Hiking Miles Canyon to Canyon City: A Landscape with a Past

One of the most visited attractions in Whitehorse, the Miles Canyon Suspension Bridge, is a great launching point for interesting half-day hikes.

Located about 10 minutes from downtown by road, the historic 95-year-old suspension bridge (which has been recently repaired) is connected to a well-established network of trails east of the Yukon River, in Chadburn Lake Park.

One of the most popular hikes is a scenic 3.5 kilometre stroll upriver to an abandoned historic settlement, called Canyon City.

Located at a dramatic river bend, amid tall aspen, the peaceful setting belies its long seasonal use as a First Nations gathering place for fishing and hunting, and as an historic stopover during the gold rush.

Years of archaeological and oral history work indicates First Nations first used the site around 2,500 years ago. Kwanlin, by the way, means “running water through canyon.”

A river trail connecting Marsh Lake and Lake Laberge passed right through what in recent history has been called Canyon City.

Thousands of stampeders arrived in 1898, awaiting a mandatory escort through the treacherous canyon and White Horse Rapids. Norman Macaulay, a 28-year-old entrepreneur from Victoria, B.C. seized the chance to build a horse-drawn wooden tramway on an old First Nations portage route. He beat out a competitor’s effort on the west side, and made a fortune freighting boats and goods for the prospectors and Upper Yukon sternwheelers, that stopped here.

Macaulay got out in 1899 before the gold rush crashed, selling everything to the White Pass and Yukon Route Corporation, which built the railway from Skagway to Whitehorse.

Not much remains at Canyon City today. There’s an impressive replica of a tramway car and a midden of rusted cans. However, the Northwest Mounted Police post, and saloon, machine shop and cabin (most travellers used tents) have largely disappeared. Wire from a possible fox farm from the ’20s is flagged in a few spots. Old archeological dig sites have grown over.

The Upper Canyon trail is easy to follow on your own, but you can also join a free, two-hour guided nature hike offered twice daily – Tuesday to Saturday – by the Yukon Conservation Society. The hikes end August 19.

Summer guides Tannicka Reeves and Tessie Aujla highlight the area’s natural and human history, covering Beringian Ice Age times through to First Nations and gold rush connections. Reeves is Taku River Tlingit First Nation and knows some fun ways to use soapberries (whip them up with sugar for ice cream or meringue) and spruce sap (like Polysporin).

They might also tell you about seeing a mother otter and her two babies swimming below the Miles Canyon Bridge, or show you volcanic ash deposits or trembling aspens that produce sunscreen on their bark. On a recent hike, they also described how they saw a mother otter and her two babies swimming below the Miles Canyon Bridge, and pointed out volcanic ash deposits and trembling aspens that produce sunscreen on their bark. Reeves also shared traditional First Nation ways to use soapberries (whip them up with sugar for ice cream or meringue) and spruce sap (like Polysporin).

There may be more ways to learn about Canyon City and the Miles Canyon area in future.

The Kwanlin Dün First Nation land claim agreement addresses planning for future site management and interpretation. The area’s ecological, cultural and historic values are also recognized in the Chadburn Lake Park Management Plan.

Hiking this landscape is one way of connecting with its past.

If You’d Like to Go

The free, two-hour nature and history Miles Canyon hikes heading to Canyon City take place twice daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, until August 19. To join the group, meet at the Robert Lowe Suspension Bridge below the Miles Canyon parking lot.

For more information contact the Yukon Conservation Society by phone at 668-5678 or by email at [email protected]

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