UPDATE: Big tragedy! A devastating fire destroyed the Historic Yukon City Hotel on December 12, 2020, about 3-month after I left Keno City and the wonderful people there. Read More
Here I am, back again, driving the Silver Trail gravel highway on the way to Keno City
(This article was published in the July 2020 edition of Globerovers Magazine)
A small dot on Google maps marks the existence of this tiny, nearly forgotten, old Gold Rush town in the mountains of central Yukon, northern Canada. Despite its name, Keno City is the smallest community in the Yukon, hidden far off the beaten track. Not many travellers venture this way.
To get to this old historic mining town you have to take the Silver Trail (Yukon Highway 11) at Stewart Crossing and travel 110 kilometres (68 miles) to the end of the road.
Why I missed Keno during my previous Yukon road trip
Two years ago I travelled on the Silver Trail with the destination of Keno City in mind. Unfortunately, I never made it past the village of Mayo, halfway down the Silver Trail. I stopped in front of the historic Binet House because I wanted to check out the interpretive information panels and the geology and mining display.
When I reached for my purse leaving the car, it was gone. I quickly realized that I left it behind at the Pelly Crossing Selkirk Centre where I filled up my gas tank and used the washroom, about 120 kilometres (75 miles) down the road. In big shock and panic, I remembered my purse with all my IDs, bank cards and money hanging on a hook in the women’s washroom.
Imagine me, all alone on a road trip in the middle of Yukon’s wilderness, nearly 3,000 kilometres (1,864 miles) from home without any ID and money.
I turned around as quickly as I could speeding down the dusty Silver Trail and the North Klondike Highway back to Pelly Crossing. And there my purse was, waiting for me to be picked up at the counter.
Believe me, I was a happy camper that night. But because of my purse, I never made it to Keno City during that trip and continued up to Dawson City instead. The lesson of the day is never to keep all your valuables in the same place when you travel.
Two years later I’m heading for Keno City again
Now, two years later, on this warm, sunny Yukon morning in late August, I am back on the Silver Trail heading for Keno City. The winding road from the Stewart River Bridge cuts through the traditional Territory of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation.
I stop for a short break at the Devil’s Elbow, a prime moose calving and protected habitat and hike the trail to the viewing lookout over the wetland.
The town of Mayo
Back at the Binet House in the small village of Mayo, I take a quick tour of their display and pick up information pamphlets about the area.
Mayo holds the record for the extreme temperature range. Imagine living where temperatures are recorded in the range from +36 degrees Celcius (100℉) and -62 degrees Celcius (-80℉).
From pavement to gravel
Shortly after Mayo the pavement stops and the Silver Trail turns into a gravel road. Yukon’s gravel highways and their potholes and sagging shoulders are not new to me.
I can easily imagine the condition of this road and the difficulty of keeping it maintained during extreme weather conditions.
Continuing along the gravel highway I pass idyllic, crystal clear lakes and large areas of marshland, home to an abundance of beautiful water birds.
A breathtaking view of Mount Haldane only lets me guess what mountain hiking would be like in this lonely, wild land.
Ghost town Elsa
Just a few kilometres before arriving in Keno City I pass the old silver mining town of Elsa. Elsa was the townsite for United Keno Hill Mines until it shut down in 1989. Along the hills, a few old buildings are scattered reminding us of times gone by.
Arriving in Keno City
Continuing down the dirt road I quickly approach Keno City which means that I have finally reached the end of the Silver Trail.
Within a flash of an eye, I feel like being transferred into another world. I fell in love with this historic frontier town at first sight – it’s like no other place I’ve ever been to.
For a short time, Keno was part of Yukon’s Gold Rush. Later, silver was discovered which transferred Keno into a booming mining town in the early 1900s.
Keno City experienced the boom and busts of a mining town for decades. When the Keno Hill mine closed in 1989, many residents left. The ones that stuck around are the ones that make Keno so special today.
The mining museum tells the stories of the people who mined in the Silver Trail region and is Keno City’s landmark. It is surrounded by a collection of colonial buildings along the dusty streets.
Keno is home to a maximum of 20 residents, in summer that is. In winter there are only a few hard-core locals left.
The old-timers that stay around don’t want to turn their backs on this unique lifestyle. No matter how hard life is and the many sacrifices they have to endure to stay here, Keno beats the city life.
Keno has two rustic bars for its tiny population, a hotel housed in a historic building and a couple of other options for accommodation.
A drive up to Keno Hill
While exploring the town I notice the sign for Keno Hill, an 11-kilometre (6.8 miles) drive to the famous signpost on top of Keno Hill. How can I resist!
Here I am off on another epic drive manoeuvring steep switchbacks around boulders and big rocks to get to the famous signpost on Keno Hill at 1849 metres (6,066 feet).
I’m rewarded with a breathtaking panorama overlooking the mountain range and the mining ruins along the hillsides.
I stayed at the Keno City campground beside Lightning Creek that night. When the sun finally set before 11 pm my traveller’s heart was content once again.
Have you travelled The Silver Trail? Have you been to Keno City? Tell us about your experience.
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Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
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Enjoyed every bit of your post. Really thank you! Awesome. Stormie Karlens Healion