Dawson City, Canada’s Klondike City, is a small town with a big presence in the Yukon. It sits in the heart of the Klondike region – made famous by the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800’s. Tens of thousands of prospectors congregated here – hoping to make their fortune. Few did.
Today the Klondike City is home to about 1,300 people yet it hosts 60,000 visitors a year. The reason – the town is home to an eclectic mix of colourful history, culture along with wilderness on the doorstep.
Dawson City – Canada’s Klondike City
Why, might you wonder would people visit a town that’s a six hour drive from Whitehorse, and basically in the middle of nowhere?
Dawson City is full of history, it’s wildly colourful and to top it off it’s exceptionally scenic with its location on the Yukon River. You can count on plenty to do over a few days!
Did you know you can also do a loop drive on the Top of the World Highway to Jack Wade, Alaska from West Dawson? That road gives you the option of visiting Kluane National Park or you could continue and explore more of nearby Alaska. The gorgeous Dempster Highway that runs up to Inuvik and Tuktoyaktok is also close to Dawson City.
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Ideas of what you can do in Dawson City in 24 – 48 hours
We were in Dawson City for one day at the end of our backpacking trip in the Tombstone Mountains. We did manage to fit in many of the sights.
Visit the Midnight Dome
After dinner at the Aurora Inn, we drove 9 minutes to the top of the Midnight Dome. Impressive vistas up and down the Yukon River will have you racing for your camera. Try to time a visit with sunset – which is far easier to do at the end of the summer.
Drive or walk Canada’s Klondike City
Streets in Dawson City are lined with colourful houses and businesses – many that hearken back to their original purpose. What a treat for the eyes!
I’d suggest that you pick up a map and then a walk around the town, street by street, as each one is so unique.
We made our way down to the waterfront where we were greeted with the sight of a floating cabin and a red canoe. I’d love to know the backstory to this photo.
Hop on a paddle-wheeler in Dawson City
Experience the Yukon River via a paddle-wheeler over a 90 minute narrated tour. Guides explain what you’re seeing as you journey to the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers. You’ll see the paddle-wheeler graveyard, a seasonal native village and Caveman Bill’s home on the riverbank.
Check out the SS Keno in Dawson City
The SS Keno is a National Historic Site. The boat, built in 1922, was used to carry not just passengers but silver, lead and zinc from the mines in Mayo.
You can take a tour with a Parks Canada interpreter or explore the boat on your own. It was in service until the 1950’s – providing a much needed lifeline to the outside world until roads were built.
Take a hike in Dawson City
Go for a walk on the Waterfront Trail that runs along the Yukon River dyke from the north end of Dawson all the way to the confluence of the Klondike River. Look for interpretive signs along the route.
Other worthwhile hikes include the Ninth Avenue Trail – a 2.5 km trail that loops around the town. From this trail you can access the Midnight Dome and Crocus Bluff Trails.
The 2 kilometre loop hike on the Orchid Trail – located off of the Top of the World Highway, offers excellent views of the Klondike and the Yukon Rivers plus the chance to see the Spotted Orchid.
Another excellent choice – though you need one very long day or two days to hike the 30 kilometres – is the Ridge Road Trail, built in 1899. It runs between Hunker and Bonanza Creek – and acted as an essential supply route for the goldfields.
Enjoy some Dawson City nightlife
Dawson City is famous for its nightlife. Unfortunately on our visit we were so tired after finishing our three day backpacking trip, all we could think of was hitting the pit. Seems a waste when I look back.
But assuming you have energy to burn there are some quintessential Klondike City experiences to be had.
Down a Sourtoe Cocktail – mummified human toe included. I passed on a chance to try it when the toe made an appearance at a Yukon event in Calgary. Remember to become a Sourtoe Cocktail Club member “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe.”
The cocktail should you want to make it at home calls for 1 ounce minimum of alcohol, 1 mummified toe, all garnished with courage.
Visit the Westminster Tavern & Lounge – called The Pit – by locals. There are two bars within it – a tavern called the Snake Pit and the lounge called the Arm Pit. It was voted by the Globe & Mail as the best live music venue in Canada!
In mid-July, time a visit to coincide with the annual Dawson City Music Festival. It’s a three-day event that started in 1979. Described as “one of the most anticipated events in the north,” you can look forward to literally dozens of music performances, food trucks and beer gardens.
Take a tour of the Palace Grand Theatre
Tours of the Palace Grand Theatre, a federal heritage building, are offered by Parks Canada a couple of times a day in English and French. Listen to stories of wild adventures told by energetic interpreters in period clothes. There are also regular live performances scheduled.
Go gold panning in Dawson City
As you drive into Dawson City, you can’t miss the kilometres of dredge tailings. The sight of them might give you gold fever – and if that’s the case, you might want to try your hand at gold panning. Goldbottomoffers mine tours and the chance to pan.