You haven’t experienced the true north without a little jaunt up to Dawson City, Yukon. This mining town used to be the capital of the Yukon and during the Gold Rush, over 40,000 people lived there (which is more than the entire population of the Yukon today). Now, with the population bobbing around 1,500, and the town lighting up in the summer for tourist season, I make sure to visit this northern town every year. With its historic buildings and small town charm, Dawson City truly encompasses the heart of the Yukon. So if you want to visit, you need to read this post to make sure you don’t miss a thing!
To visit Dawson City, you need to head up north in the Yukon. The easiest way to do that is to arrive in Whitehorse, Yukon (the capital city) by plane, and either take the hour long flight right to Dawson, or rent a car and take the scenic 5 hour drive up. I have never taken the flight, and although faster, means you won’t have a car while in Dawson, which will greatly limit your experience.
The drive north is a simple one, you just follow the highway the airport is on all the way up the entire way. Either on your way there, or back, make sure you stop for a bite to eat at Moose Creek Lodge. It’s mainly a truck stop, but they’re in a funky little wooden cabin and honestly make THE BEST food (breakfast, lunch and dinner, trust me on this). You will also be able to pick up some quirky Yukon souvenirs after you eat.
There are several hotels available in Dawson City, but make sure you book in advance! In the summer, the hotels book up fast. Our last trip up was very spontaneous and there were no rooms available anywhere! Luckily, there are two campgrounds in Dawson as well. One in town (which also books up pretty quickly) and one on the other side of the river (which is where we ended up staying). Getting to the other side of the river is pretty exciting as there’s a tiny little ferry that runs 24 hours a day to take you from one side to the other.
Whatever you decide, just make sure you book in advance if you want a hotel room. Most of the hotels are funky, old-timey themed, designed to take you back in time. If you’re looking for a cheap option, try The Bunkhouses, and if you want a real adventure, try Bombay Peggy’s (it used to be a brothel).
There’s so much to do on a visit to Dawson and I try to check most of these off the list every time I head up there (well, except the toe shot… I’ve only done that once).
The Sour Toe Shot:
You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the sour toe.
You may have already heard of this shot after it made international headlines for being stolen, Yep, it really does exist and yes, I have done it. There were tons of people losing their minds online about “cannibalism” etc… and I’d like to clear a few things up.
There is a human toe in the shot, yes, they are donated and preserved especially for the shot. You pay $5.00 for the shot and then stand in line until your turn, pay $15.00 to do it and afterwards you get a little certificate. The only rule is that you need to have the toe touch your lips while doing the shot, and that’s it! To be completely honest, the most unsanitary part of the entire thing is that they don’t wash the toe in between people doing the shot. The woman in front of me literally sucked on it and then the guy just plopped it in my drink….
Although it is kinda gross, the whole atmosphere of Dawson and the experience was super fun and I would probably do it again someday! The fact that the person giving out the certificates and keeping track of the toe is usually drunk kind of adds to the hilarity of it all…
Be warned though, there is a very hefty fine for stealing the toe (or drinking it). It used to be $500 until someone walked in and drank the entire toe and slapped $500 on the bar. They have since upped the price to around $5,000 because… well, that’s super disgusting and you don’t want people doing that.
You can do the Sour Toe Shot at the Downtown Hotel. Click here to book online!
Diamond Tooth Gerties:
My favourite part about Dawson…. GERTIES!!! Diamond Tooth Gerties was the first “gambling hall” in Canada, and is a lot of people’s favourite part about Dawson. Only open during the summer season, Gerties offers slot machines, along with card tables, a bar, late night snacks, and several nightly shows. The shows are what add an old fashioned touch to Gerties with cancan dancers, singing, and some hilarious acting.
It is not a trip to Dawson without a visit to Gerties.
Tombstone Territorial Park:
Although technically not in Dawson, Tombstone is a territorial park off the Dempster Highway and is probably home to the most gorgeous mountain ranges in the Yukon. Around an hour drive from Dawson City, you will arrive at the Tombstone Information Centre and the heart of this gorgeous area.
Go on day hikes, overnight backpacking trips, or just a scenic drive down this spectacular highway. I have only been three times, twice just to drive around and admire the mountains, and once on a multi-night hiking and backpacking trip.
There is a campground in Tombstone right off the road and several that you need to hike into. We decided to do the Grizzly Lake hike (13km one way), which is supposed to be a multi-day hike. We did the entire 26km in one day and man, it was some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve ever seen in my life.
Grab a Martini at Bombay Peggy’s:
Bombay Peggie’s is a small hotel and bar with a twist. The bar is known for its martini’s and their menu is full of them (notice the names if you go, they’re pretty raunchy!). The hotel aspect of this establishment is pretty nifty as well. We stayed in one of the upperfloor rooms one year and were surprised to find how quirky it was. One teeny-tiny bed in a small room, a shared bathroom for everyone on the floor, and fresh chocolate croissants hanging on the door in the morning. There’s also a lounge room in the foyer with free dessert wine for visitors.
Want to stay at Bombay Peggy’s? Click here to book online!
Drive up the Dome:
A trip to Dawson isn’t complete without a trip up the Midnight Dome. All you need to do is start driving out of the city and you will see a road leading all the way up overlooking Dawson. The Dome allows you to see the city from a new perspective and you might even catch someone parasailing off the top!
Although there’s many more things that you can do in Dawson City, this is supposed to be a quick guide so I’ll stop it here. I usually find that I can fit all these activities in on a weekend trip, but if you really want to experience Dawson, I’d suggest staying for 3 days. This lets you split up the driving a little more, and really get to know the city.
So, have I convinced you to head way up north to Dawson City? How about trying the Sour Toe Cocktail? Let me know in the comments below!!
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