"Little better than hell on earth" is how a Canadian Mountie described Skagway during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898, having witnessed thousands of feverish stampeders, con artists, and scalawags. No longer. Now, "two dogs barking at the same time makes the police blotter," says Frank Wasmer, of the hiker-friendly Skagway Home Hostel. The mild-mannered Inside Passage town is the launching pad for the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail (www.nps.gov/klgo), on which prospectors once schlepped provisions by the ton into the frontier. Wasmer, a veteran backpacker, suggests hiking around July 4, when the days are long and the snowpack is manageable. Take 4 days and explore gold-rush artifacts en route. (Obviously, don't remove anything.) The trailhead is in the nearby ghost town of Dyea. After 13 miles snaking through coastal rainforest, the trail shoots abruptly up above trees for 3.5 miles amid granite boulders and snow. After ascending 3,739-foot Chilkoot Pass into Canada, you'll ease into a gentler, spruce-laden descent with sunnier weather patterns. Return on the White Pass & Yukon Route narrow gauge railway (www.wpyr.com).
» A few blocks out of the shopping district, the Haven Café serves up crab chowder on Fridays and is open till 8 during the summer. www.haven-cafe.com
» One of the few eateries open all year, the Sweet Tooth Café has a loyal following among locals for its breakfast pastries and sandwiches. (907) 983-2405
» Frank Wasmer and Nancy Schave, owners of the Skagway Home Hostel, have held prices steady for 10 years: bunks are $15, a room for two is $40. www.skagwayhostel.com
» Camping is allowed anywhere along the municipal trail system (Yakutania Point and Lower Dewey Lake are two trails) with a permit, free from the police department.
Best Chilkoot shakedown Upper Dewey Lake's 3,100-foot elevation gain yields commanding views
of Taiya Inlet to the west. It's 5.6 miles up and back.
Best full-on dayhike The 5,000-foot climb up AB Mountain, shaped like a ship's prow, affords near-
infinite panoramas of local surf and turf. Try this full-day 10-miler in fair weather only; the scramble above treeline makes for a tricky descent.
Best way to see seals Rent a sea kayak and explore the shores of the nation's longest fjord. Bald eagles, sea lions and the ubiquitous seals are the headliners.
Best use of loonies Parks Canada handles Chilkoot permits and reservations. It's $55 CDN for the hike, plus 10 loonies for reservations. (800) 661-0486
Best fat-tire fun Sockeye Cycle Co. rents bikes and provides tours for tired-legged hikers. A shuttle to White Pass and the 15-mile downhill return are rife with views of glaciers and waterfalls. www.cyclealaska.com
The Mountain Shop sells and rents hiking gear (plus kayaks) to the neo-stampeder. (907) 983-2544