Canada's Yukon territory is in the midst of celebrating the 125th anniversary of the iconic Klondike Gold Rush but there's another side to the discovery, the silver side, and at the centre of that story is Keno City. Once a bustling mining boom town, today this tiny hamlet is a jackpot for travellers seeking explorations in history and experiences in nature.
Officially Highway 11, the more colourful name of the “Silver Trail” is a nod to the area's silver mining boom. Winding from the Stewart River Bridge through the Traditional Territory of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation, the paved road ends at Mayo and is unpaved past Elsa and Keno City. The historic Silver Trail offers an off-the-beaten-track experience in a landscape of placid lakes, rivers and mountain ranges.
Prospectors found gold on the banks of the Stewart River in 1885 but in 1903, a rich vein of silver was discovered. This discovery quickly led to the construction of three hotels, a liquor store and a post office. It took years before the hard rock claims were developed but by 1915, horses were hauling silver from the Keno mines down to the awaiting sternwheeler in Mayo, ready to transport it to Whitehorse, the Yukon's capital. By 1950, an all-season road was built, and today, many artefacts, old buildings, rusty equipment and monuments line it for visitors to observe.
A near modern-day ghost town, the quirky Keno City was named especially after a popular gambling game to lure in prospectors. From secret cabins to raucous saloons, every building has a story to tell.
Whilst the last mine closed many years ago, today travellers will find many thrilling ways to explore the heritage of the 'Silver Rush' in Keno City. The Keno City Mining Museum, housed in a 1920s era wooden building, boasts one of the territory's most extensive collections of mining artefacts, photos and memorabilia. At the Alpine Interpretive Centre right next door, explorers can learn all about the area's abundant wildflowers, birds and four-legged residents that far outnumber the people.
The Alpine Interpretive Centre is also the starting point for many of the area's hiking trails. Drive 2,000 metres up Signpost Road to Keno Hill past old mining structures to top-of-the-world hiking trails and an amazing panoramic view. On a calm sunny day, see flitting arctic butterflies in the meadows or a few unusually large marmots, which some refer to as ROUSes—”rodents of unusual size”. In Keno City, visitors can enjoy a tucked-away arts scene, paddle a historic river or enjoy a mountain bike ride.
There are a number of historic sites in and around town, including the Tolmie Cabin, originally built by a prospector and then used as a brothel by Margaret Vera Dorval, aka the Bombay Peggy of Dawson City fame. It's a private residence now, as are many of the historic cabins around town, but still worth visiting. A few blocks from the Keno City Mining Museum, you can also see the house of Geordie Dobson (former owner of the Keno City Hotel), which is lined with 32,000 empty beer bottles.
Situated in the upper Northwest corner of Canada, next to Alaska, the Yukon is Canada's most accessible northern destination. Home to Canada's highest mountain (Mount Logan) and the planet's largest non-polar icefields located in Kluane National Park - a UNESCO World Heritage site. One of North America's most undiscovered destinations; close to 80 percent remains pristine wilderness with 5,000-metre peaks, forested valleys, unspoiled waters and untamed wildlife. Roughly the size of Spain at just over 186,000 square miles, the Yukon is home to more than 160,000 caribou, 70,000 moose, 22,000 mountain sheep, 7,000 grizzly bears, 10,000 black bears and 250 species of birds, with a human population of only 40,000.