Dawson City (Yukon) Cruise Port

Port of Dawson City (Yukon): An Overview

With its mix of charming historic buildings and bright new ones designed to appear historic, the former gold rush town of Dawson City feels like a place where you might once have been able to watch a gunfight in front of the local saloon.

Part of Canada's Yukon Territory, Dawson is often found on Alaska cruisetours offered by lines like Holland America and Princess. In its heyday, it overflowed with 40,000 residents. Today, that number hovers around 1,300, fluctuating throughout the year as seasonal workers -- often college-age young adults -- come and go, living in tents and working multiple jobs in exchange for the freedom of summer living in the Yukon. Locals are friendly, and the close-knit small-town mentality means there's relatively little crime. Plus, given the municipality's small size, it's totally walkable, and it's nearly impossible for visitors to get lost.

Although the town is tiny, it's self-sufficient, encompassing a bank, post office, hospital, hardware store, grocery stores and markets, restaurants, clothing stores, cafes, a theater, a visitor's center, hotels, plenty of shops where artists sell their wares and even a ferry service. For any external needs, residents will make the six-hour drive to Whitehorse, the Yukon's capital city.

When the Yukon and Klondike Rivers flooded in 1979, it devastated Dawson, prompting the construction of a dike that runs along Front Street, the only paved thoroughfare in the no-traffic-light town, which spans an area of just 8 x 10 blocks. The dike provides a path that's lovely for walking or jogging while enjoying gorgeous views of paddlewheelers in front of mountainous backdrops that will take your breath away.

Don't Miss

The Pit: For a true "do as the locals do" experience, stop in at the bright-pink Westminster Hotel. Its charmingly divey lounge, affectionately known as "The Armpit" or, more commonly, "The Pit" is lit only by Christmas lights, due to the building's faulty wiring. One local explained that the 1898 building -- one of just a few originals still standing -- is so old that it was constructed before there were safety codes. If the owners were to fix the wiring, they'd be forced to bring the entire structure into compliance. The hotel, like all buildings in Dawson, sits on top of permafrost. As the permafrost melts, it causes the buildings on top of it to shift; this phenomenon is what's responsible for The Pit's warped, uneven feel. Head there for some dancing and a drink or two. On Friday and Saturday nights, local bands perform on a small stage, making for shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. Mismatched sofas, booths and tables with chairs offer spots for groups of friends to gather, and on our visit, the pool table was heavily used. Next door, also in the Westminster Hotel, is the "Snake Pit," which unabashedly opens for drinks every day at 9 a.m. (975 Third Avenue; 867-993-6029; open daily, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m.)

Diamond Tooth Gertie's: The first casino in the Yukon, Diamond Tooth Gertie's offers a bit of light debauchery, featuring a bar, a handful of gaming tables and slot machines, and three-times-a-night cancan shows that grow progressively more racy as the hour grows later. Admission is $12. Testimony to Dawson City's small size, it's not unusual to encounter the same people in different capacities throughout your stay; a dancer from the cancan show was also our waitress at a different establishment the next day. (1001 Fourth Avenue; 867-993-5525; open Monday to Friday, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. between May and September; open select weekends during the offseason; nightly cancan shows at 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and midnight from May to September)

Parks Canada Walking Tour: From gold mining to fires and floods, learn the history of Dawson City on this two-hour walking tour, led by a guide from Parks Canada. Along the way, you'll stop at the old bank, post office and Red Dog Saloon to hear tales from a costumed character. It's ideal for history buffs and costs less than $10 per person. (Tours are offered daily at 9:30 a.m. from May to September, departing from the Visitor Information Centre at the corner of Front and King streets; 867-993-5566)

Goldbottom Tour: The gold rush of 1898 put Dawson on the map, but have you ever wondered how gold is found now? On this tour, an experienced guide will provide you with gold rush history on the drive to real, working present-day gold fields, located on the site of the former Goldbottom community. You'll learn about the equipment that's used and how gold is separated from sediment. You'll also check out a miner's camp (which is also home to some pretty neat mammoth teeth) and try panning for gold flakes of your very own. Tickets are pricy at $55 per adult ($27.50 per child). (leaving from a booth at 966 Front Street; 867-993-5023; two three-hour tours are offered daily at 8:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. between May and September)

The Dome: Located about a 15-minute drive outside of Dawson City is The Dome -- a scenic lookout point with stunning views that span for miles. The view of Dawson from above will give you a sense of just how small the town really is.

Lunching

Mom-and-Pop restaurants and bakeries abound, featuring everything from local specialties like salmon and moose to more standard fare like pancakes and sandwiches. More niche venues serve items that include pastries, ice cream and healthy fare.

Alchemy Cafe: A hipster's dream, this unique cafe feels like something straight out of Brooklyn. Alchemy serves a variety of coffee and tea, as well as light, fresh, healthy fare. The coffee and tea menu is static, but the food offerings change. Some of the items featured during our visit included stuffed tomatoes, zucchini rolls, potato quiche and a variety of salads, as well as some mouthwatering desserts like chocolate delight mud cake and a selection of tortes. The cafe is hard to miss with its multicolored tin exterior and inviting front porch, and the decor on the inside is both intriguing (masks, books, melting clocks) and calming. (878 Third Avenue; 867-993-3831; open Tuesday to Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

Klondike Kate's: This adorable eatery serves a Sunday brunch that's to die for. Try the waffles or one of several amazingly large omelets. There's also a rotating list of weekly specials. We loved the stack of blueberry pancakes we tried; each was bigger than our head. Complemented by fabulous cornbread with berry jam and a spiced chai steamer, they made for a superb meal. Non-brunch specialties include smoked barbecue and fresh local fish. (Corner of Third Avenue and King Street; 867-993-6527; open daily, May through September only, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday for brunch, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Aurora Inn Restaurant: Attached to the Aurora Inn, this bright, airy restaurant offers menu items like soup, steak and fish dishes, salads, poutine, burgers and schnitzel. We loved the Mediterranean salad topped with steak, as well as the creamy vegetable soup. (Corner of Fifth Avenue and Harper Street; 867-993-6860; open daily, 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. for Continental breakfast and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. for dinner)

Cheechako's Bake Shop: Cheechako's, which takes its name from the term locals give to those who are new to the Yukon, is ideal for a quick bite after a stroll along the river. We stopped there for lunch one afternoon and tried a delicious blueberry muffin, streusel and what was, quite possibly, the best BLT sandwich we've ever eaten. Other offerings included strawberry-banana muffins, brownies, sticky buns and lemon bars, as well as a variety of sandwich options. (902 Front Street; 867-993-5303; open Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Klondyke Cream & Candy: This tiny ice cream shop, which shares space with Cheechako's, serves yummy cups and cones, as well as frozen yogurt, slushies and smoothies. Interesting ice cream flavors like cotton candy and Tiger's Tail (orange and licorice) are featured alongside more standard options, such as chocolate and vanilla. We chose blueberry cheesecake, and it was fantastic. (902 Front Street; 867-993-6453; open May to September)

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The official currency is the Canadian Dollar (CAD), but U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere. Visit www.xe.com for the latest exchange rates.

Language

English is the primary language spoken.

Best Cocktail

Sourtoe Cocktail: No trip to Dawson City is complete without a visit to the Downtown Hotel's Sourdough Saloon, home of the famous Sourtoe Cocktail -- a shot of straight alcohol with a real severed human toe floating in it. Take the plunge for $5 (plus the cost of the alcohol), and you'll be inducted into Captain Dick's Sourtoe Cocktail Club. But be careful: Anyone who swallows the toe is slapped with a $2,500 fine. Whether you decide to take the shot yourself or simply watch others, it's worth a top spot on your agenda. (Open daily, Sourtoe Cocktails offered after 8:30 p.m.; corner of Second and Queen streets; 867-993-5346)

Bombay Peggy's Martinis: This former brothel was built in 1900 and moved from its original location when it began sinking into the swampy land on which it was built. Now a restored inn and pub, it boasts a list of martinis with names that are likely to make you blush. Some of the tamer monikers include the Bloomer Remover (gin, dry vermouth and olives), the French Kiss (gin, prosecco, lemon, honey and heliotropic bitters) and the Chastity Belt (vodka, cassis, white cranberry and prosecco). We tried the Blueballer (blueberry vodka, elderflower liqueur, lychee and lime) and the Easy Lai (liqueur, coconut rum and pineapple juice) and loved them both. (Open daily from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. during the summer season and from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. for the rest of the year; corner of Second Avenue and Princess Street; 867-993-6969)

For More Information

On the Web: Tourism Yukon
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Canada/Alaska
IndependentTraveler.com: Alaska Travel Guide

--By Ashley Kosciolek, Editor

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