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Skagway, Alaska is the kind of place that you just know has some interesting facts about it. This quirky little town would normally be off-the-beaten-path – but the cruise companies almost all visit it for its historic significance, colorful buildings, and oddball Alaskan charm. And yes, there are loads of fascinating Skagway facts you’ll learn when you visit and take a tour.
If you want to learn more about Skagway now before visiting, read on. I’ve pulled together a list of facts about Skagway that run the gamut: from history to geography to life in this corner of The Last Frontier. By the end, you’ll know about Skagway from its Gold Rush beginnings to its “moon-y” “happy endings.” (You’ll get it when you read it!)
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the Lingít Aaní of the Áak’w Ḵwáan (Tlingit) people. 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.
Featured photo copyright Frank Flavin, provided courtesy of Visit Skagway
History Facts about Skagway
Skagway is one of Alaska’s most historically-fascinating towns. It has colorful characters, fascinating facts, and yes – of course – a gold rush. Here are some of the most interesting history facts about Skagway.
- Skagway’s original name, Skagua, means “Home of the North Wind” in Tlingit. The Tlingit people still live in Southeast Alaska.
- Skagway was Alaska’s first incorporated city. It was incorporated on June 28, 1900, one day before Juneau.
- During the Gold Rush, Skagway had a population of around 10,000 people. By June 1898, Skagway was the largest city in Alaska, but today only around 900 people call Skagway home year-round.
- Speaking of the Gold Rush, here’s a bummer for you: over 60,000 people died in Dyea, Skagway, or on one of the trails trying to reach the Klondike goldfields, including several hundred in a single avalanche.
- Jack London, author of The Call of the Wild, traveled the Chilkoot Trail in 1897. There are even scenes from some of the movie adaptations of his book that were shot in Dyea.
- Skagway’s most famous citizen is Jefferson Randolph Smith, also known as Soapy Smith. He was an American con artist and gangster in the American frontier; he died in a shoot-out in 1898 and is buried in the Skagway cemetery.
- John W. Nordstrom, the future founder of Nordstrom’s department store, spent two years in the Klondike during the Gold Rush. He earned $13,000 from a gold-mine stake (almost $400,000 in today’s money) before returning to Seattle and starting his business.
Skagway Geography Facts
Like many Alaskan towns along the Inside Passage, Skagway has a unique geography. Here are some facts to help you make sense of it – but a map will help make the picture clearer!
- Skagway is one of only three cities in Southeast Alaska accessible by road – but the only road into Skagway comes from the Yukon Territory, Canada.
- It is only 50 miles from Skagway to the Yukon Territory. The Klondike (where mining prospectors were headed) is 500 miles away.
- Skagway is a zero-stoplight town: the closest stoplight to Skagway is over 100 miles away in Whitehorse, Canada. That is also the location of the nearest McDonald’s.
- Skagway is located at the terminus of the Lynn Canal; it is the deepest and longest fjord in North America.
Facts about Skagway Life
Life in Skagway is… unique, to say the least! The town population swells each summer, but a handful of hardy locals stay to call it home all year long. Here’s a little bit about what life in Skagway is like.
- Unlike other cities in Southeast Alaska that receive a lot more rain, Skagway only gets 26 inches of precipitation a year. There usually isn’t much snow.
- The hottest day on record in Skagway was 91°F in 2004; the coldest recorded temperature was -38°F in the winter of 1975. (1975 was also the hottest ever recorded in Juneau – even though the two cities are only 100 miles apart!)
- There are only five bars in Skagway: The Red Onion Saloon, Bonanza Bar & Grill, The Station, The Skagway Brewing Company, and Happy Endings. Yes, that last one refers to what you’re thinking; it’s located in the Morning Wood Hotel.
- Skagway holds the Guinness World Record for the most people in an egg toss. 1,162 people participated stretching six blocks across town. How’s that for notoriety!
Other Curious Skagway Facts
I always find a few extra interesting facts when researching these posts; here are the funky and odd Skagway facts I discovered while researching this cruise port.
- The Golden North Hotel is the oldest hotel in Alaska. Oh, and it’s haunted, of course.
- The Arctic Brotherhood Hall is purported as the most photographed building in Alaska. There are at least 8,883 driftwood sticks nailed to its facade.
- Though the Gold Rush ended over 120 years ago, around 2,000 people still hike the Chilkoot trail every year. The trail is 33 miles long and takes 3-5 days to complete.
- The cruise industry is a huge part of Skagway’s local economy: nearly one million people visit Skagway annually, almost all of them on cruise ships.
- To make this possible, Skagway has some of the most expansive port facilities in Alaska. Skagway can dock up to five cruise ships at a time, and a sixth boat can anchor-out and tender passengers in.
- While local residents generally love tourists (or their dollars!), there is a funny tradition when the last cruise ship pulls away each autumn: residents line the dock and moon the passengers!
Do you know any other facts about Skagway? Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.
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