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Experience the Klondike in Dawson City

by Murray Lundberg

Diamond Tooth Gertie's Casino, Dawson City, Yukon
Fun at Diamond Tooth Gertie's Casino
    Once you've decided that it's about time you went north to see what all the fuss is about, the obvious question is "What are the best places to see??" From time to time, I'll be giving you some suggestions, based both on my years guiding tours, and my desire as a hard-core Northerner to show you the real North, not just another gift shop surrounded by glaciers.

    Several of my suggestions will be prefaced by "If you enjoy [insert your interest here]..." But my first suggestion is always the same, regardless of why you come north. Now that the Centennial of the Klondike Gold Rush and of the creation of the Yukon Territory has passed, it's even more appropriate that Dawson City get top billing. But, all hype aside, if you haven't spent a couple of days in the Dawson area, you are unlikely to leave with a good idea of what the gold rush was about, and why the North developed as it did.

    Dawson is 335 miles (538 km) north of Whitehorse, a beautiful drive on the paved 2-lane Klondike Highway. With several stops, figure on 8 hours to make the trip. If you're feeling the need to really stretch your legs, the 219 steps down to the viewpoint at Five Finger Rapids, just north of Carmacks, should do the trick (and the 219 steps coming back up will ensure that you sleep well in Dawson!)

Finding gold in the pan thrills even the most jaded traveler Finding gold in the pan thrills even the most jaded traveler.
    Despite rumours to the contrary, Dawson City is a real town, not just a historic site. Although many of the businesses close for the winter, it has a year-round population of about 2,200 people. Accommodations are plentiful, ranging from tenting to RV parks to bed-&-breakfasts and good hotels. Reservations should be made in advance if at all possible, particularly during the peak period, in July and early August.

    To get the feel of Dawson, plan on at least one full day for snooping around. I can't recommend too highly the various Parks Canada tours around Dawson - the guides are all extremely knowledgeable, and enjoy sharing their passion for our history with visitors. A visit to the Klondike goldfields is a must, and the 1-hour tour of the huge Gold Dredge No. 4 is extremely interesting. The readings of the poetry of Robert W. Service are a particular favourite of mine, and Jack London's cabin, just around the corner from Service's, has an excellent display of London's life and works.

    Vaudeville shows are always fun, and can be seen at many Northern communities. In Dawson, my mood of the evening determines whether I prefer the show at Diamond Tooth Gertie's casino, or the one at the Palace Grand Theatre. They are both very professional productions, with Gertie's being more raucous because of the gambling and drinking. The Palace Grand Theatre, an original gold rush building, has been beautifully restored by Parks Canada, and is certainly worth seeing the inside of.

    The best camping is at the Territorial campground at West Dawson, the former site of another sizeable city on the opposite side of the Yukon River. This entails a short trip on the free ferry, which is a trip worth taking even if you don't need to. If you run out of things to do, just pop over to the Visitor Centre on Front Street - they will give you enough suggestions to keep you busy for another week!

    As always, if you have questions, just drop me a line and I'll help if I can.