Dawson City is the embodiment of Yukon adventure. Even the journey to get there is exciting — drive through untouched forest and awe-inspiring mountains or take a flight over from Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport that provides unparalleled views from above. Either way, the excitement really begins once you get there.
Dawson City was the heart and soul of the Klondike Gold Rush. Its original founders were fearless (and maybe a little bit crazy), working hard to realize their dreams. The Klondike Gold Rush was the catalyst in creating the Dawson City that residents and travelers know today. The architecture reflects that of the gold rush period, and placer mining is still one of the biggest industries in Dawson City. In fact, more than 200 family-owned and operated placer miners still operate in the Klondike region.
Take a page from their books and try something outside your comfort zone. To help you along, we’ve compiled a list of the 22 best things to do in the Yukon city with a heart of gold.
Journey back in time to experience Dawson City history and culture
The Klondike Gold Rush had a major impact on Dawson City, and still has an impact today. Gold mining remains one of the city’s most important industries and has had a large influence on the city’s tourism. In Dawson City, travelers can learn what it was like to live during the Klondike Gold Rush by visiting historic mining dredges, active mines, saloons and so much more.
1. Dredge No. 4 National Historic Site
Standing nearly 60 feet high amid the rough and rugged Klondike Gold Fields on Claim #17 is Dredge No. 4., the largest wooden hulled bucket line dredge in North America. Take a guided tour through the massive machine and discover the evolution of placer mining. From early pioneers unearthing gold-bearing gravel by hand to large-scale gold-digging machines, Dredge No. 4 National Historic Site is a representation of the region’s many decades of mining.
2. Goldbottom Mine Tour
At Millar Mine, located in the former gold mining community of Gold Bottom, see abandoned gold mining artifacts, view demonstrations of historic and modern placer mining methods and techniques, learn how miners stake a claim and sell gold, and go gold panning in Hunter Creek. Goldbottom Mine Tour brings the Klondike Gold Rush history to life.
3. Discovery Claim
Along Bonanza Creek (formerly Rabbit Creek) is Discovery Claim, the legally defined mining claim where Skookum Jim, Dawson Charlie and George and Kate Carmack stumbled upon gold. Take a stroll along the Discovery Trail to see evidence of various methods of mining that sparked one of the greatest gold rush migrations of the nineteenth century.
4. Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall
For a “whooping good time,” visit Canada’s first casino Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall. The casino’s friendly charm and unique Klondike-period style allows guests to experience a night at the saloon just like the original stampeders. Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall is complete with cancan entertainment, casino games and nostalgic tunes, and all proceeds are reinvested in the community.
5. Robert Service Cabin Heritage Site
See the tiny cabin on Eighth Avenue where the Bard of the Yukon, Robert Service, once lived and worked on poetry early in the morning before he went to his job as a bank teller. The cabin is furnished with genuine items from the Gold Rush-era, and you’ll see some people from that era, too (they’re actors, really). You just might learn about the secret tales along Arctic trails or queer sights seen by the northern lights that Service was inspired to write about.
6. Jack London’s Cabin
Jack London famously wrote “White Fang” and “The Call of the Wild,” both set during the Klondike Gold Rush. Jack London was quite the thrill-seeker himself, finding inspiration in Dawson City. Come visit the cabin he lived in while writing his renowned novels. Learn about the author and get inspired to scribe your own adventure story.
7. S.S. Keno
For several years, paddle wheelers plied the Yukon River, pushing cargo-laden barges. These riverboats burned wood to create steam, and were the lifeline to the outside world until they were retired in the 1950s. Located on the Dawson City waterfront, the S.S. Keno is a riverboat typical of that era. Take a guided tour of the S.S. Keno for insight on how important riverboats were to towns along the Yukon River, explore the steam-powered sternwheeler and discover how life in the region has always been connected to the Yukon River.
8. Bombay Peggy’s Pub
Give your moral compass a break and spend an evening at Bombay Peggy’s Pub, the only restored brothel in the Yukon. Order one of their seductively themed martinis or go for a fine-malt scotch or microbrew to quench your thirst.
9. Bear Creek: After the Gold Rush
Get a rare glimpse of a moment frozen in time at the deserted townsite of Bear Creek. Born from, sustained by, and eventually lost to gold, Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation shut its doors at Bear Creek and walked away, leaving everything behind.
10. Sourdough Saloon
The Sourdough Saloon serves good food, good booze, great stories and its famous Sourtoe Cocktail. Join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club by enjoying a delicious cocktail with one unique ingredient: a severed human toe. There’s just one rule: “You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch that gnarly toe.”
11. Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre
At Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, discover the history and culture of the first people of the Klondike, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation. Upon entering, visitors are greeted with a welcome film in the Hän language before perusing photographs, artifacts, cultural objects and exhibitions that display the story of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation.
12. Dawson City Firefighter Museum
Visitors traveling with kids (or any adults who still really love fire trucks) will enjoy a visit to the Dawson Firefighter Museum. The Dawson City Fire Department is the oldest fire department in the Yukon, and as such. the museum display includes numerous vehicles and artifacts that were, at one point in time, sold or given away and were since reacquired and restored. Some of the highlights here include a 1897 Clapp and a Jones Fire Steam Pumper.
Take in the Yukon landscape
Take in the awe-inspiring natural splendor of Dawson City through activities and viewpoints! Dawson City is surrounded by breathtaking vistas of mountains, rivers and a vast array of wildlife. Exploring the landscapes allows you to see the raw and untamed beauty of the region.
13. Tombstone Territorial Park
Tombstone Territorial Park is the best place to begin your voyage into the wilderness. A gorgeous 90-minute drive from Dawson will transport you to the Tombstone Interpretive Centre, where you can start a day hike into rugged mountains and permafrost landforms. Before you venture into the wild, prepare for sudden changes in the weather, and be sure to tell someone where you’re going every time you hike.
Depending on how much time you want to spend out in the park, there are plenty of activities to keep you busy. You can lace up your hiking shoes to meet your daily steps goals, find a fun camping spot, go wildlife viewing or fishing and, if you have a car that permits, you can even go off-roading. This is a rugged and remote spot in the region, so we recommend ensuring you are prepared for all situations. Just one day of hiking here will leave you with an appreciation for the power and beauty of nature. It is truly an unforgettable experience, and you’ll emerge both empowered and humbled.
14. Midnight Dome
Midnight Dome features some of the best and most expansive views of Dawson City. The prominent landmark is known for the breathtaking views and is situated right outside the city. The conveniently named road, Dome Road, will take you to the hill where you can marvel at the Yukon River with sights of downtown. Named after the unique feature of catching incredible views of the midnight sun, this is a great attraction for visitors and locals alike.
15. Dog Sledding
For a thrilling and immersive adventure, check out dog sledding! This unique activity connects you to the rich cultural tradition and the natural beauty of the Yukon Territory. Dog sledding will allow you to experience what was once an important mode of transportation, crucial during the Klondike Gold Rush.
Plan your visit during unique seasonal events
Planning a visit to Dawson City during unique, untraditional events promises you an unforgettable experience that combines rich history, captivating landscapes and a vibrant local culture. Whether it’s checking off a bucket list item of seeing the northern lights or witnessing the blooms of spring, Dawson City boasts a range of seasonal events that will truly make your trip unforgettable.
16. Yukon Quest
Every February, the toughest four-legged athletes trek across 1,000 miles of tundra between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, Alaska. These incredible competitors are sled dogs, of course, and the race is the Yukon Quest, one of the longest sled dog races in the world. Dawson City is the midway resting point for the tough pups and their mushers, giving locals and tourists a chance to support these sportsmen.
17. Yukon Gold Panning Championship
Think you’ve got what it takes to be a prospector? Give your skills the ultimate challenge in the Yukon Gold Panning Championships, held in Dawson every July. Normally, panning for gold is a time-consuming process, but not for these champs! Competitors come from around the world to extract a certain amount of gold flake from a bucket of dirt. The winner is crowned as the fastest Yukoner and gets to compete in the World Gold Panning Championship, held in a different location every year.
18. Yukon River Quest
The Yukon River Quest is an epic challenge for the explorer in you. The world’s longest annual canoe and kayak race travels 444 miles from Whitehorse to Dawson City in June. Most people who enter this race do it with the goal to simply finish, which is no easy feat. This two- to three-day journey is an extraordinary experience in teamwork and perseverance. If you’re not up for joining a crew, come observe with the locals and cheer on the teams at the finish line.
19. Dawson City International Gold Show
The Dawson City International Gold Show is an ongoing tradition since 1986. One of the largest gold-mining industry tradeshows, the Gold Show is a one-stop-shop for new ideas and products relevant to the modern-day placer (open streambed mining) mining industry.
20. Klondike Valley Mud Bog
In August, locals come together under the Moosehide Slide for an incredibly loud and exhilarating afternoon of sliding in the mud. Using anything from monster trucks to homemade vehicles or ATVs, drivers attempt to cross this valley of mud in one piece. Bring your earplugs and your yelling-voice to cheer on these daring souls.
21. Thaw di Gras
Thaw di Gras is a celebration of the coming of spring, Yukon style. This unofficial long weekend in March is the best taste of the local community you can get. With activities ranging from axe throwing to tricycle races and snow sculpting, the whole family can let go of inhibitions and revel in springtime.
22. Great Klondike International Outhouse Race
The outlandish outhouse race involves an outhouse on wheels and a scavenger hunt. Participants wear ridiculous, themed costumes and decorate their mobile loos. Visitors are encouraged to participate. Don’t worry; rentals are available for those who can’t bring their own.
How much time to spend in Dawson City
Depending on what your interests are and how active you want to be during your time in Dawson City, two to three days is the perfect amount of time to spend in town. With a small-town atmosphere, the city is full of rich history and scenic beauty — like the Yukon River. The witty charm of the city gives you insights to the culture and traditions and the opportunity to view museum exhibits and interact with local artists. That’s not to overlook the outdoor beauty of getting active outside on hikes and guided tours!
How to get to Dawson City
Getting to Dawson City usually involves a combination of transportation modes — makes sense being that it’s located in the remote region of Canada’s Yukon Territory. Here are a couple ways you can get to the city:
- By air: This is the fastest and easiest way to reach Dawson City. There are several Canadian airports that offer flights to the city from locations like Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital.
- By road: Yes, Dawson City is accessible by road, but it is important to keep in mind that the city is in a remote location with limited road connections. The most popular route is on the Klondike Highway that connects Dawson City to Whitehorse. In Whitehorse, you can take a bus or rent a car. The distance is about 330 miles which usually takes around six to seven hours.
- By boat: Before there were roads to the city, the only way to get to the city was via the Yukon River. There is a free ferry called the George Black Ferry which will take you across the Yukon River to downtown Dawson City. Those who are more adventurous can kayak, canoe or raft their way in!
Stay with us in Dawson City
In the heart of Dawson City, the Westmark Inn offers great deals and comfortable and charming overnight accommodations for you! While visiting the historic town, the Dawson City Westmark Inn has a convenient location and cozy rooms, making for the perfect way to unwind after a long day of immersing in the rich history of the gold rush.