tours in Skagway (though you could easily use my post about where to eat in Skagway and draw up your own foodie tour).
There is one though: the Hands-On Kitchen Science tour that’s offered by just three companies (Carnival, HAL, and Princess). It seems to have been designed for this family of cruise companies alone, so I’m not sure your chef will be local for the tour – but you will have the chance to try your hand (literally) at cooking with Alaskan ingredients. Using a local garden, fresh Alaskan fish (salmon or halibut), and other fresh ingredients, you’ll sample some delightful flavors – including ice cream (because we Alaskans love ice cream!).
It’s worth noting this excursion doesn’t substitute for a meal, so you may still want to grab a bite elsewhere in town.
🐋 Best for Wildlife Seekers: Head to Haines!
I’m deviating from my top 10 Skagway shore excursions table above again: Skagway is not a wildlife destination, so none of the best cruise excursions are wildlife-oriented. Luckily, as I mentioned at the top of the post, Haines is quite close by – a 45-minute fast ferry ride away – and Haines is a great wildlife destination.
While I’m still working on my list of the best Haines excursions, here are the ones I’d recommend booking if you’re keen to do as much wildlife viewing as you can in Alaksa, including your Skagway port stop:
- Bear & Eagle Quest
- Eagle Preserve Rafting & Wildlife Quest
- Kroschel Wildlife Refuge
- Wilderness & Nature Exploration
- Wilderness Odyssey By Jet Boat
Any of these will transport you from Skagway to Haines, then set out in search of wild animals – rather than the wild humans you might find in Skagway’s Red Onion Saloon or elsewhere in town. (As a bonus, the fast ferry can be a really nice ride so that’s an added bonus experience on all of these excursions!)
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 below.
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