Our journey through the Yukon Territory started with a short ride from Skagway, Alaska into Canada and through British Columbia. Our first Yukon destination was the city of Whitehorse.
With beautiful scenery and a little sightseeing along the way, the 110-mile bus ride from Skagway to Whitehorse went by pretty quickly. We made a rest stop at the Yukon Welcome Center in the town of Carcross before a brief stop at the nearby, very sandy, Carcross Desert. We also stretched our legs at the aptly named Emerald Lake and then at the Miles Canyon Overlook on the Yukon River just before Whitehorse.
Whitehorse surprised us in its size and sophistication. As the capital of Yukon Territory it’s the largest city in northern Canada with around 30,000 residents. After checking into the Sternwheeler Hotel we had a delicious early dinner at the rustic Klondike Rib & Salmon restaurant nearby. A couple of us then set off on a 4-mile roundtrip walk to see the world’s longest wooden fish ladder that allows salmon to climb over the Yukon Rapids Dam.
To get here the salmon have already swum more than 1840 miles up the Yukon river from the Bering Sea on the way to the spawning grounds where they were born. We were there near the end of the 2022 spawning season and only 90 chinook salmon had passed through, down from an average of 1,000 fish in past years. This is of great concern to all involved in managing the salmon and all of the First Nations communities who depend on them.
Whitehorse to Dawson
The six hour 330-mile bus ride from Whitehorse to Dawson along Route 2 was a little more tedious than the previous day’s ride but still interesting. Our first stop was at the Montague Roadhouse Historic Site to see the remains of the last of three roadhouses built on the early 1900s Overland Trail from Whitehorse to Dawson. Next was a stop for a group photo at the Yukon River Five Finger Rapid overlook. Then a lunch stop at Minto Resorts on the Yukon River for an unimpressive meal of soup and salad. Our final rest stop before Dawson was at the rustic Moose Creek Lodge.
Unlike our first impressions of Whitehorse, we found Dawson to be much less developed and more delightfully rustic than we’d expected. Situated at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers, Dawson was the destination boomtown for the Klondike gold-rush prospectors. It retains much of the character of the original frontier town (except for the grade school, whose orange and yellow exterior colors were chosen by the students!).
Because of permafrost-related maintenance challenges the only blacktop-sealed road is Main Street (aka Route 2, the Klondike Highway) along the edge of town. All other streets have a hard-packed dirt surface that was a little muddy during our very rainy time there. Portions of some streets have boarded sidewalks but walking anywhere involved navigating through the mud and puddles.
We signed up for a couple of guided tours offered by the Dawson Visitor Center; a historic walking tour, and a presentation of poetry and history at the Robert Service cabin. We also visited the First Nations Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre where we learned about the history and culture of the original inhabitants, including their extensive knowledge and use of herbs for medical purposes.
Route 2 ends at a passenger and vehicle ferry crossing over the Yukon River. We took advantage of the free passage across the river and back for sightseeing. Later we crossed again as part of a bus tour that took us up to a lookout point on the Top of the World Highway for views of the town and the confluence of the two rivers. Travelers driving on to Alaska would take this highway to Fairbanks. However, our tour group flew to Fairbanks in a small chartered plane, giving us a great view of the many acres of gold-dredge tailings near Dawson.
Next: Fairbanks and Denali National Park