The Klondike gold rush did more than fire the western world’s imagination with scores of novels, epic poems and films – it opened up a whole vast territory with such mundane but essential services as railways, roads, telephones, electricity and hot and cold running water. In a sub-arctic land of mountains and glacial lakes beside the great Yukon River, today’s tourists can thank yesterday’s prospectors for using part of their paydirt to provide some creature comforts. Close to the original action and still providing the most vivid testimony to the Klondike days, the boomtown of Dawson City yielded in 1951 to the transport and communications centre of Whitehorse as territorial capital.
Originally the terminus where prospectors transferred from the Skagway train to the Yukon River steamboats, Whitehorse rose and declined with the gold rush, and is now the junction of the Alaska and Klondike highways. The capital of the Yukon since 1953, with two-thirds of the province’s population (around 26,400), this thoroughly modern town is proud of its Old Log Church on Elliot Street and some old two- and three-storey log cabins that it calls ‘log skyscrapers’, erected when building space in town was at a premium.
The George Johnston Museum, a 21⁄4-hour drive southeast of Whitehorse, on the Alaska Highway, offers a magnificent collection of Tlingit artefacts as well as the work of George Johnston, a Tlingit leader, trapper and renowned photographer.
Situated a day’s drive from Whitehorse along the Klondike Highway, 240km (150 miles) south of the Arctic Circle, the gold rush boomtown of Dawson City counts scarcely 2,000 inhabitants today. But the body responsible for historic sites has reconstructed and restored the ‘monuments’ of its heyday. The history of Dawson City is further celebrated by a couple of annual events. This is the place to be mid-August, for the Klondike River raft-races, costumed street parades, music and dancing during the week-long Discovery Days Festival. If you miss it, look out for the Great Klondike International Outhouse Race at the beginning of September.
About 150km (94 miles) west of Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway, the entrance to Kluane National Park is at Haines Junction. The park’s St Elias Mountain Range offers a challenge to climbers, including the highest peak in Canada, the 6,050m (19,842ft) Mount Logan.
For safety reasons, check in at the park reception centre (mid-May–mid-Sept) and get maps and information on the hiking trails covering 240km (150 miles) of challenging terrain. The vast Kluane icefield system is made up of some 2,000 glaciers, and you can hike to the rim of the spectacular Kaskawulsh Glacier, visible when leaving Kluane Lake on the park’s eastern edge.
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