When gold fever struck in 1897–98, some 20,000 to 30,000 adventurers came through Skagway to brave the Chilkoot and White Pass trails on their way to the Klondike gold fields. They suffered immense hardship, many died, and only a very few got rich. But Skagway prospered, as did nearby Dyea at the head of the trail that crosses the Chilkoot Pass into Canada.
The park commemorating the gold rush includes the Skagway Historic District, Dyea (now in ruins), and the American portion of the Chilkoot Trail, as well as Pioneer Square in Seattle, where so many dreamers made plans for the trip north. For many the dreams ended here in Skagway, where some 80 saloons and gambling halls and the notorious “Soapy” Smith and his cronies were all willing and able to relieve the unwary of their grubstakes.
The aura of those days pervades the Skagway Historic District, with its boardwalks and old false-fronted buildings. A walking tour includes the restored railroad depot (home of the park visitors center), the Mascot Saloon, Goldberg’s Cigar Store, and the Arctic Brotherhood Hall, whose Victorian façade is uniquely embellished with thousands of bits of driftwood.
The Skagway Museum in city hall houses relics of pioneer days and the gold stampede. The native cultures in Alaska are represented by the arts and crafts of the Eskimos, Aleuts, Athapaskans, and the coastal Tlingit and Haida Indians.
The Chilkoot Trail, open when weather permits, is an extremely strenuous 33-mile hike that takes from three to five days and is recommended only for the most experienced backpackers. There are, however, several other hiking trails into the hills outside of Skagway.
–Historic district open year-round.
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