Yukon River Family Voyageur Canoe Trip > Wilderness Area
Yukon River Valley
The Yukon River is full of history, beauty and wilderness. It is the Yukon’s most popular river to paddle and explore. The river’s consistently swift current, yet lack of technical water make it accessible to paddlers of any age and skill level.
The word “Yukon” came from HBC trader John Bell. He named the river “Youcon” a derivation from local First Nation languages, meaning “the Greatest River” or “Big River”. The river is 3166 km (1979 miles) long from Marsh Lake to the Bering Sea according to the Geological Society of Canada. This fact is contested by others stating that the river’s total distance is as much as 3680 km (2300 miles) using the Pelly or Teslin River branches as its headwaters. The Yukon is the 4th longest and 5th largest river by volume in North America.
The Yukon River watershed flows through many First Nation traditional territories. This large river valley provided plentiful plant, animal and aquatic life for aboriginal peoples long before it provided a transportation route to the Klondike gold fields.
In the 1800’s the Yukon Territory saw the arrival of many different non-First Nation peoples to trap, trade, explore and mine its land. But it was the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 and its hordes of gold seekers who created the transportations routes that permanently opened up this land of stunning beauty. The Yukon River was the primary transportation route for these stampeders because they could travel by water all the way from Bennett Lake to Dawson City. The river at that time posed only two challenging areas. The first was Miles Canyon and the nearby Whitehorse Rapids. In 1898 over 30,000 stampeders and 7000 boats floated towards Dawson City from Bennett Lake. At Miles Canyon 150 boats were wrecked and 5 men lost their life. The Whitehorse Rapids come shortly after Miles Canyon and many of the Stampeders also faced grave danger here, trying to navigate the rapids with their un-seaworthy boats and inexperienced captains. Quickly The North West Mounted Police stepped in to ensure safety prevailed. Shortly a tramway was built and stampeders either paid to have their grubstake carried by tram to below the Whitehorse Rapids or were forced to portage it around the rapids by the Mounties. Today there is not much left as evidence of the once frothy Whitehorse Rapids. A hydroelectric damn has been built to power the city and territory, subduing the rapids under its calm lake surface and backing up the river far enough to also tame the once-feared Miles Canyon.
The second challenging area is just north of Carmacks called the Five Finger Rapids: named this because of the five different channels created by the four basalt pillars that equally divide the channel. These rapids were not nearly as challenging. Even the paddle wheelers which came in later years were able to winch themselves up these rapids. Many historical landmarks and relic’s relating to this Klondike Gold Rush are visible to those who travel the river today.