Alaska is, and has been, all about adventure. On a recent fishing trip to Juneau, a stop in Skagway proved to be one of the best experiences on land. For added value when traveling, whenever possible, look to the locals for recommendations to add some “off the beaten path” suggestions. This hidden gem was discovered through some preliminary research talking to a local businesswoman, Jeanne Gonzales. Jeanne owns and operates Alaska Green Jeep Tours (AlaskaGreenJeepTours.com).
This is a self guided Jeep tour from Skagway to the Yukon Territory, Canada. If you have arrived in Skagway by Cruise Ship and booked a Jeep tour, you will be greeted at the port and taken to a downtown office to complete your registration. Downtown Skagway can easily be imagined to have been quite the hot spot back in the day. As you pass the Red Onion Saloon on your way to Green Jeep Headquarters, you will often see servers in period costumes outside the establishment and reminisce about the goings on in that piece of history located prominently on a downtown corner.
Once you have completed the typical excursion sign in (copy of driver’s license, insurance and payment) you are driven to the Jeep corral. Here you will find a fleet of clean, well maintained 2 and 4 door hard top (for the bears) green Jeep Wranglers. You will notice right away the attention to detail even before you get in your vehicle. A cooler is secured to the front bumper of each Jeep stocked with drinks and snacks for the trip into the Yukon. You will be grateful for these munchies because there are NO fast food places along the way. In addition, there is also very little cell phone reception. Don’t worry, they have thought that problem through as well. Each Jeep has a CB radio that can be used to communicate between vehicles (if you are traveling with others) or to be used in case of emergency. One more show and tell from a staff member about how to use everything the Jeep is equipped with and your adventure is about to take place.
Let the journey begin. Push the CD into the stereo and refer to the laminated guide to be taken step by step into the Yukon. The CD, narrated by Jeanne, is filled with facts about the history of Skagway, legends from the gold rush and points of interest along the way. Keep cameras within easy reach as you put mileage on the odometer. The sights and sounds will have your senses on alert. Every vista is postcard perfect. Each curve has the possibility of sighting a bear emerging from the brush, being near the roads edge or standing in the road challenging you. Wild goats navigate the rocky ledges and Bald Eagles grace the skies throughout the region.
An unexpected topography find was Inukshuks. Thousands of the stacked rocks lined a portion of the road. There was a silent calling to those passing by to stop and make this an interactive journey by building a tower of rocks, leaving a changed landscape in the middle of wilderness. Your mark is left behind where few will have the opportunity to do the same.
Next stop, the Yukon Suspension Bridge. There is a charge for admission, however, it is well worth it to walk on the suspension bridge that traverses the white water rapids of the Tutshi River and Canyon. There is also museum quality exhibits outdoors, a gift shop and the Assayers Café. The drive from Skagway to the bridge is a must if all you do is have a bowl of the Iron Chef quality Bison Chili and gaze at the river from the scenic deck. If you are lucky, you may spot the bear that has a large den on the opposite side of the river that can be seen from the Café.
On to Carcross, Yukon Canada. Carcross is short for Caribou Crossing, and yes, they are out there. This is usually a destination for all the tour buses to stop either as the destination, or a vista point along the way on White Pass Train excursions. There are gift stores and restaurants along the streets of this tiny town (population 200). This is usually the point where the Jeeps make a U-turn and begin the descent back to Skagway. If you choose to continue, the capital, White Horse, is about 50 miles north of Carcross.
The Jeep rental is for the day, and you can spend anywhere from a couple of hours up to 8 hours exploring the Yukon. You will want to be mindful of time if you have a departure time set by the Cruise Ship. Allow enough time to fill the Jeep with gas and return it to the Jeep corral. There is nothing fancy about dropping off the Jeep. Simply put the keys in the glove box and you are done. A phone hanging on the shed will directly connect you to the shuttle service (included in the package) back to the port.
Having the opportunity to explore at your own pace was one of the best aspects of this excursion. There is no way to possibly describe the vistas that were so breathtaking or the excitement of seeing a bear for the first time as they pause from eating berries roadside to look at you.
Enjoy nature, celebrate life and respect each other.
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