In prehistoric times the area was used for agriculture by the Hän-speaking people of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and their forebears. The heart of their homeland was Tr'ochëk, a fishing camp at the confluence of the Klondike River and Yukon River, now a National Historic Site of Canada, just across the Klondike River from modern Dawson City. This site was also an important summer gathering spot and a base for moose-hunting on the Klondike Valley.
The current settlement was founded by Joseph Ladue and named in January 1897 after noted Canadian geologist George M. Dawson, who had explored and mapped the region in 1887. It served as Yukon's capital from the territory's founding in 1898 until 1952, when the seat was moved to Whitehorse.
Dawson City was the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush. It began in 1896 and changed the First Nations camp into a thriving city of 40,000 by 1898. By 1899, the gold rush had ended and the town's population plummeted as all but 8,000 people left. When Dawson was incorporated as a city in 1902, the population was under 5,000. St. Paul's Anglican Church was built that year, and is a National Historic Site.
The population dropped after World War II when the Alaska Highway bypassed it 480 km to the south. The economic damage to Dawson City was such that Whitehorse, the highway's hub, replaced it as territorial capital in 1953. Dawson City's population languished around the 600–900 mark through the 1960s and 1970s, but has risen and held stable since then. The high price of gold has made modern placer mining operations profitable, and the growth of the tourism industry has encouraged development of facilities. In the early 1950s, Dawson was linked by road to Alaska, and in fall 1955, with Whitehorse along a road that now forms part of the Klondike Highway.
The City of Dawson and the nearby ghost town of Forty Mile are featured prominently in the novels and short stories of American author Jack London, including The Call of the Wild. London lived in the Dawson area from October 1897 to June 1898. Other writers who lived in and wrote of Dawson City include Pierre Berton and the poet Robert Service.
Dawson City has a subarctic climate. The average temperature in July is 15.7 °C (60.3 °F) and in January is −26.0 °C (−14.8 °F). It experiences a wide range of temperatures surpassing 30 °C (86 °F) in most summers and dropping below −40 °C (−40 °F) in winter.
Dawson City is accessible by the Top of the World Highway (if you are traveling east out of Alaska) or via the Klondike Highway (if you are traveling north).
Dawson City also has a small airport for chartered flights. Air North also has service from Whitehorse to Dawson City.
Husky Bus offers seasonal bus service from Whitehorse, May–September.
- 1 Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall. A touristy relic of the old Gold Rush days but it is still a blast, frequented by locals and visitors. $10 gets you in the door any day of the week, and in the summer at least there are three can-can shows a night in addition to gambling of all sorts, food, and of course local beers and drinks.
- Paddle Boat Graveyard. Old paddle boats that plied the Yukon are drydocked, after a fashion, down the Yukon River opposite the town. To reach this you must take the free ferry across the river and walk through the government camping area along the river. Where the camping area ends, get out onto the river's shore and walk maybe 200 m further. These are dilapidated tetanus traps but it's fascinating to crawl around in and on them.
- Cemeteries. The towns has a great variety of cemeteries, including Jewish, Masonic, RCMP, and others. They are a reminder of the town's colorful past. They are just a short drive up Crocus Bluff and halfway up the shoulder of the Midnight Dome mountain that looms over the town.
- Tombstone Territorial Park.
- Gold Bottom Mine Tours, Front St. beside the Trading Post, ☏ . 9:15AM, 1:30PM. An experiential tour of an operating placer gold mine in Dawson City Yukon. See placer mining up close and personal, learn some Klondike 98 mining history and do some creek gold panning, with the opportunity to take home anything you find. $40.
- The Trading Post, Front Street. Amazing examples of Tr'ondek Hwech'in products. Beaded vests, fur mittens and the like. The shop also has all the things you might need to make a journey out onto the land more civilized.
- 1 Drunken Goat Taverna, 950 Second Ave, ☏ . Great Greek food.
- Klondike Kates. Fantastic soups, sandwiches and local ingredients.
- Aurora Inn. Bison carpaccio and fireweed honey duck breast.
- Downtown (The Downtown Hotel). A good bar, home of the "Sourtoe Cocktail Club." There is also internet access available at the bar.
- The Pit (Westminster Hotel). For some local colour try the beer parlour at the Westminster Hotel or "the pit" (the dodgy-looking pink building on 3rd Ave) where gold mining fortunes and welfare cheques are cheerfully exchanged for $2 sleeves of draught beer almost any time of any day. Good local live music in the lounge next door at the pit some nights too.
- 1 Dawson City River Hostel, Dieter Reinmuth, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Seasonal monthly tenting available. Bike and canoe rentals and van tours by demand. Owner is author of the "Yukon Travel Adventure Guide" and "The Saga of the Sourtoe" Dorms from $18 (members), $22 (non-members), private rooms $46. Tenting fees are: $14 one person one tent and $9 per person if more than one per tent..
- Bombay Peggy's, 2nd Avenue and Princess Street, ☏ . Rooms with en-suite and shared bathrooms. From $85/89 low/high season.
- 2 The Dawson City Bunkhouse, 2nd Avenue and Princess Street, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Rooms with en suite or shared bathrooms. From $89.