Dawson City is a town located on the Yukon River in Yukon, Canada. It is one of three territories in Canada sharing its border with Alaska and the Northwest Territories. It was a hot spot during the gold rush of the 19th century and visiting Dawson City feels like you have stepped back in time to the klondike days and the wild west.
Dawson City hit the world stage in August 16, 1896 when three Yukoners discovered gold on a tributary of the Klondike River known as Rabbit Creek. (Today it is called Bonanza Creek) Soon thousands of prospectors were flocking to the Yukon Territories to claim their stake.
The Dawson City Gold Rush
By 1897 more than 100,000 people set out to seek their fortune in Dawson City Yukon. Many didn’t make it facing hardships they never even dreamed of. But a few struck it rich and Dawson City was thriving for a short moment in time.
Dawson City, Yukon – Today
Today, Dawson City feels like a Klondike town from the 19th century. It has kept its heritage buildings looking as they were more than 100 years ago with colourful facades recreating an old west feel.
The entire town is a National Historic site with 17 significantly historic buildings, theatres, restaurants and bars just waiting to be explored.
People live in Dawson City, but the entire town comes alive with actors walking through the streets dressed in period costumes leading tours through the dirt road streets. A visit to Dawson City, in the Yukon is a visit you’ll never forget.
Thing to do in Dawson City, Yukon
So what can you do in Dawson City, Yukon? A lot. Let’s get started.
Experience the Midnight Sun
During the summer, it is light 23 hours a day so you’ll definitely be tempted to stay out late to get to know the locals. And trust me, they’ll want you to come out with them!
We were out until 2 am and it was like it was 2 in the afternoon. The sun was shining and we were wide awake. If you haven’t experienced the midnight sun, make your way up to Northern Canada and see what it’s like.
You can drive or hike up to the midnight dome to see panoramic views of the Yukon River, Klondike Valleys, A view of Dawson City, and the Ogilvie Mountain Range. It’s called the Midnight Dome because Dawson City is the land of the midnight sun.
The Ogilvie Mountains are located just north of Dawson City, and it is worth getting out to explore the remarkable views. I don’t think I have ever seen such a wild vast landscape.
Drink the Sour Toe Cocktail
The Sour Toe cocktail is a tradition dating back to the 1920s when moonshiners Loui and Otto Linken ran into a blizzard during one of their deliveries. Loui stepped into icy Water causing his big toe to freeze and turn black. His brother promptly amputated it and put it in alcohol.
Years later when Captain Dick Stevenson found the toe in a cabin, he came up with the idea to serve it in a bar downtown Dawson City.
There have been more than a dozen toes donated over the years and ours was a recent anonymous gift which we reluctantly tried. The Sourtoe Cocktail is served at the Downtown Hotel and costs $5 CAD
Read all about it here: The Sourtoe Cocktail – Dawson City’s Dead Toe Cocktail
Diamond Tooth Gerties
Diamond Tooth Gerties was the first casino in Canada dating back to 1899. During the height of the Gold Rush it was the hottest places in town. But with the depression and world wars it quieted down and over the years it had been everything from a community centre to an Eagles hall. but all that changed in 1971, when it was converted back to a Casino.
While you are gambling your blues away, the lively Can Can show plays in the background and it feels like a 19th century saloon.
Stay at a Brothel
Nothing says the wild west more than a brothel. Dawson City is filled with historic buildings and old brothels have been turned into boutique hotels. We stayed at Bombay Peggy’s.
The restored brothel has rooms like the Lipstick Room and the Green Room. Be sure to pop into the parlour for a glass of sherry. So refined.
Check out rooms and rates at Bombay Peggy’s
Visit Claim 33
Dawson City was the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896, a visit to Claim 33 is a fun way to learn about the history and try your hand at panning for gold.
This family owned museum traces the history of the Klondike Gold Rush in and around Dawson City and the Yukon. It is interesting to browse the artifacts in the museum and explore the buildings and surrounding area.
Discovery Claim is a national historic site that is a lovely riverside walk through the place where gold was first discovered in 1896. It was here that the gold rush started. The Yukon Gold Rush started it all, a year before people started to head to Alaska for the Klondike Gold Rush. It is amazing to see such a historic place that truly changed the world.
The gold rush didn’t last long though. In just a matter of a couple of years, every creek and and hillside in the area was mined. By 1899 all the gold was gone and people were migrating to Alaska.
Dedge #4 was the largest wooden hull gold mine in North America. After people migrated to Alaska, large companies moved in to start dredging the rivers. The Canadian Klondike Mining Company in 1905 and the Yukon Gold Company were using hydroelectric power to haul and move gold. By 1912 Dredge #4 was built and it was used until 1959. Today it is a national historic site commemorating the gold industry in the Yukon from 1899 to 1966.
See the Estate of Pierre Burton
Dawson City attracts many artists and each year the estate of famous Canadian Pierre Burton hosts aspiring playwriters, poets, and nonfiction writers on a three-month retreat.
Pierre Burton was a national treasure in Canada. He was the managing editor of Maclean’s Magazine and was a staple on the CBC. His family lived in the Yukon where his father moved to during the Gold Rush in 1898. This is his childhood home in Dawson City.
Today writers can apply for a grant to immerse themselves in their craft. Wouldn’t that be a dream?
Explore the Jack London Museum
Visitors can also visit the Jack London Museum to peek inside the home of the author of White Fang, who resided in the area during the gold rush days. Jack London was a famous writer, but he was also a fortune seeker and spent his time in the Klondike seeking gold. This museum is the house where he lived during the winter of 1897 in Dawson City.
Gold Rush Cemetery
Dawson City was booming in its day with 40 thousand residents at the height of the Gold Rush, the Cemeteries above the town are worth a visit to see the characters that live in this isolated town. Take a hike above Dawson City and you’ll stumble across this plot of land dedicated to early settlers.
The cemetery has a map where you can look up the people buried. While not as ornate or as massive, it reminds me of the Pere LaChaise cemetery in Paris where interesting people are celebrated by visitors to their graves.
There are 10 historic cemeteries to explore in Dawson City and you can follow this walking tour to see them all.
Tour the Heritage Buildings
Dawson City is a designated national historic site that has restored much of its original structures.
You can take a walking tour of the heritage buildings to see the restored architecture dating back to 1896. The facades were made to give simple buildings the illusion of grandeur and importance and to allow for advertising.
It’s a quick and easy yet very interesting self-guided tour around town.
The SS Keno is a preserved paddle wheeler that pushed everything from Gold dust to passengers. These boats were retired in the 1950s, but you can take a tour of this beauty that’s located on the Yukon River.
Paddleboat Tour of the Yukon River
You can also take a paddle boat tour along the Yukon River. The Klondike Spirit is the only paddlewheeler operating on the Yukon. Take a tour to learn about the Klondike History of Dawson City and life on the Yukon River.
The Paddle Wheel Graveyard
If you continue along the Yukon River you’ll discover a graveyard containing all the Paddlewheel ships of the Yukon River’s glory days. The SS Keno was the final paddle wheel to run the Yukon and the other ships aren’t so lucky to be on display. They are falling apart just a few minutes walk from the Dawson City campground.
Walk the Waterfront Trails
The waterfront trail runs from dawson city to where the Klondike and Yukon Rivers Meet. And it’s a beautiful scenic walk. There are many trails around town so be sure to get out and explore.
Explore the Dempster Highway
If you can rent a car to explore a bit of the Dempster highway it is worth it. We drove 736 km down the Dempster from Inuvik, North West Territories to Dawson City Yukon. It is truly one of the great drives on earth crossing the Arctic Circle, going through the Tombstone Mountains, the Mackenzie River, and spotting caribou and grizzly bears along the way.
But you can do a short day trip out to the Tombstone Mountains which are only 90 minutes away. It is the most beautiful landscape you will ever say.
The two-day journey from Inuvik to Dawson City was incredible, so if you do visit Dawson City, we highly recommend it. You can rent one-way SUVs from Dawson City or Inuvik NWT for your journey. An overnight at Eagle Planes hotel is just as historic and interesting as the touring the buildings in Dawson City.
Stop in at the Visitor’s Centre
The people of Dawson City are a friendly bunch and the people at the visitors centre know everything. They can tell you road conditions on the Dempster highway, water conditions on the Yukon River and what shenanigans are going on in town. But it’s also worth visiting to see the artifacts leftover from the days of the Gold Rush.
A Trip to Dawson City is something you’ll never forget. By the time you leave, you’ll make new friends and memories to last a lifetime.
And that my friends, is a tour of Dawson City, Yukon. When are you going to visit?