Watson Lake

Watson Lake is the first Yukon community encountered by the northbound traveller and is the second largest town in the Yukon. A comfortable day’s drive from Fort Nelson, BC or Whitehorse, Yukon make it a popular stopover point. There are several hotels, campgrounds and a number of interesting tourist attractions. Watson Lake grew from a small isolated outpost to a thriving community when the Alaska Highway was routed through its center. It became the accommodation and supply center for the building of this section of the highway.

The Sign Post Forest is Watson Lake’s most famous attraction. It was started in 1942 by Carl Lindley, a homesick GI, while working on the Alaska Highway. When repairing a directional post, he decided to add a sign for his hometown of Danville, IL, and inadvertently started the huge collection of signs. It is still being added to each year by visitors who wish to promote their own communities. The Town of Watson Lake maintains the Sign Post Forest, which is known as one of The Yukon’s most famous landmarks with over 75,000 unique signs.

Click here to view a map of Watson Lake Yukon

Alaska Highway Interpretive Center is open daily during the summer months, located behind the Signpost Forest. The center provides information as well as an exceptional display of photos, and other audiovisual presentations. It is managed by Yukon Tourism and is one of five centers in the Yukon. Open May 1st to September 30th from 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week. 867-536-7469
www.travelyukon.com

 

In 1898, 14 year old Francis (Frank) Gilbert Watson, an American from Lake Tahoe, came to the Yukon with his father Robert Montgomery Watson. They travelled the Chilkoot Trail route to Dawson City and had a successful Gold Mine in the Klondike. Unfortunately, like many gold miners of the day their mine was flooded out in 1905 and Frank & Robert decided to return home to Lake Tahoe. A few years later Frank returned to The Yukon through Wrangell, Alaska and up the Stikine and Dease Rivers. This brought him to the Liard River Valley near what is now the town of Watson Lake. It was here he met Adela Stone, a formidable & well-known Kaska woman.

Because of Frank’s relationship with Adela, the Kaska people allowed Frank to trap, prospect and settle in the area. Frank and Adela Watson have long been recognized as key figures in the early development of this part of the Yukon and there are still several members of the Watson family that live in the area.

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Best Places to Stay in Watson Lake Yukon

Air Force Lodge

These 1942 pilot quarters have been lovingly and fully restored by the owner. They offer clean, quiet rooms with free Wi-fi, coffee, and tea. On the Alaska Highway near the Police station on the east end of town. Reasonable Rates for single and double rooms.

A Nicer Motel

10 beautifully appointed rooms with kitchenettes. Nonsmoking and pet-free environment. Full surround sounds audio and Internet in each room. 

Watson Lake Campgrounds

Tags RV Park

Tags RV Park is at the west end of Watson Lake across from the Visitor Center and the Signpost Forest. Full hookups pull-through sites, showers & Laundromat. There is a great selection of groceries, a café, fuel, 24-hour pay at the pump, and Yukon Camping and Fishing Licenses.

Watson Lake Government Campground

On the Alaska Highway north of Watson Lake. Take the 3 km side road to reach the campground. 48 campsites with 12 pull-through sites, water, picnic shelters, toilets, firepits, and hiking trails.

Downtown RV Park

Downtown RV Park is right in the middle of everything in Watson Lake. Full hook-up sites and clean washrooms. 

Best Things to Do in Watson Lake Yukon

World Famous Sign Post Forest

Take a stroll along the walking trails winding through the many unique signs of the Sigh Post ‘Forest’. There are over 70,000 signs. You will be amazed to see how far some of these signs have traveled. Bring your own sign from home or buy a board from the Visitor Center and make your own.

Northern Lights Centre

Watson Lake’s Northern Lights Centre is a state-of-the-art science center that incorporates a multimedia Northern Lights show inside a 100-seat theatre with an Electric Sky environment. Interactive exhibits explore the mystery of the “Aurora Borealis.” There are presentations of this excellent show from early May until early September. 

ViewSpace at the Northern Lights Centre is a direct link to the Space Telescope Science Institute, where one can view Celestial Tours, the latest images and science discoveries from the Hubble Space Telescope, and other NASA science missions.

Lucky Lake

6 km south of Watson Lake on the Alaska Highway, the Lucky Lake area boasts one of the only outdoor waterslides north of 60 degrees. Picnic tables, sandy beaches, and hiking trails make this spot popular with locals and visitors. 

Watson Lake Recreation Centre

The Recreation Centre was built for the residents of Watson Lake and is open to the general public. There is a fitness room, bowling alley, hockey arena, curling club, and swimming pool that make this facility the center for social activities in town. Located adjacent to the Visitor Information Center.

Wye Lake Park & Nature Walk

Wye Lake Park is a nice park in the center of town. Nature walking around Wye Lake is an easy and enjoyable walk. There is a picnic area, wildflowers, and bird viewing. There are 65 kilometers of hiking and multi-purpose trails in the Watson Lake area.

Shopping in Watson Lake

Watson Lake Foods

Watson Lake Foods is the largest Supermarket in Watson Lake. It is locally owned and includes a complete selection of groceries, including a Bakery, Butcher Shop, and fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Tags Convenience Store

Tags Convenience Store is at the west end of Watson Lake. This gas station typically has the best fuel prices in town. They also have a fully stocked convenience Store, Cafe, and Laundromat.

Watson Lake FAQs

Does Watson Lake have an Airport?

Watson Lake does have an airport, however, it does not have service commercial flights. Only private and charter flights currently use Watson Lake Airport. The closest major airport is the Erik Nielson Whitehorse International Airport, 444 kilometers northwest on the Alaska Highway.

How did Watson Lake get its name?

Watson Lake was named for Frank Watson, an American from Lake Tahoe. He came to the Yukon with his father Robert Montgomery Watson 1898 for the Klondike Gold Rush. After returning home to Lake Tahoe 1905, Frank returned to The Yukon and ended up in the Liard River Valley, near what is now the town of Watson Lake. It was here he met Adela Stone, a well-known Kaska woman. 

Because of Frank’s relationship with Adela, the Kaska people allowed Frank to trap, prospect and settle in the area. Frank and Adela Watson have long been recognized as key figures in the early development of this part of the Yukon and there are still several members of the Watson family that live in the area. 

Watson Lake grew from a small isolated outpost to a thriving community when the Alaska Highway was routed through its center. It became the accommodation and supply center for the building of this section of the highway. 

What is Watson Lake Yukon known for?

Watson lake is famous for it’s massive collection of signs, know as the Signpost Forest. There are over 70,000 signs in the Signpost Forest and every year visitors bring new signs from around the world to add to the collection. Watson Lake is also home of the Northern Lights Center, a state of the art facility designed to explore and educate the mystery of the Aurora Borealis. It has a direct link to the Space Telescope Science Institute which shares the latest images from the Hubble Space Telescope and other NASA science missions.

Are boats allowed on Watson Lake?

Yes, you can boat on Watson Lake. There is a boat launch at Watson Lake Campground for boaters to access the water.

Is Watson Lake in BC?

No Watson Lake is in the Yukon Territory. It is very near to the northern British Columbia border. Watson Lake is the first major community in the Yukon when heading north on the Alaska Highway.

How far is it from Watson Lake to Whitehorse?

Watson Lake, Yukon is 440 km (273 miles) southeast of Whitehorse, the Capital of the Yukon.

Can I drive from Watson Lake to Whitehorse?

Yes, it is an easy drive from Watson Lake to Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway. It is only 440 km between the two towns.

How far is it from Skagway to Watson Lake?

It is 514 km (320 miles) from Watson Lake to Skagway. To drive from Watson Lake, take the Alaska Highway to the Junction at Jakes Corner (km 1342). Turn left on the Tagish Road and follow it 54 km to Carcoss. At Carcross turn left and follow the South Klondike Highway 106 km (66 miles) to Skagway. This is the most direct route to drive between Watson Lake and Skagway. 

It is also possible to follow the Alaska Highway to Km 1404 and turn left onto the South Klondike Highway, however, this is a 60 km longer drive. It is 574 km (357 miles).

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