by Steve SueWing
There’s gold in those Alaska hills!
When news of gold discoveries in the Yukon Territory reached West Coast cities and beyond, the ‘Gold Rush’ of the late 1800’s was underway. Newcomers to Alaska arrived by the steamer-load, and the tiny town of Skagway, located a few hundred miles from state capital Juneau, quickly became known as ‘Gateway to the Klondike.’ Here was the start of the almost 600-mile journey to the storied gold fields of the Klondike/Yukon Territory, and, gold-seekers thought, fame and fortune.
From the moment you arrive in Skagway via air, bicycle, vehicle, or waterway, you begin to retrace the steps of eager entrepreneurs of 1898, and millions of visitors ever since. Skagway is steeped in history, with most of the downtown district within the borders of Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Landmark, and a healthy, continued preservation of days and lives gone by. While most visitors will not be retracing every step and floating every mile to the actual gold fields, it is possible to get up close and personal with some of that famous gold rush “color” at Klondike Gold Fields.
Offering a bit of northern exposure to a bucket list of gold rush activities and Alaskan experiences, Klondike Gold Fields is indeed a full-service tour operation that appeals to the cruise ship crowd and the independent traveler. After an day of panning, puppy-petting, and good grub, here are my suggestions for visiting families:
40-Below Experience. Visitors to Alaska often ask, “How cold is it, really?” If you have not experienced temperatures dropping below freezing, do not miss this opportunity to personally answer this question. The chilling experience is well-designed with “prep rooms” for visitors to borrow parkas as protection against the cold; “iceboxes” are dimly lit to emulate the reality of our long, dark, and cold months in northern latitudes. Taking the howling winds out of the equation, this is the closest you may ever get to -40 F. Don’t forget to sit on the ice bench for a frigid group photo.
Gold Dredge. Imagine a super-sized, mechanized gold pan and that vision may come close to a gold dredge’s purpose. This historic piece of equipment imported from around the Dawson City, Yukon area is a must-tour for any precious medals fanatic. The Sixtymile Dredge Gold Panning With the potential for riches, travelers young and old are drawn to this activity. Although Sluice Box Charlie would prefer to be alone on his claim this character is quite personable and cautiously willing to share his secrets of panning for gold. The gold panning portion of this camp is well designed with covered space for groups large and small. Whether your are interested in shaking water all over your family and friends during this activity or staking your private area there is plenty of space and helping camp hands to assist. Not only is there an opportunity to discover gold but there is also a weighing station complete with options of how to display your gold. Sluice Box Charlie shows off his gold!
Gold Rush Sled Dogs. Dog mushing has been Alaska’s official sport since 1972, and even if you have experienced a dog camp, or taken a sled dog ride before, there is always more to know. This experience starts with a short video of dog mushing roots and is followed with personal testimony given by an Iditarod musher with examples of equipment needed for the trail, what it takes to care for these ultra-marathoning K9 athlete,s and other trail tales. The presentation contains lightheartedness that will be enjoyed by most audiences.
Gold Rush Brewery. Stories of adventures, trail conditions and the like are still shared in Skagway’s saloons and breweries. This trail camp is complete with a brewery, a log dining room and covered outside seating along the Skagway River offering buffet style meals. Menu offerings are available for adventures that want to put more meat on their bones, pescatarians, vegetarians and children.
This experience can be booked through all cruise lines that travel to Skagway or can be combined with other popular excursions like the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. Independent-minded visitors can book this excursion through The Klondike Gold Fields contact page. Skagway’s S.M.A.R.T. shuttle that services town has a stop along the route that drops passengers right at the Klondike Gold Fields’ front door.
If you are experiencing Skagway with a vehicle, the camp is located two miles north of downtown on the Klondike Highway, and one cannot miss the the signs to family adventure.
WHAT TO BRING/WHAT TO KNOW
As with any outdoor experience in Southeast Alaska, layers are the uniform of the day. Most of the activities on this property are covered, but open to the outside. Outer layers are available if you come unprepared, and thicker coats are available for the 40-Below Experience to keep everyone toasty warm and dry.
Prices range from $15/adult, $10/kids for entry only, to $100/adult, $90/kids that includes a meal and all activities. Visitors can select activities a la carte with pricing falling midrange to the above. Bring a device that takes photos, as the characters at this attraction are friendly, helpful and welcoming to families.
A small snack bar on site offers bites and treats to ward off the hungries during your visit. Adult beverages are on sale along with fresh root beer brewed on-site.
Whether you have come to Skagway to experience its rich gold rush experience by rail, trail, or tale, the Klondike Gold Fields is an investment of time that will lead to a treasure of northern memories.
Steve SueWing arrived in Southeast Alaska in 1999 for a seasonal position in the the visitor industry, but after one winter away he was ready to call Alaska home. Steve is passionate about connecting with people around the world, being a contributing member of society, all travel, and adventures big and small. Fatherhood has been Steve’s biggest adventure thus far. Steve lives in Juneau, Alaska with his partner Susan, and two sons.