In 1898, Klondike stampeders crossed the White and Chilkoot summits, built boats at Lake Bennett and made their way across the southern lakes and down the Yukon River to Dawson City. Wealthier prospectors travelled up the Yukon River from St. Michael, Alaska with the majority of the freight.
In 1902, the Yukon Government commissioned the Overland Trail winter road from Whitehorse to Dawson City. This new road connected with the recently completed railway from Skagway. Mail, passengers and light winter freight were hauled over this route by horse-drawn sleighs and stages. The winter road was used into the 1920s when the production of silver ore from the Mayo region surpassed that of Klondike gold.
By 1948, the United Keno Hill Mine near Mayo was the largest silver mine in North America and the sternwheelers were not able to carry enough ore to keep up with mining production. Construction began on the Klondike Highway to Mayo in 1948 and was completed in 1950. The road from Stewart Crossing to Dawson City was completed in 1953.
As you travel north, you will see glimpses of Lake Laberge. You will then follow the west shore of Fox Lake and pass between the colourful Twin Lakes. In the 1950s, a self-propelled diesel-powered ferry carried vehicles across the Yukon River at Carmacks. Patches of muskeg between the Pelly and Stewart rivers posed some problems for the road builders but most of the route in that section was built on gravel benches. A ferry was located at Stewart Crossing before the bridge was completed in 1960. The only bridge on the new road was at the Takhini River, 2.5 kilometres north of here.
Construction of the Klondike Highway meant the end of sternwheeler traffic in the Yukon. The British Yukon Navigation Co. discontinued the Stewart River service in 1951 and the last sternwheeler to operate on the upper Yukon River retired in 1956.
Land of Big Rivers
The Klondike Highway generally parallels the Yukon River as it winds its way from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Water in the Yukon River travels more than 3,000 km from headwaters near the Chilkoot Pass to the mouth at the Bering Sea. The river drains about 800,000 square kilometres and the Klondike Highway crosses two of its large tributaries: the Pelly and Stewart rivers.
As you travel north you will leave country that has been glaciated many times to visit an environment, known as Beringia, which was ice free during the last major ice age. Steppe bison and woolly mammoths inhabited this cool, ice-free land that once connected the continents of North America and Asia.
Watch the ditches on the Klondike Highway for a thick layer of white ash that lies just under the thin topsoil of the region. “White River ash” fell heavily on the land after two eruptions of Mount Churchill, in the headwaters of the White River, about 1,800 and 1,100 years ago.
You will be travelling through the traditional territories of the Ta’an Kwäch’än, Little Salmon/Carmacks, Selkirk and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nations. These are the hunting and fishing grounds of a historically semi-nomadic people who used their skills and adaptability to thrive for thousands of years in a relatively harsh and unforgiving climate.
The Klondike Highway North passes through three communities on the way to the historic gold rush town of Dawson City - and there is plenty to see along the way.
The route of the old Overland Trail between Whitehorse and Dawson City meets the Klondike Highway north of the Braeburn highway lodge and generally follows the same route to Carmacks. Stop at Montague Roadhouse, a monument to the trials of travelling in an open stage during the cold Yukon winters. There were roadhouses every 20 miles to rest the horse and refresh the passengers.
At Carmacks, you have an opportunity to travel on the Robert Campbell Highway to Faro and Ross River or take a short circle route along Frenchman and Tatchon lakes. Carmacks is the home of the Little Salmon/ Carmacks First Nation at the junction of the Yukon and Nordenskiold rivers. The Tagé Cho Hudän Cultural Centre has many exhibits depicting the lifestyle of the Northern Tutchone-speaking people of this region. Carmacks Roadhouse was another stop along the Overland Trail and the centre of the original community.
The road between Minto and Pelly Crossing follows the route of a Selkirk First Nation traditional trail. The Pelly Cultural Centre at Pelly Crossing is housed in a reproduction of the original Big Jonathon House at Fort Selkirk Historic Site on the Yukon River. The Cultural Centre features the area’s Selkirk First Nation artists.
Stewart Crossing, on the Stewart River, is the gateway to the Silver Trail and the historic mining towns of Mayo and Keno City. Binet House, in Mayo, has regional geological information and an exhibit of medical equipment from the old Mayo hospital.
The Keno City Mining Museum is in a community that serviced one of the richest silver deposits in the world. The Keno City Alpine Interpretive Centre maps out some walking trails in the area and interprets the wildflowers and butterflies of Keno Hill.
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