Exploring the Yukon and Dawson City
The Yukon Territory has much to offer outdoor enthusiasts as well as those looking for a bit of frontier flavor: it claims the second tallest peak in North America, Mount Logan in Kluane National Park; 80 percent of the Yukon is covered in forest; thousands of animals call it home, including bears, moose and wolves; and it’s sparsely populated. If “getting away from it all” is your goal, then you’ve found it on a Yukon Land+Sea Journey.
The Yukon Territory lies within the borders of Canada, with approximately 75 percent of the territory’s population living in its capital, Whitehorse (approximately 26,000 residents). Since it’s above the Arctic Circle, the Yukon is known as “the land of the midnight sun” — during the summer, the area experiences almost three full months of continuous sunlight.
Canada’s second-longest river, the Yukon River, weaves its way through the territory, affording opportunities for kayaking/canoeing, fishing, wildlife viewing, and outdoor pursuits of all stripes. The river is an important salmon-breeding ground, and boasts the longest wooden fish ladder in the world, at 1,200 feet in length. During the Klondike Gold Rush of the late nineteenth century, the Yukon River was the principal means of transportation.
Gold Rush History
Speaking of the Gold Rush, you’ll want to pay a visit to Dawson City. But don’t let the “City” in its name scare you off — with a population of around 1,500, it’s no metropolis. This is the place to come for that old frontier town/Gold Rush experience. Up until 1953, Dawson was the capital city of the Yukon, but a decline in the mining industry and population forced it to hand that title over to Whitehorse.
During the Rush of 1897–99, Dawson City was the destination for many of the “stampeders” (hopeful Gold Rush prospectors), and the population ballooned to around 40,000 as folks from around the world came in search of fast fortunes. Be sure to stop by the Klondike National Historic Site to learn more about the city’s role in this gold stampede. Guides wearing period costumes are available to take visitors on tours of important sites of interest.
While you’re in town, be sure to stop in at Diamond Tooth Gerties, Canada’s oldest gambling hall, where you can try your luck at various games of chance and take in a cancan show, led by Diamond Tooth Gertie herself! Best of all, proceeds are invested into the Dawson City community. Afterward, head outside for some fresh air with a walk on the old-time wood boardwalks for your own walking tour of Dawson.
And if you should strike up a thirst, and are brave enough, head for the Sourdough Saloon and imbibe in a Dawson City tradition — the Sourtoe Cocktail. Probably the only drink in the world with a real dehydrated human toe right in the drink, to date over 100,000 people from around the world have joined the Sourtoe Club. And as the saying goes, “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe.” Ask for Captain River Rat and see if you’ve got what it takes to join the club!
Other activities in Dawson include the Frantic Follies, an authentic burlesque show of the kind seen during the Rush, and the chance to cruise the Yukon River on a restored paddlewheeler, the Klondike Spirit. And if you’ve caught gold fever, gold panning is on offer just outside town at the Goldbottom Mine.