Skip to Content

Top Ten Things to Do in Dawson City, Yukon

Top Ten Things to Do in Dawson City, Yukon

Dawson City:  Located at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike rivers, this town embodies the gold rush days from which it was born.  Vibrant, eclectic, and a bit gritty, here the glory days of the past live on in the dirt streets, architecture, and residents.  

This town is home to just over 1300 people, although many do not stay through the winters and summer is a good time to visit.   There is so much to see, do eat and drink here and after passing through the town twice before, we finally got some time to take in this unique community during the last week of July 2019.

Dawson City, Yukon: GOLD, Gambling & the Sour Toe Cocktail | Go North Ep 13
 
 
 

A Brief Background

The town was formed when a gold strike was made on the Klondike River in 1896 and people from all of the world started to flood in.  Mine claims were staked all over this area and Dawson boomed! 
 
The gold mining of the area has had many phases over the years and still is ongoing to this day, but the most notable era of mining was the days of the dredges that operated on the rivers and creeks and have left a unmistakable mark on the landscape in the interestingly shaped tailing piles that can be seen alongside the roads and from the air.  
 
Northern Alaska and Canada both have a deep history in gold mining, and Dawson City is no exception.  
 
We had a blast hanging around this fun town, and became one of our favorite northern towns!
 

Here are 10 things you definitely don’t want to miss:

1. ​DREDGE No. 4

Over millions of years gold worked loose by erosion makes its way into rivers and streams and these machines were designed to extract it as fast as possible.     

 

 

 

One of these massive dredges of the past, Dredge Number 4, has been restored by Parks Canada and is open for tours.  Originally built in 1912, this massive boat began operations on the banks of the Klondike river and floated in a pond it created by its operation.  The purpose of the dredge was to dig down deep in the river and stream beds and pick up the loose placer deposits that contained the highest concentration of gold.
​It did this by using a massive bucket line that would continuously rotate and take a new bite with each bucket.  The buckets would lift the rock and gold up 107 feet into the center of the dredge where it would be dumped into a 50′ long spinning drum called a trommel screen that would extract the largest rocks and expel them out the back of the dredge on a conveyer that would rotate side to side as it slowly moved forward, crating the unique tailing pile shape.  The finer gold containing material then made its way through sluice boxes via huge quantities of water and a series of grates and finally a coconut husk mat would catch about 75% of the gold.

 

 
The dredge was electrically powered and consumed around 700KW to operate its massive DC motors that drove pumps, winches, gears, and chains.  When in operation this was one very loud machine!  Surprisingly, how gold is extracted today isn’t much different, aside from the fact that it is mostly dug out with bucket loaders and dump trucks instead of dredges.

2. ​Paddle Wheeler Graveyard

 

 
After the dredge we spent some time hiking and biking along the banks of the mighty Yukon river and came across the paddle wheeler graveyard.  These riverboats of the past were key players in moving machinery, gold and people up and down the Yukon and Klondike.  As overland travel became more accessible these paddle wheelers were inconspicuously discarded on the shore across and slightly downstream from town. 
 
Many harsh winters have taken their toll on these poor vessels, and the splintered, broken, rusty hulks make for some fun, yet slightly dangerous exploration.  

3. Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre

​We also visited the Dänojà Zho Cultural Center located downtown to learn about the impact this all had on the native populations that called this place home prior to the boom.  The Center has a great film and exhibits about the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation and the challenges that they faced over the years.  Originally, the site of Dawson City was a traditional fishing and hunting camp, but the gold boom almost destroyed the native community altogether.

 

 
Luckily, the chief at the time, Chief Isaac recognized the impact the goldrush was having on the people and worked to move them just downstream to the settlement of Moosehide that still exists today.  Years of struggle has existed between the native people and the government, but Land Claim Agreements and a now working relationship with the Canadian Government have helped to find a modern balance and inclusion in the current society of the north.
 

4. ​Visitor’s Information Centre

The Dawson City Visitor Information Centre is a great place to learn even more about this town’s amazing past, as well as it’s present! With many exhibits, artifacts, helpful staff, and several short films that will take you back in time to see when the dredges and paddlewheelers were in operation.
 

5. Explore Downtown

This town is great for walking. The wooden sidewalks and old-timey architecture invite travelers to meander the streets and drift into the many shops, restaurants, and watering holes.
We highly recommend doing one (or more) of the several Walking Tours available for a small fee from the Visitor’s Center. We elected to do the tour themed “Strange Things Done in the Midnight Sun”.  This tour was put on by Parks Canada as the town has many historic sites that have been restored to preserve the towns unique past.  We had a fantastic tour guide named Justin who took us into unique buildings that have been restored, such as the bank, post office, bar, morgue, and even the town brothel!  He told us of weird, fascinating and strange stories of this towns past and the present.  

 

 

 

 

6. Diamond Tooth Gertie’s

This unique establishment has a gambling hall and stage where each night vaudeville-type shows are put on for the guests. We had seats right up front where, willing or not, you might even get to partake in the show!

 

 

7. The ​SourToe Cocktail

Starting in 1973, the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City has been serving up cocktails laced with…HUMAN TOE!

 

 
Captain Dick Stevenson started the tradition of becoming an “honorary Sourdough by kissing the Sourtoe.” This was after he found the necrotic toe of an old rum rummer’s from the 1920s, amputated after some severe frostbite and preserved in a jar of the liquor they were smuggling. Since then, there have been many toes, and many honorary Sourdoughs! 
Administered each evening by the Toe Captain Terry, your shot of whatever you choose (of at least 80 proof liquor) receives a severed (and preserved) human toe that must touch your lips before you’re done with your drink! Afterwards, you get a certificate claiming you an honorary Sourdough, the name given to one who has chosen to make the Yukon home. 

 

 
​It was the most disgusting thing we’ve ever done, and we highly encourage anyone who comes to Dawson City to do it! (and please say hi to Terry for us ?)

8. ​Food & Drink

Beside drinks with body parts, Dawson City boasts quite a culinary assortment. For being a town of only 1300, it has many restaurants with a wide range of cuisines! We personally taste-tested and can vouch for Cheechako’s Bakery, the Jack London Grill (their vegan poutine was divine!), an the thin-crust veggies pizza at Pan of Gold Pizza shop. Yum!
 
Tip: Check out the Restaurant Directory at the Visitor’s Centre – it has all the menus of all the restaurants so you can find what you want before you even go!

 

 

9. Midnight Dome

Popular among tourists and the locals, Midnight Dome is a large hill that provides an awesome overlook of town and the Yukon River.

 

 

10. Tombstone Territorial Park

 

 
An easy and worthwhile day-trip from Dawson City is one to Tombstone Territorial Park on the Dempster Highway, just a 1.5 hour drive from town. Explore the Interpretive Center and venture out on a hike or two along the park road to soak in the mountain beauty and get a glimpse of the northern wilderness that lay stretching to the north.

 

 

Bonus! Top of the World Highway

Even if you aren’t going all the way to Alaska, driving up onto the top of this mountain range and seeing the views is so worth it! We caught the ferry across the Yukon River for the third time of the summer, and once again drove the amazing Top of the World Highway, this time with fog and clouds sitting the valleys beneath us. 

 

View out the back of the Lance 1172 while camping on Top of the World Highway 🙂
 

 

Campgrounds we stayed in:

Klondike River Campground (west of town):
$12/night, cell signal available from town (CLICK HERE FOR OUR CELL SETUP)

Yukon River Campground (east of town, across ferry):
$12/night, cell signal available from town (CLICK HERE FOR OUR CELL SETUP)

Bonanza Gold RV Park:
$24-$49CAD/night, cell signal available from town (Bell/Telus) (CLICK HERE FOR CELL SETUP)
15A, 30A, 50A Electric, partial/full hookups, dumpstation on-site, gravel pad


The Go North Expedition is made possible by Lance Camper ManufacturingBattle Born BatteriesTruma North AmericaDometicLivinLite.netHellwig Suspension Products, and viewers like you through Patreon. Thank you!

Become A Mortons On The Move Insider

Join 10,000+ other adventurers to receive educating, entertaining, and inspiring articles about RV Travel Destinations, RV Gear, and Off-Grid Living to jump-start your adventures today!

Read More from the Mortons:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Debbie Kerr

Tuesday 1st of October 2019

That looks like so much fun!! The toe, the scenery.....good times making memories! Thanks for sharing and keep smiling :)

Caitlin Morton

Tuesday 1st of October 2019

Hi Debbie, We had a marvelous time in Dawson City! It was so great to be able to stay and explore after breezing through it twice before :) Thanks for reading and your comment! So glad you enjoyed!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.