Welcome To Dawson City in the Yukon Territory. Also referred to as the “Paris of the North”, and known for all the “Strange things that happen under the Midnight Sun”.
And let us be the firsts to tell you, there are some very, very strange things that happen here. From cocktails made from the frostbitten toe of a dead man (yes you read that right) to a sun that never sets. Dawson City is without a doubt one of the more unique and interesting places we’ve been in North America.
Dawson City was the bustling center of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896. Gold fever swept across North America, bringing nearly 100,000 people north to the Yukon Territory and Alaska seeking fame and fortune in the form of golden nuggets.
Gold mining is synonymous with this region of the world and it just wouldn’t have felt right to visit Dawson City without trying gold panning for ourselves. Obviously, we’re not pros, but we did have a blast, (trying) to learn a new skill, and soaking in some of that famous never-ending northern sunlight.
Gold Panning In Dawson City
The KVA (Klondike Visitor’s Association) maintains Free Claim #6 as a historical learning tool, and hands-on experience for any visitors wishing to try their hand at gold panning. The experience is 100% free of cost. Mining activity is restricted to hand tools only, which means pans and shovels. This is a bring your own equipment activity, and if you’re anything like us you probably don’t casually drive around prepared to go gold panning at any given moment. Not worry, we’ve got you covered…
How To Get Started
If you’re going to try your hand at gold panning, you’re going to need 2 things. A gold pan, and a shovel.
Claim #33 is located just up the road from free claim #6, and is a small family-owned and operated business, that offers visitors the opportunity to learn the basics of gold panning, and will rent you a shovel and a pan for the day to take out the free claim for the day.
Travelers Tip- Claim #33 also boasts an impressive collection of antique mining equipment and gold rush era prints, when you visit take some time to look around and chat with the staff!
Panning For Gold At Free Claim #6
As our good friend Fred of Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush mentioned in the video, we most definitely do not know what we’re doing. But the basics of gold panning, are just that, pretty basic, with enough time, practice, and a whole lot of patience anyone can become an expert.
How To Pan For Gold In 5 Easy Steps:
- Take your shovel and scoop some dirt from the payload ( a fancy term for a pile of dirt that may contain gold)
- Add a good bit of water to the pan-
- Shake, swirl, and gently slosh the water around in your pan-gold is heavier than most other minerals and in theory will settle to the bottom of your pan, while the lighter materials stay on top.
- Tip your pan at a very shallow angle into the water using the force of the current to carry the top layer away.
- Repeat steps 1-4 a thousand times until you have only gold remaining in your pan, an empty pan or if you’re like us a pan full of mica that you accidentally mistook for gold.
Striking It Rich
Nearly 40,000 people made it all the way to Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush, out of all of them only about 4,000 actually ever struck gold, and less than 100 became rich. If we had been around during that historic era, we would have been among the 39,900 people that did not become, rich or famous.
For a few short minutes, we entertained the idea that we had actually found little teeny, tiny gold flakes while out on the claim, we reveled in our assumed awesomeness, that, of course, was until we made our way back to Claim #33 to return our rented gear, and were very unceremoniously told that we had only found bits of the common mineral mica.
What You’re Looking For When Gold Panning
Gold is heavy. That’s the first lesson we learned when we took our haul back to the office at Claim #33 and the lovely lady behind the desk, took the time to pull out some real gold flakes to show us the difference.
Gold is not shiny. Well, raw pieces of gold nuggets aren’t anyways. Unlike the mica bits we had collected which shone brighter than the surface of the sun, the real gold flakes had a significantly duller surface, that did not reflect light in the way you might assume.
Gold isn’t really gold. As in the color. True gold looks a bit more like unpolished bronze when it’s in its raw form than the shiny, vibrant shades we are used to seeing in necklaces, rings and statues.
Other Things To Do In Dawson City, Yukon
In 1896 Dawson City was a boomtown, and it’s still booming today with loads of strange, quirky, and fun things to keep even the most inquisitive of travelers occupied. When you’re done panning for the day pack up your shovel and hit the town!
Join The Sourtoe Cocktail at the Downtown Hotel- We’ve seen some weird stuff in our travels but it doesn’t get much weirder than this. To join the infamous Sourtoe Cocktail Club the rules are simple, “ You can drink it fast, or you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the (this) gnarly toe”… and by gnarly they mean the very real frostbitten appendage that is stored in a jar of salt and added to your choice of 100 proof liquor. Yes. This is a real-life activity, that comes complete with a certificate of membership.
The Sourtoe Cocktail Club came about in the 1970s when Captain Dick Stevenson stumbled upon a severed frost-bitten toe in a jar in a remote cabin in the wilderness and had the ingenious plan to stick it in whiskey and charge people to drink it. During our visit in May 2019 Captain Dick was still slinging cocktails and running the club. Unfortunately, he has since passed away, however, you can still have a drink with Capt. Dick, after all his dying wish, was to donate his toes to the club!
Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall- Diamond Tooth Gertie’s is Canada’s oldest Casino. The minute you step through the door it feels like you’re stepping back in time. The casino offer’s the typical games, blackjack, roulette, and poker, but the real showstopper is the can-can dancers. What really makes Diamond Tooth Gertie’s a unique stop worth making, even if you’re not into gambling, is that this is a not-for-profit casino. Any proceeds made from the gameplay within these walls get directly reinvested into the community to help restore and preserve the historic buildings of Dawson City.
Hike To The Midnight Dome- The Midnight Dome is a hunk of metamorphic rock that sits above the community of Dawson City. The view from the top is phenomenal. For decades people have been gathering at this lookout point to take in the sights of the City of Dawson, The Yukon River, and stare in wonder at the colors of the midnight sun.
You can make the trek to the top of the dome, or if you feel like taking the easy route, there’s also a paved road that will take you right to the top. If you do choose to hike the trail be sure to pop by the visitor’s center in town and check on the trail conditions, as the dome can be prone to landslides.
The Paddlewheeler Graveyard- You’re going to have to hop the George Black Ferry and make the quick ride across the to the western banks of the Yukon River for this hidden gem. Tucked away into the woods are the remains of roughly seven paddlewheel boats which were once a vital part of the culture in the Yukon. Time and extreme weather have both taken their tolls on these hulking wrecks. But this is one unique and obscure scene that you’ll be hard-pressed to see anywhere else in the world.
Dawson City Walking Tour- Park’s Canada offers walking tours of the historic portions of the city complete with a costumed guide. Although we were too early to catch one of these tours ourselves we have heard from other visitors and locals that they are not to be missed. You can find out more about these tours by visiting Parks Canada’s website here.
The Robert Service Cabin- Robert Service is best known around the world for his famous poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. Service arrived in the Yukon in 1905 and spun his real-life adventures into poems. Visitors can tour the cabin and peek into what life would have been like in Dawson City in the early 1900s for the man known as, “The Bard of The Yukon”.
The Jack London Museum- When it comes to adventure and the great outdoors, few fiction writers are more well-known than Jack London. Famous for his books, “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”. Remains of London’s original cabin that once resided on the North Fork of Henderson Creek is now part of the museum where visitors can browse through historical archives and learn more about London’s life during the Klondike Gold Rush
Dawson City is quirky, a little strange, and a whole lot of fun! You won’t find anywhere else in North America quite like it. Where is the weirdest place you’ve ever been to?