Dawson City

Dawson City Yukon was the site of the famous Klondike Gold Rush in 1898. This fascinating gold rush history, makes it one of the most interesting towns to visit in the Yukon or Alaska. The Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s only lasted a few short years, but it’s legacy lives on. More than a Century later, gold mining remains an economic mainstay and has produced close to 14 million ounces of gold in the past 120 years.  More recently, tourism has become the main economic driver in this gold rush town and for 2023, Dawson City was chosen by Frommer’s Travel Guide as “One of the best places to go” in the World.” 

It all began with Robert Henderson, a fur trapper and part -time prospector who, in 1894, found gold in Rabbit Creek (later renamed Bonanza Creek) near the confluence of the Yukon River and the Klondike River. When he had finished prospecting this clear, shallow creek, he was certain he was close to a major find.

Two years passed, however, before he could persuade his friend, George Carmack, to go back to the area. Carmack and his native companions, Dawson Charlie and Skookum Jim, explored the area around the river the First Nations people called “Tr’ondek”—or Klondike to English tongues. The three lucky prospectors discovered gold on Bonanza Creek on August 16, 1896, marking the beginning of the Klondike Gold Rush!

A short time later, at the nearby mining camp of Fortymile, Carmack registered the claim. Within days, Bonanza and Eldorado Creeks had been staked from end to end. Carmack did not tell Henderson, who ended up missing out on the richest claims.

Thirty thousand prospectors and miners, entrepreneurs, bankers, gamblers, prostitutes and con artists from every corner of the continent came across snow-covered mountain passes and down the Yukon River to claim their fortune in the Klondike. Most who made the journey found no gold at all. But the hope of striking it rich was not all that mattered. For many of those who made the incredible expedition, the Klondike represented an escape from everyday life and adventure in a new frontier.

Dawson City grew up in the shadow of a scar-faced mountain called Midnight Dome. Here on the flats of two Klondike rivers (The Klondike & The Yukon) was a city of mud streets, churches, saloons, casinos and theatre’s. White Pass & Yukon steamers were typically berthed at riverside docks bringing a steady stream of people and supplies. These beautiful boats were part of a fleet of 250 paddlewheelers on the Yukon River.

The Klondike Gold Rush had a major impact on the local First Nations, The Han. They inhabited the land around the Yukon, Stewart and Klondike River for several thousand years and were one of the few Yukon tribes to develop permanent villages in the Yukon. Today, they are concentrated in Dawson City where they operate the Dänojà Zho Cultural Center.

Dawson City Yukon is host to a decade of centennials and anniversaries. A potpourri of cultural events take place during the annual Discovery Days Festival, which celebrates the Discovery of Gold in 1896. Visit the Commissioner’s Residence and the Boyhood Home of Pierre Berton. The Yukon Gold Panning Championships are hosted on July 1st and Goldpanners attend from around the world and compete in various panning categories.

For travellers headed north from Dawson to Inuvik or Tuktoyaktuk, take the Dempster Highway, 40 km east of Dawson City on the Klondike Highway. To get from Dawson City to Alaska, take the Top of the World Highway.”

Visitor Information Centre in the Log building at the corner of Front Street and King Street, is open daily 8am to 8pm May to September. Historic slide shows and films are shown daily and interesting artifacts are on display. Drop by and pick up a Dawson City map to plan your path through this historic city or join a Parks Canada Walking Tour and be guided around town by a costumed guide re-living the Klondike era. 867-993-5566
www.dawsoncity.ca

History of Dawson City

It all began with Robert Henderson, a fur trapper and part-time prospector who, in 1894, found gold in Rabbit Creek (later renamed Bonanza) not far from where the Klondike River empties into the Yukon. When he had prospected this  clear, shallow stream, he was certain he was close to a major find.

Two years passed, however, before he could persuade his friend, George Washington Carmack, to go into the area. Carmack and his native companions, Dawson Charley and Skookum Jim, explored the area around the river the Indians called “Tr’ondek”—or Klondike to English tongues. The three lucky prospectors discovered gold on Bonanza Creek on August 17, 1896.

A short time later, at the nearby mining camp of Fortymile, Carmack registered the discovery claim. Within days, Bonanza and Eldorado creeks had been staked  from end to end. Carmack forgot to tell poor Henderson, who missed out entirely  on the richest claims.

Thirty thousand prospectors and miners, entrepreneurs, bankers, gamblers, prostitutes and con artists from all across the continent poured through snow-covered mountain passes and down the Yukon River to find their fortune in creeks called Eldorado,  Bonanza, Last Chance and Too Much Gold.

Most seekers found no gold at all. But the prospect of sudden riches was not all that mattered. For many of those who made the incredible journey,  the Klondike represented escape from the humdrum, the adventure of a new frontier.

The town grew up in the shadow of a scar-faced mountain called Midnight Dome.  Here on the flats of two riverbanks was a city of trampled mud streets, saloons,  churches, gambling houses and theatrical shows. Wharves and warehouses lined the river’s shore. White Pass & Yukon steamers could usually be found  berthed at riverside docks, part of a fleet of 250 paddlewheelers, which plied the Yukon River.

In early-day Dawson, gold dust could buy almost anything. One grizzled old  prospector is reputed to have bought a dance-hall queen for her weight in  gold.

Traders, who packed tons of freight over difficult trails, priced their merchandise  at whatever they felt the traffic would bear. Condensed milk sold for $3 a  can; eggs, $18 a dozen, sugar, $100 a sack; butter, $10 for a two-pound can. A bowl of soup in a restaurant cost a dollar and a pint of French champagne sold for $30. A Seattle paper sold for $10, and its buyer rented it out for  $2.50 a reading.

By 1904, an estimated $100 million in gold had been shipped from the Klondike.  No one really knows how much gold was found, however, because lots of it was never registered.

At its height, Dawson City had a population of 35,000, but the “stampede”  of `98 died out almost as quickly as it began. Stories of a new gold discovery  at a place called Nome began filtering into the Klondike. As thousands of prospectors and miners rushed westward, Dawson as many towns before her became  a ghost town.

Unlike many gold camps, Dawson was never swept aside or buried in the onrush of civilization. When its dream was over, the town still stood.

Many of the old landmarks disappeared one by one in disasters such as fire or the callousness of man. But what remains provides a unique travel experience for those with a sense of history and adventure.

“A symphony in honky-tonk that played itself out in four frenzied years.”  That’s the way one famous early-day writer chose to describe the gold rush city of Dawson.

Some of the old landmarks, like the Palace Grand theatre, have been reconstructed. Others, such as the Old Post Office, have been restored, since many sites in Dawson City have been designated of National Historic significance by the  Canadian government. Restoration and maintenance of numerous gold rush buildings and at least one mining complex is being carried out by Parks Canada.

Some of the town’s firms like the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, have opened their doors every business day for almost a century. In the bank, gold still is weighed and handled here, but not in the same quantities as it was when Dawson reveled in her prime.

Hotels in Dawson City

Bonanza Gold Motel. 

One mile from Dawson’s city center on the Klondike Highway. Kitchenette, Queen & Double rooms. All rooms have a free Wi-Fi, mini fridge, microwave, coffee maker and air conditioners or fans.

The Westmark Inn 

The Westmark Inn Dawson City provides summer visitors with spacious and comfortable accommodations in the heart of this lively Gold Rush community. The Inn has 177 rooms and includes complimentary internet access in the lobby, laundry facilities and free parking all within walking distance of the most popular Dawson City attractions.

The Downtown, A Coast Hotel in Dawson City

The historic Downtown Hotel offers a turn-of-the century atmosphere with modern comfort. The lobby will transport guests back to the days when the Dawson was full of prospectors and miners during Klondike Gold Rush era. The hotel has 34 guestrooms in the main building and 25 rooms in the neighbouring Annex building. Amenities include free wi-fi, mini fridges, coffeemaker, air conditioning , and TV.

Dpn’t miss the chance to enjoy breakfast at the Sourdough Saloon – home of the famous Sourtoe Cocktail. What’s a Sourtoe Cocktail? It’s the cocktail with one rule: “You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch that gnarly toe.” Enjoy the Sourdough saloon’s goldrush era décor, complete with swinging doors, good food, local beer, and great stories.

Campgrounds in Dawson City

Bonanza Gold RV Park

The Bonanza Gold RV Park is a Good Sam campground with full service sites and electric only sites. Pull thru & back in sites. Cable TV, Wi-fi. Laundromat, showers and RV/car wash.

Klondike River Yukon Government Campground

The campsites are large and pull throughs are available. Approximately 18 km east of Dawson City on the Klondike Highway.

The Best Things to do in Dawson City

The Palace Grand Theatre 

Originally built in 1898 by impresario and gold seeker, Arizona Charlie Meadows. It has been fully restored and is a National Historic Site of Canada. It can be found at King Street and Third Avenue. Tours are conducted daily.

The SS Keno

The SS Keno is a beautifully preserved sternwheel paddle steamer on the shore of the Yukon River. It is now a  National Historic Site of Canada. This is one of the approximately 250 sternwheelers to operate as a vital transport service up and down the Yukon River and its tributaries. When the SS Keno was moved from Whitehorse to Dawson City in 1960, it became the last sternwheeler to travel the Yukon River under it’s own power.

The SS Keno was built in 1922, in Whitehorse, by a subsidiary of the White Pass and Yukon Route railway company. It was retired from commercial service in 1951 after the completion of the Klondike Highway.

The Robert Service Cabin 

This carefully restored cabin of the “Bard of the Yukon”. Robert Service is one of the most famous poets in the north and he lived in this cabin from 1909 to 1912. Visitor can take a self-guided tour of the cabin and explore some of the historic artifacts on display.

Historic Downtown Walking Tours

Walking tours of the Historic downtown start from the Visitor Reception Centre. Walking tours of the Government Reserve including the N.W.M. Police buildings, old churches in the area and Commissioner’s residence. Leaves twice daily from the Commissioner’s Residence.

Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre. 

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in present tours, programs and events, celebrating the traditional and contemporary life of the Han Hwëch’in (River people). Situated on the bank of the Yukon River, Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre is a gateway into Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in heritage.

Dawson City Museum 

This museum is housed in the beautiful Old Territorial Administration Building National Historic Site, one of the premier heritage attractions in the Yukon. The exhibits provide an in-depth look at Dawson’s social and mining history, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in People, pre-gold rush history, the colourful Gold Rush era, and the natural history of the Klondike.

Top of the World Golf Course

Golf under the midnight sun at one of the furthers north golf course in Canada. There are 9 holes with grass greens, a driving range, pro shop and restaurant.

Raven’s Nook

Specializing in unique souvenirs, T-shirts, and sportswear, men’s and ladies fashions and a great selection of footwear make this Dawson City’s mini-Department Store.

Bonanza Market

The Bonanza Market offers fresh meat & locally grown produce, dairy and a complete line of groceries. Enjoy the Euro/Canadian Deli with great selection. Locally owned and operated by Yukoners.

Firefighters Museum 

The Firefighters Museum in the North End of town has fantastic displays of historic “firewagons” and firefighting historical artifacts.

Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall. 

Take a step back in time in this real Klondike Gold Rush-style gambling hall featuring Texas Hold’em poker, Blackjack and other table games. They alos have slot machines and live entertainment featuring Diamond Tooth Gertie and her Can-Can Girls.

Discovery Days Festival 

This annual celebration, commemorates the historic discovery of gold in 1896. Events include a parade, numerous exhibits, plus raft, canoe and bathtub races, dances and other activities during the third weekend of August.

The Dawson City Music Festival 

This popular music festival presents three days of wildly diverse music in multiple venues around town. Small but mighty, the Festival has developed a reputation for unparalleled intimacy, uniqueness, production quality, and hospitality.

The Festival showcases some of Canada’s musical heroes alongside newer and Northern talent under the midnight sun. Rock, blues, country, jazz, children’s music and more. The festival has something for everyone! It takes place every July.

Dawson City Dike Walkway

This well-maintained walking trail follows the Yukon River from the south end of town to the ferry landing. Great views of the historic town, the river and the SS Keno riverboat. There are picnic tables, benches, a gazebo and interesting stops along the way. The trail head is about 1 km south of downtown Dawson City but the trail can be accessed from any point on the waterfront.

Jack London Museum and Cabin

There is an interpretative center featuring the life of famed American author Jack London during his time in the Klondike. Jack London is the famed author of White Fang and many other tales. The Museum shares stories of London’s adventures that would prove to be the inspiration for him many books.

Airlink’s Alaska/Yukon Trails

Airlink’s Alaska/Yukon Trails makes travel through Alaska & Yukon easy and economical. Vans shuttle guests from Dawson City to Fairbanks via the Top of the World Highway. Travellers can continue from Fairbanks to Denali National Park, Talkeetna and Anchorage. Contact Airlink for current schedule and pricing or visit them online. 907-452-3337

Dawson City FAQS

Is Dawson City in Alaska or Canada?

Dawson City is located in the Yukon Territory of Canada. It is however, located very close to Alaska. It is a only 106 km (66 miles) from Dawson City to the Alaska Border along the Top of the World Highway.

How far is Whitehorse from Dawson City?

Whitehorse is 536 km (333 miles) from Dawson City on the Klondike Highway. This is the only highway between Whitehorse and Dawson City. The drive is long and will take over 5 hours for most, but it is also possible to fly on AirNorth, Yukon’s airline. A flight is only 1 hour.

Is there a Dawson City Alaska?

No, there is no Dawson City Alaska. Because Dawson City is so far north, some people think that it is located in Alaska. It is located in the Yukon Territory in Canada.

Can you still find gold in Dawson City?

Yes, there are still many gold mining operations in the Dawson City area. However, the days of the lone stampeder are long gone and are now replaced by large commercial operations that use large equipment to mine the earth for gold.

How far is Fairbanks from Dawson City?

It is 381 miles (316 km) from Fairbanks to Dawson City. This route will include the Top of the World Highway, the Alaska Highway and the Richardson Highway, but is still a fairly straightforward route. The Top of the World Highway will take motorists across the Alaska/Canada International border.

Dawson City Yukon Map

This map of Dawson City shows the old gold rush town, situated between the Klondike River and the Yukon River. The main road through town is the Klondike Highway. Dawson City marks the end of the Klondike Highway. To travel past Dawson, you must take the George Black Ferry to the other side of the Yukon River where you will start the Top of the World Highway towards Alaska. The George Black Ferry is free during the summer, but does not run during the winter, when the Yukon River is frozen and the Top of the World Highway is closed.

Map of Dawson City Yukon
Dawson City Map

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