Tens of thousands of people set out for the Klondike when gold was discovered, and about thirty thousand made it there over daunting mountains and down the unpredictable Yukon River.
Today, the six to seven-hour drive from Whitehorse to Dawson is on comfortable roads. But the sense of adventure still exists in the vast scenery, vibrant Indigenous cultures and storied communities you will discover as you head to the rugged Klonike Valley, where gold is still mined today.
The expedition starts at Carmacks, named after George Carmack, an American prospector and one of the co-discoverers (along with Skookum Jim and his two nephews, Dawson Charlie and Patsy Henderson) of Klondike gold. Carmacks and the surrounding region are the Traditional Territory of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation. By the turn of the 20th Century, the town was an important overnight stop on the trail to Dawson and a fuel stop for sternwheelers. A telegraph line went through to Dawson in 1899 and today the community visitor information centre is housed in the old telegraph station. A walking tour guide from the centre lists the historical buildings in Carmacks, many visible from the waterfront boardwalk.
Long ago, the Northern Tutchone established fish camps here and traded with Tagish, Tlingit and Southern Tutchone people. The Tagé Cho Hudän Interpretive Centre features Northern Tutchone culture, including one-of-a-kind items made by past and present local Elders.
Just north of Carmacks is a panoramic view of Five Finger Rapids. Many stampeders lost their boats here en-route to Dawson. Take a short hike for a closer look at this treacherous part of the Yukon River.
The North Klondike Highway curves north into the Pelly River Valley. First built as a construction camp for the highway, Pelly Crossing later became home to the Selkirk First Nation people who left their riverside settlement at Fort Selkirk when traffic switched from sternwheelers to highway vehicles. This was a final stop for the Selkirk First Nation after initially settling in Minto.
Big Jonathan House, Selkirk First Nation’s cultural centre, is a replica of the original building at Fort Selkirk. Exhibits feature a model of a fish camp. Look for locally-made birch bark baskets and beaded moose hide slippers and admire the carvings, especially masks made in birch, alder and cedar.
Next is Stewart Crossing, the start of the Silver Trail. From here head to Dawson, the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush, and the first city in Western Canada to have electric street lights and an opera house.
The spirit of ’98 brought gold seekers, entrepreneurs, dance hall girls, poets and schemers, collectively nicknamed “stampeders”, to the Klondike. Check with the Visitor Information Centre for walking tours that reveal amazing tales.
During the Gold Rush, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (Hän) moved to a nearby camp called Moosehide, located five kilometres downriver from Dawson on the Yukon River. This became home for decades to come. The Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre shares the historical and contemporary culture of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. The gift shop has delicate beadwork, local books, art and gifts. Visitors can enjoy hands-on activities including beading and wildcrafting with local plants.
A century into Dawson's evolution, the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC) was formed. Part art venue and part community hub, the organization offers contemporary art exhibitions in the ODD Gallery and events in the KIAC Ballroom. Its residencies attract artists from all over the world, adding an international flavour to the creative flow.
Gold Rush tenacity continues today. Dawson is home to goldsmiths, painters, photographers, milliners and more. Jewellers work with gold nuggets and mammoth ivory, prized local materials unearthed by current mining activities. Peruse downtown galleries and jewelry stores, and weekly artists’ and farmers’ markets. Find woodcut prints, mosaics and nature photography in the gift shop at the Dawson City Museum.
Klondike dreams are reinvented every year as travellers and locals experience the excitement of adventures made in this legendary land.