Frontier Excursions’ Yukon Discovery Tour
Of the three ports I visited on my Alaskan cruise, I found Skagway to have the most options and more importantly, the coolest sounding experiences. Which put all the more pressure on me to choose the “right one.”
Originally I had been thinking of going on the White Pass Railroad, a scenic railway whose origins date back to the Klondike Gold Rush era but today allows visitors to journey through truly spectacular scenery on vintage passenger coaches. I was all set to book the railway until I came across Frontier Excursions. This line of text on their website really stood out for me-
“At the stops all passengers can get out to take in the fresh mountain air and to take as many photos as desired whereas the train is in constant motion.”
The mountain air obviously seemed enticing but for me, the travel blogger and amateur photographer, the photo taking part was key. I took in a lot of spectacular scenery during my train ride to and from Machu Picchu. However, my photos were good but not great since the train was always in motion and there was the issue with the window glass.
And that’s how I ended up booking with Frontier Excursions for their Yukon Discovery Tour. Everything described on the website truly lived up to expectations. The tour itself is around six hours so it’s a fairly long day with a lot of sitting in a van involved. But I felt that part of the tour was scenery watching and in Western Canada I could do that all day, particularly in a region I had long wanted to visit (Banff especially).
The tour group was slightly larger than I would have preferred (I guess Maui’s Road to Hana tour forever spoiled me group-size wise), but at around 22, it wasn’t too bad (i.e. no Greyhound bus).
One of the reasons the day was so great was definitely because of our awesome tour guide/driver Candace. In the course of a whole day together we learned quite a bit about her, including the fact that she is a wandering spirit (i.e. a millennial nomad) and is pretty fearless (she hitchhiked across the United States while in college and no, her mom did not approve). She also gave us some truly interesting information about what it’s like to live in Alaska including the fact that there’s a drastic shortage of housing in Skagway (the population is around 800 people) and this summer she was living in a house with 10 people! (She and others come up to Alaska as seasonal workers during the months that cruises to Alaska take place.) She also shared that living in Alaska is incredibly expensive since so many goods have to be brought in, including heads of wilted lettuce that apparently go for $8USD at the supermarket.
For the tour itself I was enthralled the moment we started climbing on the mighty impressive Klondike Highway which is what you take to get to the US/Canadian border. It also parallels the 1898 Gold Rush Trail to the White Pass summit which clocks in at 3292 feet! To think that men (and some women) made this arduous journey in the late 19th century when they only had rough (and that’s being kind) equipment to aid them is mind blowing.
While it’s built into the length of the tour to allow for it, I still loved the number of opportunities we had to get out and take photos. Candace would just say, “there’s a good photo op coming up; everyone want to get out?” To which of course we all said yes. I know I would have felt like I was missing out being sedentary on the train the whole time. And I’m sorry for how tourist cliche it may sound to more seasoned travelers, but nothing beat the photos I took at the Welcome to Alaska sign. I mean, how many people get the chance to see that? Yes, Alaska is part of the United States but it’s as far away as you can imagine in so many ways. When we spotted a bear on the side of the highway happily munching away on some dandelions, Candace pulled over and stopped, letting the excited tourists on her bus just watch and snap as many photos as they wanted.
My favorite stops, though, were probably the ones involving water. As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I have a huge interest in one day visiting Banff (and preferably staying at that fantastic looking Fairmont Hotel there). Well, let me just say that the Yukon seems equally gorgeous even if it’s not “as” tourist geared as Banff probably is. But I saw one stunning lake after the next, all against the backdrop of the most spectacular mountains ever. Just look at the color of the water at Emerald Lake. It’s beyond obvious to see where it got its name, don’t you think?
Lunch is included as part of the tour cost and takes place at Caribou Crossing. It was good and featured BBQ chicken, a baked potato, coleslaw, a bun and donuts. However, my one negative of the tour is that we stayed here much too long. It’s very much a factory- style operation; scores of other tour buses also descended. On-site is a gift shop (no surprise), a petting zoo, a sled dog camp (you could pay around $40USD to ride in one, I passed), and a famed taxidermy museum. We walked through all of the above but we didn’t need as much time as was given. We actually stopped at Carcross Commons on our way back to Skagway and I much rather would have preferred spending more time there. It’s a small village whose origins date back to the Klondike Gold Rush era. There were unique eateries and shops, all locally owned, including a jeweler whose business has been booming ever since Princess Catherine was seen wearing a pair of her earrings.
All in all, my day venturing into the Yukon was truly memorable and one I’ll never forget. I’m finally seeing more of Canada and this pleases me immensely considering how varied and unique a country it is. Frontier Excursions runs a fabulous tour and compared to other tour options in Skagway, it’s quite the bargain. You won’t regret going on their Yukon Discovery tour. And if you’re a reader like me, you’ll probably come home all Klondike Gold Rush obsessed and start reading The Floor to Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush.