Trip Report: Shore Excursions in Juneau and Skagway

Ed. Note: This is part four in our six-part series of “Trip Reports” from our recent trip to Seattle, British Columbia and Alaska aboard the Celebrity Solstice. You may also enjoy parts 1235, and 6

After meeting the ship back in port at the end our catamaran excursion, we had plenty of time to explore before our shore excursions in Juneau. We walked around the town a bit, then found our way inside the Red Dog Saloon, a recreation of a gold-rush era watering hole with country music and memorabilia, including (allegedly) a pistol that Wyatt Earp once used to pay his bar tab.

The Singer at the Red Dog Saloon, playing for his "Collige Fund" in Juneau, Alaska

The Singer at the Red Dog Saloon, playing for his “Collige Fund”

Shore excursions in Juneau often stop by the legendary Red Dog Saloon.

Looks like a bear got a tourist at the Red Dog too.

This place was clearly a tourist trap, but it was a lot of fun anyways. After washing down a couple of beers, we headed to meet the “Tea, Town, Tram, and Trek” shore excursion in Juneau that we had booked through the ship, and operated by Gastineau Tours.  The tour took us on a short drive around town, up the Mt. Roberts tramline, on a guided 1.5 mile hike on Mt. Roberts pointing out native plants, and then to a private tearoom where we got to sample teas and jams made from the plants we saw on the trail.


Sandy Beach on Douglas Island in Juneau, the site of an old mine. We stopped here on our shore excursion for photos.

All in all, we felt a little duped by this shore excursion in Juneau, as we could have done all but the tea tasting on our own – the Mount Roberts tram is open to anyone who pays for a lift ticket, and we got a better view of town just walking around than we did on the drive – but it was hard to complain when we were greeted with such perfectly blue skies and a million dollar view, and it was cool to have a guide pointing out the different plants.

From the top of Mt. Roberts on a shore excursion in Juneau.

The light through the clouds on Mt. Roberts was amazing.

View from the top of Mount Roberts in Juneau, Alaska.

A view of Douglas Island, and on the left, the same Sandy Beach I featured earlier.

The next day, we arrived in Skagway where we were met with another beautiful view right outside our window to start the morning.

The Port of Skagway, Alaska

The Port of Skagway

In Skagway, we opted to do the “Laughton Glacier Wilderness Hike and White Pass Railway” excursion, again booked through the ship, but operated by Packer Expeditions. I distinctly remember that Celebrity advertised this excursion as having a “moderate” activity level, and mentioned that we would hike about 5 miles. And in fact, it started off quite pleasant, with a ride on the White Pass Railway where we got to know our guides and made sandwiches to stow in our backpacks for later on.

Our senior trail guide on our shore excursion in Skagway, Alan, with the White Pass Railway in the background.

Our senior trail guide, Alan, with the White Pass Railway in the background.  In the offseason, he works as a heli-skiing guide.

The tracks of the White Pass Railway outside of Skagway, Alaska.

The tracks winding through some beautiful country.

Then, we got off the train, and the hiking started. The first couple miles, through the forest, were lovely, and we saw some recent indicators of wildlife like bear fur and scat. Then, the groomed trail ended, and we began picking our way over very rocky and unstable terrain for another couple miles, to the “toe” of the glacier. Finally, the last mile or so was over the glacial ice itself, avoiding cravasses and streams along the way.

Hiking in the mountains near Skagway, Alaska as part of one of our shore excursions.

These are apparently class 6 rapids, as in, no one has ever kayaked/rafted them and lived.

A sunny day outside Skagway, Alaska.

We’re about a mile in at this point and still have no clue what we’re in for.

It was absolutely gorgeous, and I can now definitively say that I’ve had lunch on top of a glacier, which is probably something not that many people can claim.  But if you’re keeping track, we’d already gone 5+ miles, and we’d only gone “up” so far – by the time the day was over, most people’s activity trackers indicated we’d gone damn near 11 miles.

The summit of the Laughton Glacier, near Skagway, Alaska.

At about 2 miles in, we get our first glimpse of  the summit.

On top of the Laughton Glacier, near Skagway, Alaska. We hiked to the top as part of our shore excursion.

5.5 miles in, plus about 2k feet elevation change, and we’re on top of the world.

Getting down, it turned out, was even harder than going up.  The glorious sunny weather made the surface of the glacier wet and slick, and every rock you came across was just itching to give way beneath you. And even worse, on the way down you were up against the clock – you had to reach the train stop by 3:15 or miss the train and, consequently, the ship.

Rocks on top of a glacier near Skagway, Alaska.

An example of the terrain. Every step is a risk.

For these reasons, it’s probably a bit unsurprising that one woman in our group nearly fell into a cravass. Her whole leg went in, but the guides grabbed her before she went all the way down. Apparently all the guides are trained in cravass rescue, but, um…scary.

By the time we got back to the groomed trail, I was spent. By the time we got back to the train, I was so dehydrated and exhausted that I could barely keep walking. And by the time we got back to the ship, my everything hurt.

In the end, I’m still glad I did this excursion, and most of our guides really were fantastic. But damn. I’ve never earned a massage more in my life.

Stay tuned tomorrow for info about our final port stop in Victoria, British Columbia, and our short tour of the bridge!