Our final stops on our Alaskan cruise were Skagway and Ketchikan. Both are small Alaskan cities, but they support an incredible tourism business. With combined populations of less than 8,000 people, these two town’s populations double during the summer to handle the more than one million cruise ship visitors! Needless to say, they are incredibly welcoming and appreciative of tourists.
Skagway is known for gold! The gold rush hit Skagway in the late 1800’s, but it lasted just a few short years. Now tourists can participate in gold panning excursions or in the popular White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad train ride. We purchased an excursion through Princess Cruises that combined these two popular attractions and provided lunch.
The White Pass and Yukon Rout Railroad is a 40 mile round trip train ride up to the White Pass Summit, and it’s by far the best thing to do in Skagway. The scenery is breathtaking as you pass over waterfalls, gulches, tunnels, and mountains.
For time’s sake, we chose to take a charter bus ride to the summit, followed by the train ride back down. I’m glad we did that because the train ride is long and would have gotten a little redundant if we had ridden it to the summit and also back down. We were able to see an angle from the bus that isn’t viewable from the train, and our driver stopped to let us take pictures. The train was narrated and incredibly informative. The narrator pointed out wildlife, answered questions, and named landmarks as we rode by.
Type A Tidbit:
Don’t forget your passport!!! You briefly cross the border into Canada to board the train, and a passport is necessary.
For the best views: If you’re riding to the summit, sit on the left side of the train (if you’re facing the engine). If you’re riding the train down the mountain, then sit on the right side (if you’re facing towards the engine).
If you’re brave, sneak out the back door of your railcar and ride on the walkway in between the two cars. If you’re really brave, hang over the side to get amazing pictures!
After the train, we ate a barbecue lunch and then went straight to our gold panning location. The gold panning was so fun! First, they taught us how to do it properly, and then we were each given our own pan of gold. Whatever gold we found was ours to keep! We took our gold inside to get weighed, and I found the most gold!
When we got back to town, we briefly visited the Red Onion Saloon for a quick drink. It was a brothel during the gold rush, and they very much keep this atmosphere alive. If you’re easily embarrassed or you’re with parents, grandparents, or kids, then I’m not sure this is a place I would recommend visiting. The waitresses are dressed in their brothel costumes (corsets complete with dollar bills), and their comments can be pretty sarcastic and feisty. It was a fun place to grab a drink though!
Ketchikan is known for Native American totem poles, lumberjacks, and souvenir shopping! I know it’s hard, but wait to buy your souvenirs until Ketchikan. Prices here are cheaper and there are more options. If you see something at a different port that is unique or made by a local vendor, then by all means buy it! But t-shirts, coffee mugs, key chains, etc. are best to be bought in Ketchikan. There is a huge souvenir shop right at the end of the pier when you get off the boat, but resist this place! Walk just one or two blocks down, and you’ll find the same products for even cheaper. Ketchikan also has a lot of great local shops. We found some unique carvings, and Matt purchased his Ulu knife here.
Type A Tidbit:
Ketchikan is a rainforest so be prepared for rain! I purchased some ponchos at Wal-Mart before the cruise so we would be prepared. Luckily, we had great weather!
Creek Street is a fun place to walk in Ketchikan. Totem Bight State Park is also located here so if you have any desire to see authentic totem poles, then this is the place to see them.
However, the main thing to do in Ketchikan is the Great American Lumberjack Show! I purchased tickets online (for a cheaper price) before we left so we could avoid the lines. The show is located within walking distance of the cruise ship. The show is cheesy, but we had a lot of fun cheering for our lumberjack!
Skagway and Ketchikan had so much to offer for being such small towns! Make sure these two are on your Alaskan itinerary!
For more cruise tips look HERE. If you’re headed on an Alaskan cruise and plan to stop at Juneau, then don’t miss THIS POST. Glacier Bay info is HERE. Many of these cruises leave out of Seattle, so give yourself an extra day or so and see what Seattle has to offer!