Cassiar Highway (Junction of Alaska Highway and Cassiar Highway)
You are just a short drive (26 km) from the community of Watson Lake and a variety of restaurants and types of accommodation. Learn more about the construction of the Alaska Highway at the Watson Lake Visitor Information Centre or see daily shows about the myths and science of the aurora borealis at the nearby Northern Lights Centre.
Take a break on the local golf course or stroll the Wye Lake hiking trails in the centre of town. About 5 kilometres south of town, you can swim and picnic at Lucky Lake Park or hike down to the Liard River Canyon.
Watson Lake was established as an airstrip on the mail delivery route to Whitehorse and became part of the Northwest Staging Route during World War II. In 1942, the newly constructed Alaska Highway bypassed the airport at Watson Lake and the new community of Watson Lake was established at the junction of the Alaska Highway and the Airport Road.
Visit the airport to see the unique log air terminal building and a display on the history of the airport and southern Yukon aviation history. The original BC-Yukon Air Service Ltd. hangar still stands. The hangar was constructed when the American Army needed better facilities during the WWII lend-lease program that transferred war planes to the Russian front.
In the 1800s, a number of gold strikes drew gold-hungry prospectors ever further north. Alexander "Buck" Choquette, a former Hudson’s Bay Company trader, discovered gold on Telegraph Creek in 1861. This strike was close to the small fur trading post called Fort Stikine near present-day Wrangell, Alaska. Prospectors spread out from the trading post searching for richer ground. In 1872, Henry Thibert and Harry McCullough landed at Fort Wrangell with a poke of gold mined from a creek near Dease Lake in the Cassiar District.
The Stikine River, only a few miles from Dease Lake, was already an active transportation route from the coast. Prospectors rushed into the region and by 1875 there were 800 prospectors searching the creeks. In 1876, prospectors searching for gold in the headwaters of McDame Creek, 80 kilometres south of the Yukon border, found rich ground that encouraged more prospecting. By the following year the seasonal population was around 1200 men. Most of the gold seekers spent the winter at Fort Wrangel, frequenting the saloons and telling stories of their travels in the interior of the country. During the summer, steamboats worked their way upstream to supply the miners and First Nation guides worked to transport individual prospectors upriver. Over 3,000 people eventually passed through Wrangell on the way to the Cassiar gold fields. By the 1880s, the Cassiar rush was over and few remained to mine the wilderness creeks but tales of untold wealth, yet to be found, encouraged exploration into what is now the Yukon Territory.
During the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, Victoria and Vancouver outfitters recommended the old Stikine Trail as a viable “All Canadian” route to Dawson City. Over 10,000 travellers discovered that there was no actual trail from the end of navigation at Glenora, and from there on the route was long and hard.
Gateway to the Yukon
Watson Lake is the first community north of the 60th parallel on the Alaska Highway. The village is a key transportation, communication and distribution centre for mining, logging and wilderness activities in south-eastern Yukon, northern British Columbia and a portion of the Northwest Territories.
The region offers world-famous sports fishing. Liard River has arctic grayling, northern pike, Dolly Varden, whitefish, and Rainbow trout are stocked in Lucky Lake and Rantin Lake. The public campground on Watson Lake has a boat launch. There are several good fly-in fishing lodges accessible from town.
You can travel into the nearby mountain ranges on the Robert Campbell Highway to see a very remote and beautiful part of the Yukon. For more information on backcountry travel check at the Visitor Information Centre for outfitters and guides active in wilderness areas surrounding Watson Lake.
The Robert Campbell Highway generally follows the historic route of Hudson’s Bay Company trader Robert Campbell and his party as they first explored the region in 1848. The Robert Campbell Highway was constructed between 1958 and 1968 to provide access to the mineral wealth of the region.