Alaska - Western Canada Journey

Day19 (In Progress)

Skagway To Watson Lake


We took a walking tour offered by the Park Service to learn about the history of Skagway. It was interesting, but we forgot most of the facts just a few days afterward. The rest of the day was about driving, mostly through roads already traveled and was not terribly exciting. The weather was great, making the drive more enjoyable. The only big event of the day came in the afternoon where we learned that a forest fire closed the highway that we planned to take, forcing us to stay overnight at a campground waiting for the news about road condition in the morning...

Day Journal

Skagway Walking Tour: Skagway is a historic town, preserving the history of the Klondike Gold Rush years around 1897 when within four months, a tent city became a full fledge town with wooden buildings and boardwalks. There are different interpretations of where the name Skagway came from, with an author suggested it came from Skagua, home of the north wind. Others said it really came from Sch-kawai, meaning end of salt water. Yet more authors gave it even more variations such as rough water, cruel wind, etc. Finally, a magazine concluded that Skagway was a "word of uncertain meaning". In any event, it's called Skagway by decree of the post office! Walking the Broadway Street gives one the feeling of walking down a Hollywood movie set since the buildings are mostly from a different era and so well preserved. Many buildings lining Broadway were historic sites dating back as late as 1880's, with more dotting the side streets.

The Walking Tour is conducted by the National Park Service for free, but it's quite popular and requiring tickets to attend. Securing a ticket a few hours ahead is advisable, especially if you have to compete with the cruise ship tourists. The tour took us about an hour to several buildings preserved to their gold rush days of 1890's. Getting a walking-tour brochure is important, both to orient yourself during the walk as well as to retain information afterward. It can be frustrating to try to associate a log building with a name months later. The web offers a vast amount of information, but not everything. I was surprised to find little about Skagway and the walking tour on the web, mostly pulling data from a few sources. The Walk took us to several historic building, and into some. While we were there, the Jeff Smith's Parlor saloon which belonged to a con man named "Soapy" Smith was raised off its foundation for preservation and did not allow visitors inside. We visited a brothel called the Red Onion Saloon. Another interesting building was the Artic Brotherhood Hall, which now has some 8800 driftwood pieces nailed to the front facade. The oldest structure in Skagway was the Moor Cabin, built by Captain William Moore and his son in 1887.

Jeff Smith's Parlor, 1897: Owned by "Soapy" Smith, a notorious con man who took over Skagway and controlled over 200 gamblers, swindlers and thugs until he was shot dead by surveyor Frank Reid in 1898.

Red Onion Saloon, 1898: This was one of the most popular watering holes, serving as a saloon dance hall and bordello. When it was moved to Broadway in 1914, it was "fittingly" reinstalled backward with the rear facing Broadway! The Mascot Saloon, 1898: It was one of some 80 saloons in Skagway, and operated until 1916 when Prohibition closed it down. Now it's owned by the National Park Service. Park owned historic buildings were repainted to their original colors. Some are leased back to private businesses. Moore Cabin, 1887: This was the oldest structure in Skagway. It was built by Captain William Moore and his son starting in 1887. Moore followed the gold rush here and prospered when Skagway developed into a major port and railroad terminal. His son, Ben, built the main house next to the cabin. The house was preserved and gives a great account of life at the time.

By late morning, after checking out the park museum about life during the gold rush time, it was time for us to leave. Again by chance, we met two interesting people. First, while we were taking pictures of a waterfall along Klondike Highway, we chatted with a motorbiker traveling alone. It was amazing to learn that he traveled all the way from Ontario, and would visit Alaska before turning back. It was even more amazing to learn that his wife was also a biker, and she was doing a tour of the US at the same time! Soon after at another picture spot, I took pictures of bicyclists climbing the hill. One stopped by for a chat with us, and once again to our amazement, we learned that she was traveling with a group of bicyclists on a Tour Artic bicycle trip of almost 1200 miles from Vancouver to Inuvik, North West Territory, mostly camping with a few days in hotels. Aside from ferry rides, they would ride their bikes the whole way, some part on unpaved surface. Wow, what incredible journey! Well, perhaps one day?

Much of the rest of the day was spent retracing our drive. By chance when we made a stop to fill up gas, we learned that Highway 37 that we had planned to take was closed due to forest fire. With the alternate route at over 900 miles going back to Dawson Creek and then south to Prince George, we decided to stay overnight at a local campground to see if the road would reopen the following day. There were many things that we did twice during the trip that we had only envisioned doing once. This was another example - we camped at the same campground that we camped on the way to Alaska earlier!

Road and Weather

The road was great the whole way. The weather was also beautiful. There was no complain on this day.


Skaway Walking Tour

Tour Artic