Go for the Gold: 7 Gold Rush Activities in Alaska and the Yukon

by  Erik Trinidad | Dec 19, 2016
Alaska / Cappan/iStock

The Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 may have taken place more than a century ago, but history buffs can still relive it in Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory.

There, sights, museums, and tours like John Hall’s Alaska Klondike Gold Rush Tour and those by Klondike Tours allow you to get into the Gold Rush spirit, while also experiencing the region's beautiful landscapes and wildlife. If you're lucky, you might come home with some gold for yourself.

Here, seven stops to hit on your own Klondike Gold Rush expedition:

Visit Skagway, AK. Many Alaskan cruise ships dock in Skagway on the northeastern tip of the Inside Passage, just like the many steamships that transported gold-hungry prospectors from Pacific Northwest ports in the late 19th century. Ever since word got around that gold had been discovered in the Yukon, those out of luck on the California Gold Rush headed up north in droves. Today, the town retains its 19th century charm, with shops and bars inside the facades of vintage buildings.

Hike the Old Prospector Trails. Modern roads hadn’t yet been established during the gold rush, so eager gold seekers headed up north from Skagway -- on foot. You can relive part of their journey by hiking their original trails: the Chilkoot Trail (which requires preparation and a permit from the National Park Service), or parts of the White Pass Trail, which can be organized by outfitters like Klondike Tours.

Explore Dawson City, YT. The destination of those passing through Skagway was Dawson City, the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush, where $29 million worth of gold passed through. In its heyday, the boom town was so full of wealthy prospectors, it was dubbed the “Paris of the North” for its vibrant community. While Dawson’s boom isn’t as great as it was a century ago -- its status as a gold miner’s Xanadu fell as fast as it rose -- much of its charm has remained the same, with the vibe of an old, wild west town. One popular place is Diamond Tooth Gerties, a former community gathering space-turned-retro-gambling hall, where one can still drink and gamble while watching a cancan girl show, as prospectors did more than a century ago.

Go Dogsledding. Dawson City is home to the Jack London Museum, dedicated to the author of Call of the Wild, an adventure novel about sled dogs, set during the Klondike Gold Rush. The dogs were an integral part of cargo transportation during that time and they remain an important part of the city today. While there, try your hand at the town pastime: There are plenty of outfitters to try dog sledding in the Yukon and Alaska, including Klondike Tours and Trail Breaker Kennels in Fairbanks, AK, whose tours are run by the family of four-time dogsledding champion Susan Butcher. For a real dogsledding spectacle, check out the race she dominated, the Iditarod, which takes place from Anchorage to Nome each March.

See Chicken, AK. While a lot smaller than Dawson City, the town of Chicken (population somewhere between 17 and 37 people) oozes with quirky charm. Named quite possibly because people couldn’t spell the name of the local bird (the ptarmigan), Chicken has remained an active mining town since the Klondike Gold Rush. Many tourists pass through on their way between Fairbanks and Dawson City, to eat the famed chicken pot pie, or buy a souvenir saying they’d been in the town with a funny name.

Visit Dredge No. 4. Steampunk enthusiasts may enjoy this National Historic Site near Dawson City as much as a history buff, as the big metal gears still remain in what was once the largest wooden hulled dredge in North America. While gold is no longer dredged and processed here, the old industrial mining site is still impressive. Arrange a tour with Goldbottom Tours to go inside.

Look for Gold at the Discovery Claim. The Discovery Claim near Dawson City is where the whole Klondike Gold Rush began, when prospectors Skookum Jim, Dawson Charlie, and George and Kate Carmack struck gold on August 17, 1896. Now owned by the Klondike Visitors Association, the area is open to the public for gold panning at Bonanza Creek, provided you have your own gear. Just make sure you’re within the boundaries of Discovery Claim; claim jumping (or, seizing another person's claim of land) is still an active law in Alaska and the Yukon, and you wouldn’t want to cause any trouble. To be safe, you could also just pan at a one-stop-shop tourist center, like the Klondike Gold Fields in Skagway.

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