Skagway, Alaska

At first sight, Skagway appears to be solely an amusement park for cruise-ship day-trippers, a million of whom disgorge onto its sunny boardwalks every summer. But, haunted by Klondike ghosts and beautified by a tight grid of handsome false-fronted buildings, this is no northern Vegas. Skagway’s history is very real.
During the 1898 gold rush, 40,000 stampeders passed through the nascent settlement; they were a sometimes-unsavoury cast of characters who lived against a backdrop of brothels, gunfights and debauched entertainment wilder than the Wild West. Today, the main actors are seasonal workers, waitstaff posing in period costume and storytelling national-park rangers. Indeed, most of the town’s important buildings are managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and this, along with Skagway’s location on the cusp of a burly wilderness with trails (including the legendary Chilkoot) leading off in all directions, has saved it from overt Disneyfication. Dive in and join the show.