Carcross And Surrounding Area Travel Guide
This is the place where carved totem poles are reaching towards the sky and buildings with traditional artwork tell stories of the past.
Carcross is another Yukon town sprawling with history. Old and new blend in well together and give the town a special feel. First Nation history and culture are shown off in the colourful paintings on buildings and the artistic carvings of the totem poles tell stories of an eventful past.
The name Carcross is the short form for Caribou Crossing, which was the original name of the community. It earned its name for the herds of caribou that used to cross the narrows of the lakes in the days before the gold rush. At the time, various towns across Canada were called Caribou Crossing, which often made the mail end up in the wrong part of the country. Therefore, in 1994 the name was changed to Carcross.
Today, Carcross has a population of 410 people.
Glimpse into the past
Carcross is full of gold rush and First Nation history and is the traditional territory of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation people who have inhabited this area for thousands of years. The Carcross/Tagish people have reclaimed their language, traditions, and culture, which were nearly lost during the 20th century. Beautifully carved totem poles reaching towards the sky and buildings with traditional artwork tell stories of the past.
At the time of the gold rush, the town was a stopover point for thousands of gold-seeking stampeders, making their way to the rivers and creeks near Dawson City. Skookum Jim, one of the people who discovered the first gold, that started the Klondike Gold Rush, was a Tagish First Nation from the Carcross area. When eventually Skookum Jim moved to town he built the biggest house. He was wealthy when he died and left a large sum of money to a trust established to improve the health and education of Yukon’s First Nation people.
First, when you arrive you might think that not much has changed in this town since the day of the Klondike Gold Rush. The town contains many preserved old buildings from that era, but you also find all kinds of new businesses around town, as well as a coffee shop, great eateries, and an adventure tour company.
Things to See and Do
Take a walking tour of the town
Pick up the Carcross Historic Building Walking Tour brochure from the Visitor Information Centre and go for a stroll around town. Get to know the town’s colourful past and see hundred-year-old cabins and churches and the SS Tutshi, one of the last relics of the Yukon’s steamship area.
Visit Skookum Jim House house built in 1899 just after he discovered the gold near Dawson City, and check out the historic Caribou Hotel, transported across Lake Bennet to Carcross by its owner in 1903. Don’t miss the Carcross/Tagish First Nation carving Shed, which houses one of the area’s oldest traditions, an art form that’s been practiced by the Carcross Tagish First Nations for generations over thousands of years.
Learn about the history of the Duchess steam engine built in 1878 and shoot some pictures. Don’t miss to visit the post office, which today is the oldest continually operating post office in Canada.
Explore the Cemetery
For me, strolling around cemeteries looking at grown-over tombstones with fading handwritten names of local pioneers is often a part of my sightseeing when I get to a historic place.
At the Carcross cemetery, you find the grave of Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie (also known as Tagish Charlie), as well as the grave of Kate Carmack, Skookum Jim’s sister. You can read about the Yukon characters in many pioneer books for sale which are excellent Yukon souvenirs to take home.
White Pass and Yukon Route Railway
It’s hard to imagine that thousands of travellers during the Klondike Gold Rush reached Carcross by traversing high mountain passes on foot, carrying along their luggage. The Stampeders had two route choices getting to the goldfield via the west coast, both routes were equally challenging. The shorter but steeper Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, Alaska, to Bennet, BC, or the White Pass Trail connecting seaside Skagway, Alaska, with Carcross. After the construction of the railroad from Skagway to Whitehorse, via Carcross, thousands of gold rush stampeders made their way through town via train.
Today, the main attraction of Carcross is, that it’s a terminus for the White Pass and Yukon Route railway. Riding the historic railway is a popular tourist attraction. You can take the breathtaking scenic trip to Skagway and back during summer. Bus transfers are available from Whitehorse.
Ride the Carcross Mountain Biking Trails
The excellent single-track trails on Carcross Montana Mountain are world-famous for mountain biking. Many trails around Carcross were built by mountain biking enthusiasts and are open to hikers and bikers. The trails are narrow single-track and only wide enough for one rider at a time. Therefore, watch out for mountain bikers when you hike on the trails.
Spend some time on Lake Bennet
The shore of Lake Bennet is sandy and ideal for sunbathing and swimming. Lake Bennet is well known to fishermen for lake trout, arctic grayling, northern pike, and whitefish. Talk to locals and find out about their favourite fishing spots. A fishing licence is required, which you can obtain locally from Cabin Fever Adventures. Call 867 821 3003 to arrange a purchase.
Carcross Dune Trails
Starting from downtown Carcross you have access to an extensive network of walking trails connecting with the Carcross desert. You find a sign and route map posted behind the school. The trails are well-marked and it’s easy to find your bearings using power lines, train tracks, and the lakeshore. You can choose from easy strolls to hardcore mountain trails. Ask at the visitor centre for maps and info.
Carcross and the Tagish Road (Highway 8)
Tagish Bridge Recreation Site at km 21 on Tagish Road is a popular fishing spot and a good place to watch migrating swans in spring and fall. This is a place where hundreds of swans gather at certain times.
Tagish is a small community with a population of just under 400 residents and is located at Six Mile River, where the northern tip of Tagish Lake connects to Marsh Lake. Most of the residents commute to Whitehorse for work. It’s the place where Whitehorse residents have weekend cottages to get away from the city hustle.
Tagish also has also played a big role during the Klondike Gold Rush. The waterways around Tagish made it an ideal route for stampeders. The North-West Mounted Police set up a post 3 km upriver from the current site of Tagish. During the gold rush, almost 30,000 fortune seekers registered at the post on their way to the goldfields. Two of the post’s five buildings are still standing today.
From Tagish drive the bridge over the massive Tagish Lake on-route to Jack’s Corner (Alaska Highway km 1,341.6). Turn north for Whitehorse or south for Atlin B.C. From Carcross to Jack’s corner it is a 54 km drive.
Carcross North to the Alaska Highway
The Carcross Desert
You find the Carcross Desert at km 106.8, one of my favourite places. Make sure to hike up to the top across the dunes to get a superb view of the mountains in the background.
Caribou Crossing Trading Post
Located on South Klondike Highway km 109 is a one-stop entertainment place featuring a wildlife museum, gold panning, dog cart rides, a gift shop full of First Nation art, and a nine-hole mini-golf course. It’s the ideal attraction stop for families, tour groups, and everyone in between. Enjoy lunch at the Hitching Rail in a gold rush era atmosphere, or taste delicious grub from the Caribou Cafe. The entrance fee is waived for those just stopping in to eat.
Spirit Lake Wilderness Resort
Located at km 115, the resort offers horseback riding if you would like to explore the surrounding countryside on horseback. Spirit Lake has accommodation available in a log-style motel with electricity and an en-suite bathroom. Their cabins are cheaper but are without power or water and use of a communal shower house; the resort offers RV and tenting spots as well.
Interpretive signs explain the chemistry of the minerals involved in creating the appearance of the turquoise-green lake. The background of the lake displays a mountain range with Gray Ridge Mountain sticking out at an elevation of over 1,850 m.
Annie Lake Road
Annie Lake Road at km 140 is the centre of the Hamlet of Mount Lorne. The community has a golf course with a spectacular view of mountains and a 12 km ski trail in winter. The Carbon Hill Sled Dog Race happens each February.
At km 142 Robinson was a flag station for the White Pass and Yukon Route railway. In 1906 when a mini gold rush stampede to the Wheaton River district west of here started, Robinson was surveyed as a potential town site. Unfortunately, the boom didn’t last, and Robinson was just a lonely roadhouse.
Kookatsoon Lake Recreation Site
At km 152, the lake has a sandy shore and the water is often warm enough for swimming. Picnic tables and fire pits make this a good stop on the way. No camping in this park is available and it is strictly a day-use picnic park.
Carcross South to Fraser and Skagway
A one-hour drive south on the Klondike Highway towards Skagway Alaska takes you from the boreal forest of the southern Yukon to high alpine meadows and down into the lush temperate rainforest of the Pacific coast.
This is a memorable stretch of road through spectacular scenery and a rich gold rush history. The road runs parallel with the route used by gold-seekers in 1898 to get to the Klondike, and also with the old White Pass and Yukon Route railway route.
Look out for the old mining structures on mountainsides left behind a long time ago.
Most people camp and have their own RV. If you don’t and are looking for other accommodation, try booking.com, my favourite site for finding accommodation.
Be Bear Aware
This is a wild country and bears can be seen feeding on roots and berries by the side of the road. Stay in the car and maintain a safe distance not to disturb them. Do not leave your vehicle. Bears can become defensive when approached. Learn more about bears.
Carcross Visitor Centre
Carcross has a great Visitor Centre with friendly staff and information about the surrounding area, ask for maps and directions. The centre is open from May to September, phone (867) 821-4431.