Skagway! The port that lays farthest North along our cruise of the Inside Passage and home to the White Pass & Yukon Railroad. Skagway was built on the Klondike gold boom in 1897.
Even though the White Pass Railroad is considered one of the most amazing railways in North America, we opted to try the DIY Jeep Tours (formerly Alaska Green Jeep Tours) because we could travel the same route as the train, plus stop whenever we wanted too to take pictures or stretch. Our destination was Emerald Lake 75 miles North in the Yukon. The price for Jeep rental is $250 per day (plus city and rental tax). There is also an additional fee for reserving online. We ended up paying a total of $312.50, which is a great deal considering the price of other excursions available. The Jeep can be picked up as early as 7:30am, and has to be returned by 6:00pm. There is a 200 mile limit, which is more than enough to get you to Emerald Lake and back. The trip takes approximately 1.5 hours each way (not accounting for stops to take pictures and take in the scenery).
You could choose whatever color jeep you wanted. We originally wanted the blue jeep on the front row but the guy in front of us got it first! So we opted for the cool red Jeep on the end.
The distance from the cruise ship was a brisk, easy walk. I took this picture standing in the road at the DIY check-in hut.
I took this picture while standing in the Main Street
This is a picture of the check-in hut from the same spot in the road that I took the previous picture of the Disney Wonder at the dock.
Gas station across the street from DIY Jeep Tours. We will come back to this later.
Our confirmation email stated that we should bring proof of insurance to rent the jeep, but I was never asked to provide it during the check-in process. I would make sure to bring it just in case.
The rental process was smooth and easy. After completing some necessary paperwork, the staff member and I performed the orchestrated, yet familiar, walk-around of the jeep looking for any dents, dings, and scratches. All the Jeeps were in great shape and clean inside. A few had some minor scratches and a road wash up around the wheel wells, but that’s expected knowing the usual weather conditions in the area.
We were given this notebook with a CD and written directions for our tour towards Emerald Lake. The CD contained some great historical information but it was challenging for the CD to stay synced with my driving. So I asked my wife Tammy to just read the information written in the notebook which seemed to work well for us.
The book was easy to read with convenient pictures to accompany the text.
Before we left town, we decide to drive down State Street. Since there were only two cruise ships in port, we had the town all to ourselves to start the day. So much so, the streets looked like the backdrop of a Hollywood movie studio.
View of the Disney Wonder while driving towards dock along State Street
We soon turned our Jeep around and headed North on Highway 2 (South Klondike Highway) towards the Yukon. The scenery immediately turned majestic just a few short miles outside of town.
Torment Valley. Imagine traveling this rough terrain in 1898 with 1,000 pounds of supplies. Crazy!
Our red Jeep still looking good
Fourteen miles North of Skagway is the Summit (3,290 feet); however, because the weather elements are harsh, the Canadian Customs Station is nine miles farther North. Remember your passport!
Alaska is on Alaska Time, while the Yukon is on Pacific Time. We saw this great sign roadway sign and had to stop for a picture.
Once you pass through Canadian Customs, it’s 36 miles to a beautiful spot to view Bove Island. Bove Island was known as a menace for boatmen heading to the Klondike.
Bove Island straight ahead
Bove Island in Tagish Lake
Almost there. We made a quick pit stop in the town of Carcross (short for Caribou Crossing – herds caribou once migrated through this area between Bennett and Nares Lake). There are restaurants, restrooms, wildlife museum and dog sleds with husky puppies available if you choose to stop here.
Carcross Commons/Tagish First Nation. Photo Credit: Pixabay
Just a couple of miles North of Carcross was an unexpected site…a desert! In the Yukon? Yep. Proudly known as the “world’s smallest desert (one square mile); although it’s not technically considered a real desert because the environment is too humid).
I forgot to take a picture of my own but this is exactly what it looks like! Photo Credit: YukonInfo.com
We made it! Well, at least we thought we had arrived. There is no “welcome to Emerald Lake” sign, and honestly, I was a little underwhelmed by its size…so I wasn’t 100% sure this was THE place. Based on the views we experienced during our journey 80 mile journey north, and having passed by Tutshi Lake, Tagish Lake, and Benett Lake, I think I was expecting something spectacular and large but I’ll concede the turquoise water was impressive to see (reminded me of beaches in the Caribbean…with snowcapped mountains outlining the distant views). Even the map at the end of the parking area doesn’t refence anything related to “Emerald Lake” (see below), but based on our handy dandy notebook from the DIY Jeep Tours, we figured out this was the spot.
View of Emerald Lake from overlook parking area
See, no mention of Emerald Lake, but it’s clear “You are Here”
If we had wanted to, I think we might have had enough time to travel further north to Whitehorse but we weren’t sure…and we didn’t want to miss our ship leaving port! So, after spending a few minutes at the lake, we decided to head on back to Skagway the same route we came. Even though the route is the same, the scenery always looks new from a different angle. Because there was little to no traffic during most of our commute, we would stop several times for me to capture some pictures from the roadway.
Having the Jeep in the picture helps give some scale to the sheer size of the mountains
One last photo op as we head back into Alaska
We did have a bear sighting near a rock pile close to the U.S. Customs Check Point. There was only one other car nearby, so we were able roll within a safe distance and capture this picture. I think this was the highlight of the day for my wife Tammy. Thanks to her for scouring the roadside and first seeing the bear!
Brown bears and grizzly bears are the same
U.S. Customs Border
Oh, remember that gas station photo I shared with you early in this blog? Well, that’s where you will want to top of the Jeep before you turn it back in. Don’t forget, or you’ll end up paying more per gallon if you let the Jeep tour company do it. The gas pumps do take credit/debit card.
We would most definitely recommend this excursion while in Skagway – we will do it again on our next trip to Alaska! You can read reviews on other excursions here.
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