Dawson City- Center of the Klondike Gold Rush

Turn of the Century Miner’s Cabin

Day 15 – Dawson City

Showers on the camper roof woke me several times through the night I was hoping our run of nice weather had not ended. We woke to grey skies and occasional filtered. Plus 9 C  (50ish F) a cool start to the day.
The night before during happy hour  a group decision was made,  the men would cook breakfast before hitting the road for Dawson. This time there was no disagreement about who was cooking what. I did potatoes, Henry bacon and Ralph eggs, this time a surprise addition pork and beans. Not sure who was responsible but a nice addition.
Breakfast was a hit, especially for the women, I’m beginning to think it wouldn’t matter what the men cooked, corn flakes, toast, a bowl of yogurt maybe even some of Buddy’s dog food. They are very happy to be relieved of their kitchen chores. Relax and enjoy their morning coffee.
The drive to Dawson was only a couple of hours so a leisurely breakfast was fitten for this grey cloudy morning.
The highway from Whitehorse to Dawson is good pavement, except for the occasional section of potholes and gravel patches. Our drive today would be short even though our speed was reduced by gravel sections and a stop at scenic Tintina Trench.



Tintina Trench Yukon in the mist

The view point is perched about a thousand feet above the Tintina Trench floor. The 20 kms wide trench was caused by bedrock shifting about 450 kms. laterally. The shifting bedrock separated the earth’s crust exposing rich mineral deposits including the gold responsible for the Yukon gold rush.



In 1898 Dawson grew from a Moose pasture to a city of 30-40,000 people all looking for gold. Dawson became the Paris of the North. Plenty of the gold was mined again by the entertainment industry, the saloons, the bordellos, the gambling places, and extremely expensive food. Today, gold is still mined, but tourism is the city’s main source of income.

 We arrived in Dawson early afternoon, after a drive through sun, clouds and showers. Entering Dawson City from the south provides a stark reminder of the gold rush. Huge misshapen piles of gravel line the highway  covering the valley floor, making for a less than attractive exhibit.


Dawson main st. next to the Yukon River


The town is immediately impressive with authentic looking buildings restored to their former glory days of the gold rush. Our destination was the Gold Rush RV park a couple of blocks from the Yukon river and main street. Located in the center of town a perfect base for exploring this unique town.


The Gold Rush RV park takes up a full city block, although a large park the camping spots were small, only large enough to accommodate campers (like ours) or smaller motor homes. The center area provided larger spots with room for bigger rigs.


Looking around this RV park I realized many private RV parks in the north were not designed for large rigs, especially those towing a trailer or toad. If you are planning a visit to the north more planning and reservations would be prudent especially during the high tourist season.
Fees at Gold Rush RV, $25.50 dry camping, about $35 for power and water. After checking in and set up it was time to check out the town.
Gold Rush campground Dawson City, Yukon

We walked through the rain to the the first recommended stop, the visitor’s information center on the main street (highway). A large authentic looking log building filled with interesting exhibits and helpful staff dressed in the attire of the gold rush era.


From here we toured the Dawson streets beginning at the Yukon river working our way along the wet unpaved streets. Dawson City and vicinity has a population of about 2000 with many of the inhabitants resembling the bearded prospectors of the gold rush.
Finally we are seeing what we anticipated since the outset of our trip, authentic history of the Yukon gold rush. Amazing reconstructed multi-colored buildings lending a sense of how life was for the 30 thousand people who made the trek north seeking their fortune.
Our afternoon was spent exploring the town, reading the many placards explaining the history of each building. Entering magnificent preserved buildings decked out with late 1800’s decor resembling a wild west movie transporting us back to the gold rush days.

Dawson City, Yukon


An interesting note about the buildings that had not seen a refit, like the large old church at the edge of tow., These old remnants were leaning so badly some were condemned. At first my thought was poor construction practices which I am sure took place during the frenzied pace of the gold rush, but as we wandered the streets observing new buildings under construction I noticed they were not built on excavated concrete foundations but on pads positioned on a large gravel base on top of the ground.




Dawson Church built on permafrost 


After some research I discover the idea is not to disturb the ground removing the insulating layer causing thawing of the permafrost layer thereby facilitating movement of the ground and subsequently the structures especially large ones, interesting!


Fortunately during our initial afternoon of exploring the rain let up except for the occasional shower. We headed back to camp for (you guessed it ) happy hour before heading back to town for a rare dinner out. 


Happy hour keeping dry before dinner.
The plan was fish and chips for dinner at Sourdough Joe’s on the main street we noticed during or town tour. After happy hour we headed for Joe’s. A somewhat disappointing and expensive dinner we thought at $25. a head rivaling our lunch last fall in San Francisco also fish and chips, but a much better dinner. The fish was great but the home cut fries had obviously been cooked earlier and kept warm, stale and hard. 





Dawson City news paper building, our group taking chances.

We spent a very entertaining evening at one of the more famous landmarks in Dawson, Diamond Tooth Gerties, an authentic saloon, casino and theater. The $12 annual pass provides access to three can-can shows a night. The costumes and performances puts you in the middle of the gold rush days.


Diamond Tooth Gerties


The next morning brought clear skies and brilliant sunshine. Ralph uncoupled his pickup from the 5th wheel and drove our group up Bonanza creek road where the first gold strike happened back in 1896 and a look at the famous gold Dredge #4.  A huge floating Dredge, one of approximately thirty operating during later stages of the gold rush. These machines dug down to bedrock to bring the gold rich gravel to the surface and automatically separating gold from the gravel.

The famous Dredge #4 in the midst of restoration


The process was very involved, before the dredge could operate the vegetation must be removed and the permafrost melted. This procedure took years and an army of men. There were many trial and error details to the procedure especially the melting of the permafrost. 
Our next stop was Dome Hill a vantage point, high above Dawson providing breathtaking views of the town, the Klondike river and the Yukon river. The cold wind at the summit of Dome Hill cut our visit short. We returned to camp, not for happy hour, apparently it was too early for some in the group.



Dawson City, Yukon & the Yukon River from Dome Hill


 After lunch we continued our walking tour of the town including the Keno, a smaller paddle wheeler than the Klondike we had visited in Whitehorse. This ship was built to carry ore rich in silver and gold down the smaller Stewart river from the Mayo mines. The ore was then loaded onto larger paddle wheelers headed for refineries.



The Keno paddle wheeler, Dawson City, Yukon


A visit to one of the back streets to see one of Canada’s most famous poets Robert Services’ cabin. I’m not sure how famous he is or was, I have never heard of him before this trip? A log cabin where he lived until 1912.
That evening brought us to the Downtown Hotel and the Sour Toe phenomenon, a short glass of whiskey with a human toe. Allyson was the only brave soul in our group to step up for the challenge. The rules are simple the toe must touch your lips in order for the challenge to be completed.



Allyson with her favorite drink The Sour Toe



The infamous Sour Toe,…. yuk


As we entered the Downtown Hotel we were greeted by the piano music of Dwayne Kelly, an extraordinary talented man who plays the piano like a person possessed. The sound from the authentic antique piano Mr. Kelly produces is nothing short of amazing.
Dwayne Kelly has lived in Dawson for thirty years, his prior engagements were with the Calgary, Alberta philharmonic orchestra until his eyesight deteriorated forcing his retirement. He has played for many dignitaries visiting the north. Now he plays for tips hoping to earn enough to buy fire wood to heat his river boat during the long northern winter.

The Downtown Hotel & Dwayne Kelly Dawson City, Yukon



Northern Lights Dawson City, Yukon


Our last night in Dawson was spectacular, Ralph startled Lynda and I awake with pounding on our camper door hollering excitedly about northern lights. We quickly dressed and stepped out into the cold night for the glorious show only the northern lights can provide. Cascading fingers through the sky of more shades of green and white that I have ever seen. A perfect end to a great visit to this historic town.
Watch for my next article, the Top of the World Hwy. to Chicken Alaska.
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Thanks for visiting
Gord B.


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