Great Debate

Skagway vs Icy Strait Point: How to Choose for Your Alaska Trip

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Planning your Alaska trip or cruise is a series of seemingly impossible decisions. How long to visit, and when. How much to spend. Where to go, what to do, where to stay. Oh my! You might find yourself stuck between two different destinations, uncertain which will be the right one for you and the kinds of memories you want to make during your bucket list trip to The Last Frontier.

This is why I’ve started a new series of posts I call the “Great Debate;” in each post, I compare two Alaskan communities to help you choose between the two. If you have time to visit both, awesome – but if you (like most visitors) are time-constrained, these posts will help.

Skagway vs Icy Strait Point Hero

In this post, I’m comparing Icy Strait Point and Skagway. While I haven’t been to Icy Strait Point (yet*), I’ve been to Skagway several times, most recently in 2022 as part of an Alaska cruise with Windstar. (*I’m actually visiting both Icy Strait Point and Skagway as part of a cruise with Celebrity Cruises in September 2024; I’ll come back to update this post after that if I need to add any more personal details.)

If you’re stuck on the great debate of Skagway vs Icy Strait Point, read on. This guide covers the similarities and differences between the two, as well as the unique aspects each one has to offer travelers. Then I end with a recommendation for which to visit, to wrap everything up nicely for you. Ready to dig in and settle this great debate for your own Alaska trip?

(Short on time? Use the Table of Contents to quickly navigate this post!)

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the Lingít Aaní (traditional lands) of the 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.

Skagway vs Icy Strait Point: What are the Differences?

As you plan your Alaska cruise and compare itineraries, you might notice that ships heading one direction (say, northbound) have Icy Strait Point while that same ship heading the other direction (southbound) will have Skagway on the itinerary. (Some do include both, not visiting other ports instead).

While Skagway and Icy Strait Point offer unique experiences, they cater to different types of travelers and interests, so you might need to choose as part of picking your cruise route. Here’s a quick breakdown of the key differences between Skagway and Icy Strait Point to help you decide; I then go into more detail about each one.

🚞 Skagway is a historic hotspot, known for its rich Klondike Gold Rush heritage, with well-preserved buildings, the scenic White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, and informative museums that transport visitors back in time.

🎡 In contrast, Icy Strait Point is ideal for thrill-seekers and nature lovers – it literally is an adventure playground. It has one of the world’s longest zip lines, excellent whale-watching opportunities, and cultural experiences with the local Tlingit community. 

Skagway: Historic Hotspot

As I said above, Skagway is a town steeped in history, particularly from the Klondike Gold Rush era. 

Walking through its streets feels like stepping back in time, with well-preserved buildings and museums telling the stories of past fortune seekers. The downtown area is part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and features tons of restored buildings and historical reenactments. 

One of the main attractions is the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway.  The train travels up a length of railway originally planned during the gold rush, and through beautiful and historic scenery. Along the ride, you can see a great view of the famous Bridal Veil Falls, a giant wooden rail trestle dating back a century, a caboose left to provide hikers shelter, and several hundred-ton boulders, under which the workers it crushed remain to this day.

There are also guided tours that provide insights into Skagway’s history, including visits to other historic sites, including Klondike National Historical Park, the Arctic Brothers Building, and the Gold Rush Cemetery.

While I said that Skagway is mainly a historic town, you can enjoy the outdoors, too. Skagway offers trails like the Chilkoot Trail, which is rich in natural beauty and historical significance.

More Skagway Resources I’ve Written:

Icy Strait Point: Adventure Playground

Icy Strait Point, on the other hand, is a haven for adventure seekers and nature lovers. Located near the Alaskan Native community of Hoonah, this is a private tourist destination that offers a mix of cultural experiences and outdoor activities. The highlight of this destination is the ZipRider, one of the world’s longest zip lines, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

For those interested in the fauna, the waters around Icy Strait Point are teeming with marine life – in fact,  some people mention that there’s so much wildlife to see off the edge of the pier, that a whale-watching excursion isn’t even necessary.  

As for the cultural aspect, Icy Strait Point is located in Alaska’s largest Native Tlingit village, Hoonah. You can engage with the local Tlingit culture through performances, storytelling, and visits to heritage centers. Totem sites in Hoonah are located in front of the Hoonah City School and at Icy Strait Point, featuring carved canoes and totems by local artisans. Cultural tours offer a deep dive into Tlingit traditions, showcasing their dance, music, arts, and history. One unique highlight is the opportunity to tour Icy Strait in a traditional, hand-carved Tlingit dugout canoe.

I’m actually taking my first trip to Icy Strait Point/Hoonah this year on our September 2024 Alaska cruise, so I don’t have a ton of resources. Here are my tips on choosing the best Icy Strait Point cruise excursions to get you started until I publish more.

Icy Strait Point or Skagway: How to Choose

One Day in Glacier Bay Hero

Choosing between Skagway or Icy Strait Point depends largely on what kind of experience you’re seeking. Here’s a quick guide to help you decide:

  • History Buffs: If you’re fascinated by the Gold Rush era and enjoy exploring historical sites, Skagway is your ideal destination. The town’s rich past and preserved landmarks provide a deep dive into Alaska’s history.
  • Adventure Enthusiasts: For those seeking adrenaline-pumping activities and close encounters with nature, Icy Strait Point offers an array of adventures from ziplining to whale watching.
  • Cultural Explorers: If you want to learn about the Indigenous Tlingit culture and enjoy immersive cultural experiences, Icy Strait Point will be more appealing.
  • Scenic Travelers: Both destinations offer stunning scenery, but Skagway’s historic train ride and hiking trails provide a more structured way to take in the views, while Icy Strait Point offers more rugged, nature-centric exploration.

Ultimately, whether you choose between Icy Strait Point or Skagway, you’ll get back home with unforgettable experiences. Stuck still trying to decide between Skagway vs Icy Strait Point after reading this post? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll try to help you choose.

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

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