What to See In Dawson City in 72 Hours
· 23 min. read
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Seventy-two hours is a lot of time in a town of about 1,500 people, so why did I pick that number? Well, when I arrived in Dawson City, I arrived on Labour Day Monday, and many of the local amenities were closed. Because Dawson City is so small, there is no taxi service from the airport. Had I gone there another day, I would have been able to call Klondike Car Rental for a lift, but they were closed that day. Out of all the hotels in Dawson City, I believe the only one that offers an airport shuttle is The Downtown Hotel ? and I didn't stay there because the rooms at The Bunkhouse were about $10 cheaper.
So, with no taxi, no shuttle, and no car rental, I decided to try my luck hitchhiking my way into Dawson City. Honestly, I'm surprised how quickly I got a ride. I think only three or four vehicles passed me until I was able to hop aboard a truck and get a ride into town.
It was on this drive into town that I was told two things: one, that going to the Yukon by myself without knowing a soul was a very brave thing to do, and two: that if I don't drink, I'll get tired of Dawson City after three days.
Since I'm not a big drinker, I tried to see as much as I could of Dawson City in three days ? or seventy-two hours. I didn't see a fraction of what I wanted to see, but in case you're ever in the same boat I was in, here are some of the places you should visit:
1. Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre
Some people might say the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre shouldn't be first on this list. After all, people travel to "The Paris of the North" to take in the lights, the glam, the drinking, the history, and the Arctic cold. Many don't go there to learn about the trials and tribulations of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in.
But, after visiting the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, I wish more people knew the story. When gold was first discovered in the Klondike, Chief Isaac of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in understood that his people were in danger, and he relocated all of them down the river to Moosehide. By the time the spring thaw came in, Chief Isaac and his people watched their ancestral home of Tr'ochëk ? a word that would get bastardized into "Klondike" ? get trampled, ripped up and rebuilt as tens of thousands of Stampeders roared into the valley. Chief Isaac even referred to them as a "swarm of mosquitoes" due to their massive numbers and increasing noise.
Chief Isaac knew that he only bought his people time, but soon their way of life, their language, their culture, and their own being would be lost. He travelled to Alaska and taught their way of life to the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in that lived there. It's through his actions that their way of life survived, but just barely. Only a few years after the Klondike Gold Rush era ended, the more devastating Choutla Residential School era began.
With all that said, the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre teaches visitors how things were before the gold rush, how the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in struggled during and after it, and how they have been able to overcome the most challenging period in their culture's history.
2. Dawson City Visitor's Information Centre
The Visitor's Information Centre should be near the top of all the places to visit in Dawson City. The centre has several educational videos about Dawson City and the area, as well as various tours of the town and even a tour of the Dredge No. 4 National Historic Site just outside the city. I attended the "Strange Things Done" Parks Canada tour and had an absolute blast learning about the town, the people that lived there, and some of the unbelievable shenanigans that took place during the Gold Rush days.
I wish I had had time to do more of the tours, as the Dredge No. 4 National Historic Site tour also sounded very interesting. The only problem with that tour is that these days, all guests need their own separate vehicle and those are not that easy to come by up north.
The visitors centre also has books, pamphlets, maps, souvenirs and even free Wifi in case your hotel room isn't ready yet.
It's also one of the two locations in town to get a key to unlock the incredible "Camera Obscura" just down the street.
3. The S.S. Keno
It's hard to miss the S.S. Keno. This magnificent riverboat was used to haul silver, zinc, and lead from the nearby Steward River to the Yukon River. Although the Klondike is known for its famous gold rush, it's actually the silver rush that was more lucrative for the territory and is still a major industry to this day.
Unfortunately, when I visited the S.S. Keno, I arrived one day after it closed. I was able to visit the S.S. Klondike in Whitehorse, but I could only see the S.S. Keno from outside. I can't be certain, but if the two riverboats are anything alike, I would really recommend visiting the S.S. Keno if you have a chance.
4. The Dawson City Museum
One of Dawson City's most recent attractions, the Dawson City Museum is an excellent place to learn about the odd and quirky history that created Dawson City ? and the people who made it happen. Here you can step back in time and learn about not only the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, but also the first surveyors, the Stampeders, and those who settled "The Paris of the North".
One of the great things about the Dawson City Museum is that it shows the story from a variety of different angles ? from wealthy prospectors, to inspiring entrepreneurs, to disenfranchised First Nations people, to the women who flourished in the city, the men who went broke and everybody in between. Many times the history of the Klondike Gold Rush is whitewashed, but it was an event that brought in people from all over the world, and their stories and names should be remembered.
The museum doesn't just talk about the Klondike Gold Rush though. It also talks about some of the other events that occurred in and around the area, like the sinking of the S.S. Sophia, the Dawson City Nuggets that played in the Stanley Cup, the infamous Lost Patrol, and even the killing of The Mad Trapper of Rat River.
Unfortunately for me, I arrived on the second day the museum had opened, and Google had not yet been updated to reflect their business hours. They are only open from 11am ? 4pm, and I arrived at 3:45pm. Give yourself a lot of time to visit this museum, as it is not only an incredible museum, but it is the best small-town museum I have ever seen.
5. Jack London's Cabin
The very first encounter I ever had with the Klondike was reading a short story by Jack London. My grade five teacher loved his works, and we read many, many of his short stories. I knew he was an inspiring gold seeker, but I didn't realize he lived in Dawson City until I read about it a few years ago. Half of his original cabin is here, and the other half is in San Francisco.
If you visit the cabin in the summer, you can go inside it and the visitors centre and learn more about the grounds. Unfortunately, when I visited, it was closed.
Nevertheless, to see where the author of works like White Fang and The Call of the Wild lived was still very cool.
6. Robert Service's Cabin
If you are into literature, Robert Service's Cabin is not too far from Jack London's cabin, and he published some of the most famous works describing life in the Klondike. His stories included The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew, two stories that inspired generations of people to dream of the Klondike and helped kick off the world-wide phenomenon known as "Klondikephilia".
In the summer months, Parks Canada even has actors working at the cabin who will read passages and stories from his works. This alone would be a reason to return in the summer.
7. Restaurants in Dawson City
Dawson City is small, so there are no chain restaurants in the town. Everything is either grown, frozen or shipped in. This means every place you visit to eat will have a slight markup on price, and a huge enhancement of flavour. However, because I visited in the fall and because of the pandemic, many of the restaurants were closed, or were closed to the public to eat in.
However, I did have breakfast at Bonton & Company, lunch at Riverwest Bistro and some delicious pizza from Pan of Gold Pizza Shop. I ordered pizza from Pan of Gold after hiking in Tombstone Territorial Park, and I was ecstatic to see that they delivered ? and that the portion sizes were huge. It was the best meal I had while in Dawson City, and one that I desperately needed after my hike.
8. Downtown Dawson City
I know having a point called "Downtown Dawson City" is a bit of a cop-out, but I have never seen a downtown like Dawson City before. Not only are all the streets in Dawson City lined with wooden sidewalks, but each block has one or two Parks Canada historic sites on it. For example, Front Street has the old Flora Dora Hotel, which has mannequins standing in the windows dressed like women of the night. Third Street has the famous Kissing Buildings ? two buildings that have shifted over time and are now kissing each other as they slowly collapse on each other. You'll also find Strait's Auction House just down the street too ? a historic site that probably should have been torn down decades ago but is the pride and joy of the community, so it was preserved and saved from destruction more than once.
You'll also notice while exploring downtown Dawson City that all the buildings are either made of logs, planks or sheet metal. This is to keep the area feeling rustic and nostalgic like the times of the Klondike Gold Rush.
9. The Sourtoe Cocktail
Yes, it's real! The Sourtoe Cocktail is a real beverage that contains a single shot and a frost-bitten, human toe. The drink is $7 and there is a $25,000 fine if you happen to accidentally swallow the toe. The Sourtoe Cocktail is done at the Sourdough Saloon inside the Downtown Hotel (the same one with the shuttle service).
They do the cocktail three times each night, at 7, 9 and 11pm. There is often a lineup and in the summer months, people queue around the block to get the shot. When I went in mid-September, there was just shy of twenty people getting the shot that night. When you arrive, you can tell the waitress and they'll have you write your name down on a piece of paper. When it's your turn, they'll call you up, The Captain will read you the rules about the toe, and then plunk the black, slippery century-old human toe into your drink. It's then up to you to get the courage to drink it ? but be warned, the toe sometimes sticks to the glass and might fall directly onto your face!
10. Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall
Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall is the oldest casino in Canada, but it isn't known for just its monetary jackpots. Instead, Diamond Tooth Gerties is known for its famous can-can dancers. These dancers perform on weekends on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. I didn't know this when I planned my trip, and I arrived on a Monday and left on a Thursday. I cannot say how amazing the can-can show is, but if they're still doing it over a century since the gold rush ended, it is worth dropping by to see it.
Also, where else can you see can-can dancers these days!?
11. The Paddlewheel Graveyard
When I was wrapping up my time at the Dawson City Museum, the lady at the guest shop recommended I visit The Ship Graveyard in West Dawson City, just across the river via the ferry. Normally this would have been right up my alley, but I had already had a jammed-packed day and I needed to get to the Sourdough Saloon early to get my shot. The sun was also setting around 9pm, so I knew I didn't have enough time to do both.
However, Atlas Obscura has an article all about it, and it's sounds very much worth the trip there. The Paddlewheel Graveyard consists of seven landlocked paddlewheel ships that have been rotting and decaying in the elements for decades. Their once wooden husks and frames have worn away, and now they are an eerie wooden skeleton of a bygone era. Although I didn't get there this time, it's on my list for next time!
12. Cemetery Walking Tours
Dawson City has a surprisingly high number of cemeteries, and there's even an online walking tour of them. These give visitors a great opportunity to explore not only the town but also the history that made the city. I love cemeteries, and I love going on walking tours of them. Had I had the time, this is something I would have done while in Dawson City.
North of the city there are two other places to note: the first is the old Typhoid Cemetery. I can't find much about it online, but it's on Google Maps so it is worth checking out. Additionally, just north of the Typhoid Cemetery is an Off-Leash Dog Park that sits at the bottom of an ancient rockslide. Our Parks Canada guide told us that there's a story told by the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in of a group of cannibals that were crushed when this rockslide occurred. There are stories that human bones can still be found between these rocks, all these centuries later.
13. Midnight Dome
For those who are able to get a vehicle in Dawson City, a trip to the Midnight Dome needs to be on your list. This viewpoint towers above Dawson City and offeres an unparalleled view of the crystal clear Yukon sky. It's the perfect place to wait overnight in a vehicle and wait for the Northern Lights, or to just see the city twinkling from above.
I didn't visit the Midnight Dome when I was there, but I know the Northern Lights were out every night I was in Dawson City. I was even told you could see them from the balcony of my hotel. For those who have never seen the Northern Lights before, I recommend taking a trip up to the Midnight Dome.
14. Tombstone Territorial Park
Tombstone Territorial Park is an hour away from Dawson City, but many people use it as a jumping-off point onto the Dempster Highway and into the park. There are many awesome hikes in Tombstone, such as Goldenside or the Grizzly Lake Trail, and it's worth taking the time to visit while you're in Dawson City. Just remember that if you plan to spend the night, you need to book ahead as there are only limited campsites out in the bush.
I covered how to get to Tombstone in another blog article, and some of the issues you'll have getting there. I had a blast while I was in Tombstone, and I would have liked to spend more time there, but it didn't work out this time.
I had about three days when I was in Dawson City, but I only saw a fraction of the items on this list. Due to the seasons changing, the pandemic, and other unforeseen circumstances, I felt I only got to taste a piece of what Dawson City has to offer. I was told one would get bored of Dawson City in three days if they didn't drink, but there's so much to see and do and learn in the city, I'd give yourself a week ? or a few more than three days at least.
Have you ever visited Dawson City? Do you have any interest in it? Is there anything else you'd visit that I didn't add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.
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Categories: Canada, Travel Tips, Yukon