We were up early this morning too…to catch yet another sunrise. Those are addictive!!
However….The fog rolled in earlier today…then turned into rain.
Today we were in Skagway….the jumping off point for the Klondike Highway. The town itself is part of the Klondike Nat’l Historical Park – complete with a Visitor Center, museum, and Ranger-led tours/activities, etc….
Our plan for today would include driving (I’ll explain why we chose rental car over train in a bit…) the Klondike Hwy stopping frequently – and going as far as Emerald Lake, then returning to Skagway to explore the Nat’l Park. As is our custom, we would cram as much as we possibly could into our 13 hrs in port… (we arrived in port 5:30am, but that was a mite TOO early to get off the ship…especially with the rain. …and we were enjoying sunrises anyway. ) We got off the ship about 7:45.
Donned in our down coats, hats, AND a raincoat over everything we walked the 6 blocks (actually, we ran…) to Avis where our rental car was.
Here we go…odometer is set to ‘zero’ to match up with my Murray’s Guide and we’re heading out of town.
Murray’s Guide is a mile-marker guide of the Klondike Highway. It can be purchased online (download) for $5 and with that purchase, you get a discount at Yukon Suspension Bridge and Tutshi Sled Dog Tours. If those are part of your plan, it’s DEFINTELY worth $5 for the Guide. HOWEVER, the author has also put on the website a FREE version. It’s more compact, but we didn’t think we’d have time to tour those discounted locations so this ‘free’ version was enough for us. As with the Treadwell Mine guide yesterday, I copy/pasted this to a document and edited it down to manageable size – from 8 pages down to 4. Avis also sent me an abbreviated mile-by-mile guide several weeks before our trip and I added parts of that to my ‘edited’ version as well… I ended up with a pretty comprehensive guide…. That, along with a simple 1 page map from a brochure I received in the mail was all we needed for our day. (There’s not much chance of getting ‘lost’ on the Klondike Hwy as there’s really only 1 highway with a few spur roads…but don’t expect to rely on GPS… There’s very little if any data connection a few miles out of Skagway)
Driving the Klondike Highway:
The first stop I had ‘planned’ was Gold Rush Cemetary and the trail head to Lower Reid Falls. It was still raining pretty heavily as we drove by that pull off so we decided to catch that on our way BACK…
From there, we just kept an eye on the odometer and constantly referred to my printed guide. There were many pullouts – everything from waterfalls to rivers to lakes to the William Moore asymmetrical bridge…and multiple historic sites about the Klondike gold rush and trails or Venus Mine. The views were spectacular and the Murray’s Guide gave us information about what we were seeing.
We crossed into Canada around M15….which means the “Welcome to Alaska” sign was on the opposite side of the road. I knew we needed to get our photo THEN….and I was right. When we came back that way, there were buses, shuttles and cars lined up with many people waiting for their chance at a photo with the sign.
We didn’t actually go through Canadian Customs until M22. This was a pretty painless stop…they asked us why we were there, and when we told them we were cruise ship passengers, they waved us through… I guess there’s not much chance of cruise passengers over-staying their welcome. NOTE: YOU MUST HAVE PASSPORTS FOR THIS DAY’S DRIVE….TO GET INTO CANADA!!!! (This is one worth writing down – IN RED…to make sure you remember!! haha)
This is the Thompson River (approx M20) and the WP&YR Railroad. I had hoped to be here when the train crossed, but didn’t know exactly HOW to ‘plan’ for that. How lucky were we?? 🙂
Many recommend the WP&YR as a “Must Do” activity in Skagway. It sounds wonderful in all the descriptions…and everyone who does it raves about it. However, that was not what we chose to do. In our ‘shopping’ for a way to see the Klondike, we realized that our desire was to be able to stop, see, gaze, all on our own ‘schedule’. The only way to do that is with a rental car.
All the ‘train excursions’ (there are several ways to do it…train round trip…train/bus combination, shuttles or vans, etc…) don’t stop at all…no time for ‘gazing’ or ‘enjoying’. That…plus the fact that our rental car for the day driving all the way to Emerald Lake was the cost of ONE train ticket to ONLY go to Carcross, was enough for us to know that car rental was the best choice for us.
The road follows the Tutshi River then Tutshi Lake for 10 miles. The fireweed (that we learned about a couple of days ago from the Naturalist on board) is showing the ending of summer…
The “Welcome to the Yukon” sign is at M50. We took THAT picture on the route TO Carcross as well. – All the pullouts were much busier in the afternoon so I advise to take any photos you want in the morning!!
Bove Island and Tagish Lake….one of the highlights of the drive…
When we arrived at Carcross, we decided to go on past it…to our furthest point, Emerald Lake…and work our way back. That turned out to be a good decision because not more than 20 min. after we got back to Carcross and parked, the train arrived. Seeing it steam into town was quite exciting! 🙂 🙂
Carcross is 66 miles from Skagway. Going on to Emerald Lake made our drive 75 miles (one way) that day. We really didn’t want to go any further than that as there is a potential for fog….dense enough to limit visibility to 5 ft. That could make the drive back to Skagway long and dangerous. We didn’t want to risk that happening…. Also, the ‘word on the street’ is that there’s really nothing past Emerald Lake spectacular enough to warrant the extra time, drive and ‘risk’.
Carcross is a small town on the Klondike Highway. It has built up to accommodate the tourists coming to town by the droves. There is a school, Post Office, General Store, etc…and even a Hotel and city pool. The place we HAD to find was the Sourdough Bakery. She was selling her cinnamon rolls for half price by the time we arrived…Thankfully, she accepted USD as that was all we had (This IS Canada…)
We watched the train come into the station…stepped into a few shops and had a bite of lunch…followed of course, by that delectable cinnamon roll. 🙂
After that, it was time to head back to Skagway….the Nat’l Park museum, Vis. Center et al would close at 5:30. 🙂
We got some pretty good photos on our drive back…with better light, less fog. In fact….several of the photos I’ve posted above were actually taken on this drive back to Skagway.
We got back to town about 4 pm and headed straight to the Visitor Center.
Klondike Gold Rush Nat’l Historic Park:
The entire town of Skagway is part of the Nat’l Park system. In addition to the Visitor Center/museum, etc…there are several houses and historical buildings open for tours. Unfortunately, they closed at 5:30 and we ran out of time so didn’t get to go in them. We started at the Visitor Center…then went into the museum next door. It was very small…but gave a pretty good overview of the gold rush, miners and the Chilkoot Trail. After watching the film, the Nat’l Park service buildings were closing so we just walked around town a little bit…darted into the Red Onion Saloon for a quick look, then decided to drive over to Dyea and walk a bit of the Chilkoot Trail before re-boarding the ship.
The Chilkoot Trail is the trail the minors took to get to the gold fields – it’s 33 miles long, but we like to walk trails like this…for just a little way to say we’ve ‘done it’. 🙂 Dyea was about 6-7 miles east of Skagway but not long after we turned onto Dyea Road, it turned to gravel. Gravel roads were forbidden by Avis Car Rental. We debated what to do, (hmm….) but finally decided we’d better just turn around. On the way back we stopped at a scenic pullout – for views of Skagway and the harbor….and of course, our ship. The Star Princess was at Railroad Dock Forward. That’s the furthest dock in this photo.
After returning to town and returning the rental car, we got back on the ship. It had been a wonderful day…but very full and we were exhausted!!!!
We had not planned to eat in the Dining Room that night as we didn’t ‘plan’ to be back on the ship that early. But since we’d missed a night there when we stayed out to see whales on Ketchikan day, we decided to make up for it tonight. 🙂
What a GOOD decision this was!!! Crab legs and Crème Brule were on the menu!!
After dinner, we just relaxed, unpacked our day packs, etc…and turned our sites on tomorrow. Tomorrow we’d be in Glacier Bay. We were due to pick up the Nat’l Park Rangers at 6:15…but the Naturalist had told us to be out by 5:30am…It would be ANOTHER very early day as we saw “All Things Alaska”.
Nope….no time for entertainment…or art sales…or MUTS (Movies Under the Stars). The Finale for the Voice of the Ocean was tonight….we missed that one too…. We were busy every minute with “Alaska”…and if we weren’t ‘busy’, we were exhausted from all the ‘busy-ness’. It was time for bed! 🙂
The cruise lines and tour companies offer as many options for going up the Klondike Hwy as there are people to buy them. There are tours that take the train round trip, bus one way and train the other. Shuttles…vans…either with or without a train trip one way. They have tours that include gold panning…or lunch….stops at dog sledding, Fraser or Bennett….and on and on. The options are somewhat overwhelming.
Prices for these range from $45pp for the basics of a trip to M14…. to $229pp for round trip train to Carcross. However…NONE of them go all the way to Emerald Lake that I could tell.
We rented a car for $125 + fuel for the day… We were able to go not only PAST Carcross to Emerald Lake and Carcross Desert, but stop as we wished throughout the day…and before returning the car, drive up to that scenic overlook for views of Skagway.
Yeah…I’m a huge cheerleader for the “renting a car” option. 🙂