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Visit Dawson City – Canada’s Klondike City In The Yukon

Visit Dawson City – Canada’s Klondike City in the Yukon

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.

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.

The George Black Ferry provides access to the Top of the World Highway
The George Black Ferry provides access to the Top of the World Highway

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Here are some ideas of what you can do in just a day or two in Dawson City – Canada’s Klondike City

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.

The view from the Midnight Dome above Dawson City
The view from the Midnight Dome above Dawson City
Another view from the Midnight Dome Lookout
Another view from the Midnight Dome Lookout

Drive or walk Canada’s Klondike City

Streets are lined with colourful houses and businesses – many that hearken back to their original purpose. What a treat for the eyes! 

I’d suggest picking up a map and then a walk around the town, street by street, as each one is so unique. 

It takes a while for the sun to reach street level at the end of the summer
It takes a while for the sun to reach street level at the end of the summer
Loads of houses with character
Loads of houses with character
Another wildly colourful house in the Klondike City
Another wildly colourful house in the Klondike City
Colourful store fronts
Colourful store fronts in Dawson City

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.

How would you like to live on the Yukon River for a summer?
How would you like to live on the Yukon River for a summer?

Hop on a paddle-wheeler

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.

A paddle wheeler on the Yukon River
A paddle wheeler on the Yukon River

Check out the SS Keno

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.

The SS Keno in drydock
The SS Keno in drydock

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 kilometre 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.

A walking path along the Yukon River
A walking path along the Yukon River
The Westminster Hotel - established in 1898
The Westminster Hotel – established in 1898
St. Andrews Church - Circa 1901
St. Andrews Church – Circa 1901
One of the interesting o;d houses in Dawson City
One of the interesting old houses in Dawson City

Enjoy some 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.

Enjoy one of the three nightly shows at Diamond Tooth Gerties from May through September for only $15. 

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. 

The Palace Grand Theater in the Klondike City
The Palace Grand Theater in the Klondike City

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. Goldbottom offers mine tours and the chance to pan.

Along the highway leading to Dawson City is kilometre after kilometre of dredge tailings
Along the highway leading to Dawson City is kilometre after kilometre of dredge tailings

Places to stay in Dawson City

We spent the night in the Aurora Inn and quite liked it. There’s an onsite restaurant and a cozy, comfortable vibe to the hotel.

Alchemy B&B is rated as exceptional. It has an onsite café and a full kitchen in the rooms.

If you don’t mind a simple room at a good price then check out The Bunkhouse.

John and I found Dawson City to be friendly and inviting. We both wished we had another day to take some of the tours and explore the nearby hills on foot.

Further reading on the Yukon

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

What to do on a short trip to colourful Dawson City, Yukon

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 53 Comments
    1. @Adina We had driven part of the Dempster Highway and hiked in the Tombstones – and I knew I didn’t want to miss a visit to Dawson City, even if it was just as short visit. Next time I’d like to drive the Top of the World Highway as well.

    1. @Ted Dawson City has so much character and I feel like there were a lot of things I would have loved to have done. I think I’ll be back since I also want to drive the whole of the nearby Dempster Highway.

  1. Dawson City looks like a great place to visit. And those views – wow!
    And great for photographers. Happy travels and have a great weekend.

  2. I have been interested in Dawson City and I do like what I see in your photos. The coloured buildings with the low cloud looks inviting. Yes I would love to live on a raft in the Yukon River for the summer, thanks.

    1. @Jan Wouldn’t that be an experience living out on the river. I don’t know how warm the Yukon River gets in summer – but if you lived there I think you’d have to have a daily plunge into the river. I’d like to go back again and continue into Alaska.

  3. Thanks for sharing this 🙂 if one day I only have few hours to visit Dawson, I’ll trust that you recommended us the best things to do.

  4. There is so much that I like about what you’ve shown us of Dawson City that I think I’d want to linger there longer. The views from the dome are beautiful. You really have a knack for showcasing the gorgeousness of nature. I like all the colorful houses, the floating cabin, and the paddlewheel boat, too.

  5. I haven’t heard of Dawson City but what an interesting town I’d like to explore someday. Just by the name alone, I was picturing some sort of western town but this has a lot of character. Those views are amazing and I love the colorful houses.

  6. I’ve seen lots of colourful houses in the Arctic but these in Dawson City are a step beyond. So quirky and lively.

  7. Hi Leigh. I absolutely love all the color! Those row houses remind me of St. John’s. It’s been a long time since I have had to scrape frost from anything, and I don’t miss it! Your shots are gorgeous, as always. Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

  8. Beautiful scenery and interesting buildings. I’ve been to Whitehorse but haven’t made it to Dawson City. Maybe some day.

  9. Dawson City looks like a beautiful place…your photos of Midnight Dome Lookout are stunning. I was born in Canada’s north so your post brings back many fond memories of the light as the sun sets.

    1. @atastefortravel I’m curious as to where you were born and if you have lived up north as an adult. I have to imagine it takes a certain type of person who can put up with the long hours of darkness.

  10. We have been to Dawson City, from where we went to the Arctic Circle! Robert Service and Jack London’s homes sit side by side on a street up the hill! Thanks for the memories.

  11. We were just talking about Dawson City and driving to Alaska the other day. Your photos make it look great and it is still on our list.

  12. I went to Dawson City on an incredible river cruise from Whitehorse. I was on a press trip but by the time it came to write about the cruise it had gone bust. Such a shame. I ended up writing about gold diggers in Dawson!

  13. Oh my gosh yes I would LOVE to visit Dawson City! I had forgotten all about it until this post of your’s. Of course, I had heard about first in school as a kid because of the Gold Rush years. That would be so much fun and wow all of the colorfully painted house. I would be fascinated by all the historical stuff for sure. Great post, Leigh 🙂

  14. I had no idea that Dawson City was such a colourful town! The Yukon has been at the top of my husband’s wish list for quite some time so hopefully we will get there soon – there’s just so many places that we want to see and not enough vacation time!

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