Planning our road trip, we put Alaska as one of the main destinations. And because we started in Vancouver, there was no other way than through Yukon and beautiful Dawson City. That city had so much charm that we decided to share our experience with you and give some guidelines on why you should visit it sooner than later.
Dawson City History
Dawson City, aka Town of the City of Dawson, is located in the Canadian part of Yukon territory. Its history is closely linked to Klondike Gold Rush. Even today, visiting this town, you can feel the soul of good old days. This city has a lot of stories to tell, but probably even more, that would never see daylight. To our surprise, Dawson City is vibrant and crowded. It turned out that it is the second biggest city in Yukon (after Whitehorse) with a population of 1375 (as of 2016). But if you add tourists, the number rapidly increases.
Dawson was settled in 1897 and was the capital of Yukon till 1952 when it passed authority to Whitehorse located closer to the British Columbia border and developing faster, probably due to other cities’ proximity. It’s worth to mention that Dawson dropped its population after WWII when Alaska Highway was built about 300 miles to the south bypassing its beautiful historical landmark. But maybe it’s even better. Due to this fact, it still has this old days charm, and you can come and see it with your own eyes. It becomes just another tourist attraction but a very unique one.
Top 5 Things to do in Dawson City, Yukon
1. See the live show in Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall
This place literally makes you step back in time. I would say it had for sure not changed since it was open in 1971. And you would never think it is Canada’s oldest casino. The name of the place originates from Gertie Lovejoy, who had a diamond between her two front teeth. But even before that, for nearly 100 years, the building has been the heart and home of many of Dawson’s most essential and festive social gatherings.
What makes this casino unique in Canada? Well, it is the only one where you can gamble, drink alcohol, and watch the live show in the same room. And it is the only one located in northern Canada. And what’s interesting is that since 1971 it is operated by Klondike Visitors Association (a non-profit organization). The revenue is spent on preserving historical sites of Dawson. We would say it’s a really glorious purpose. And we would even spend some money on this casino to keep the legendary Dawson CIty alive in a similar state for the next generations.
2. Visit Claim 33 Gold Panning
It is evident that if you are in the heart of a gold rush historical place, you can’t leave it without panning some gold for you. The right place to try your luck is Claim 33 Gold Panning Museum. They say it is guaranteed that you will dig some gold, and they give you all the instructions and teach techniques. The trick is to separate the wheat from the chaff, i.e., the gold from the gravel. We had great fun in this place and felt like gold panners years ago. The only difference was that we were doing it just for fun, and they were doing it to survive and earn a better future that very often never came…
The place is located outside of the city downtown. It is open since mid-May to mid-September, so it’s best to plan the visit for the summer. The place is family-friendly, so don’t hesitate to come with your kids. Let’s them see how hard was it to earn money back then. To be honest, it didn’t change a lot, and we just have different ways to make that money.
3. Historic Dawson City Walk
I would say that one of our favorite activities was to just wander the streets of Dawson City and make theories about how could the history of those places looked like. This city looks really old and original. For us, the most surprising thing was wooden pavements that we had no chance to see in other parts of North America. Fortunately, the city is curated by Parks Canada. We trust that due to their effort it looks really great and is preserved pretty well.
As photographers, we had great fun to take portraits with clothes reminding old days with all those historic old buildings in the background. Looking at those pictures, you would never say that they were taken in 2019.
Visit Dawson City Museum
If you like museums, you should definitely visit this one. It will show you the history of the city, focusing mainly on the gold rush era, but you can find some history about the native Athapaskan people of the area. They are trying to be very informative, and on the other side very practical, so you can try some gold mining activities for yourself. Old photographs on display are really very lovely and unique and for sure, worth seeing. Besides, you can take a closer look at the trapper’s cabin, the piano, the parlor, and the bike. Moreover, the building itself is a lovely piece of old architecture and art. Do not forget to visit the outside garden as well.
There is a fascinating history about the railroad that was supposed to come to Paris of the North (how was the city often called because people living here were better situated than in other regions of Canada at that time) and never came. But still, you can find a lot of old trains and steam locomotives in the museum. What is their history we leave for you to get to know when you finally go there.
4. S.S. Keno National Historic Site
S.S. Keno is the historical remaining of what was once the most luxury and popular way to travel between towns by the Yukon River. The steamboat that had a shallow two-foot draft was build in 1922. In the past, it was used mainly on the Stewart River hauling silver-lead concentrate from Mayo to Stewart City. But it was also used for early and late season trips to Dawson City. Eventually, it was retired from commercial service in 1951 due to the extension and improvement of the in the years after World War II. Nine years later, S.S. Keno became the last sternwheeler steamers to navigate the Yukon River under her own power. It arrived at its current location where you can see it now.
5. Stay in one of the historic hotels
As you already know, Dawson City is a well preserved historic location, and hotels are no different than the rest of the city. We found two excellent maintained, but still operating hotels:
The hotel is situated just one block from the Yukon River and in the very downtown of Dawson City not far from Diamond Tooth Gerties. From the outside, we believe it looks the same as 100 years ago, but inside it’s like a very modern and convenient hotel with everything you need (even working wi-fi!). There are 34 stylish rooms in the main building, together with a lounge and elegant dining room. Book your room at Downtown Hotel here.
Triple J Hotel and Cabins
This stylish hotel is located directly across the street from Diamond Tooth Gerties’s Casino, and two blocks from The Palace Grand Theatre. In practice, everything is walking distance here. The hotel has renovated rooms in the main building and some additional in the annex. Of course, it also has an excellent restaurant serving great local food. Book your room at Triple J Hotel and Cabins here.
Hi, we are Aga & Chris – two crazy photographers who love to travel. In August 2019, we started The Van Escape project in Vancouver. With freshly purchased old camper truck, we headed to Alaska to encounter some wildlife and fantastic landscapes. On our blog – The Van Escape – we try to combine the best travel and photo hints from visited locations. We hope it is beneficial for your travel plans!
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