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The call of the wild emanates from just about everywhere in Canada’s Yukon Territory.
Some locations are expected (evergreen forests, rugged mountain peaks, remote lakes) while others might surprise (a former brothel-now-bar, a wild-west-esque can-can show, a divey saloon).
Looming large over this vast frontier north of the 60th parallel and east of Alaska are the stories and storied remains of the Klondike gold rush.
Beginning in 1887, when word of gold in them thar (northern) hills reached southern cities, a stampede of 100,000 dreamers and schemers sailed north to Alaska, trudged over mountain passes into Canada, and sailed down the Yukon River to reach the gold fields.
Take inspiration from their courage (or craziness) and find some wild times of your own.
1. Follow the Klondike Gold Rush Trail
Where: Miles Canyon, Whitehorse
Peer over the sheer, basaltic cliffs of Miles Canyon and imagine a flotilla of gold rush stampeders in makeshift boats navigating the swirling water below. Walk across a 1920s suspension bridge to the ghost town of Canyon City to see remnants of the wooden tramway built to safely shuttle supplies around the canyon after hundreds of boats and several lives were lost. History buffs and those who like to know the names of trees and plants will enjoy a free guided nature walk led by earnest members of the Yukon Conservation Society.
INSIDER TIP: Stories of the gold rush and other significant events in Yukon history are told to great effect at the MacBride Museum. Enjoy historical artifacts both large (a steam locomotive, a prospector’s cabin) and small (old-time food tins, gold rush photographs) as well as an impressive, slightly creepy collection of taxidermied wildlife.
2. Step Aboard a Sternwheeler
WHERE: Whitehorse and Dawson City
When rivers were the roads of the north, some 250 sternwheelers plied the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City. Step aboard the authentically restored behemoth of the fleet, S.S. Klondike, now a national historic site that sits high and dry beside the Yukon River in Whitehorse. Stroll her wide decks, peek in her small cabins, and marvel at the woodpile needed to power the ship. If you yearn to hear the splish-splash of a paddlewheel in action, book a 90-minute cruise on the Klondike Spirit in Dawson City. Although not exactly thrill-a-minute stuff, the tour is a pleasant way to get out on the historic river.
INSIDER TIP: Ask Klondike Spirit staff to point out when you pass the old paddlewheel graveyard where the remains of once-mighty boats lie in a jumble of wood, wheels, and rusty bits
3. Pan for Gold
WHERE: Dawson City
There’s a whole lot of shaking (and swirling) going on when panning for gold. Learn the proper technique at touristy Claim 33 Goldpanningwhere the grounds are filled with antique mining equipment and vehicles—a reminder that one man’s junk is another man’s museum. Pan in the troughs here (gold guaranteed!) or rent a pan and head to Free Claim #6where, yes, prospecting is free. Bring low expectations as innumerable prospectors have been here before you. After all, the claim is located a half-mile upstream from Discovery Claim where the gold that ignited the Klondike gold rush was first found.
INSIDER TIP: To get in a gold-mining mood, read Jack London’s novel Call of the Wild, set during the Klondike gold rush. Or search online for poems by Robert Service, “The Bard of the Yukon.” One of his most famous, The Cremation of Sam McGee, begins with these oft-quoted lines: “There are strange things done in the midnight sun / By the men who moil for gold…”
4. Ride an Old-Timey Train Over White Pass
WHERE: Skagway, Alaska to Carcross, Yukon
Why hike over a mountain pass when you can sit back and let the Little Engine That Could do the work? The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway transports cruise ship passengers and curious travelers in vintage rail cars on a 40-mile roundtrip from Skagway, Alaska to the summit of White Pass (elevation 2,865 feet). The narrow-gauge track parallels the mountain trail First Nations traders blazed and Klondike stampeders followed on their journey to the goldfields. The railway offers longer excursions to Carcross (where First Nations artisans carve, weave, paint, sculpt, and sell their wares) and Bennett Lake (where modern-day masochists stumble in after a multi-day hike up, up, up the historic Chilkoot Trail).
INSIDER TIP: If riding the rails is not your thing, drive the spectacular highway from Whitehorse to Skagway, with a stop at Carcross. Whether by road or rail, be sure to take your passport—this trip crosses the international border.
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