This Small Town in Canada's Yukon Territory Is an Unexpected Queer-friendly Destination

Dawson City in Canada's Yukon Territory is home to remarkable outdoor adventures and fantastic queer-owned businesses.

Row of colorful buildings in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada.
Photo: Lara Belova/Getty Images

LGBTQ travelers face some unique questions when choosing where to travel next. Even in progressive countries, there are areas where safety can be an issue. It's easy to fall into a blue state/red state or rural/urban mindset when considering what places may be most welcoming. Thus, it was refreshing to discover Dawson City, an unexpectedly queer outpost in Canada's sparsely populated Yukon Territory.

This city of 1,500 is extremely remote; it's a 1,200-mile flight north from Vancouver or a 400-mile flight east of Anchorage. Dawson City is home to remarkable outdoor adventures and features a downtown straight out of a 1950s Western. But I was intrigued how it's also home to a diverse LGBTQ community, blowing up many travelers' stereotypes about queer acceptance in smaller and rural communities.

I chose to stay at the queer-owned Dawson Lodge, a boutique property right in the heart of downtown. Behind the unassuming western façade lies a funky hotel with an industrial vibe and a focus on sustainability. There's no front desk, and guests are emailed keypad codes for the front door and their room on the day of arrival. While small, the lodge incorporates the Yukon Spa, which specializes in Raynor massage treatments, along with beauty treatments such as dermaplaning, micro-needling, and facials.

Aerial view during winter of Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada.
Getty Images

Dawson Lodge is owned by a gay British couple, Lee Manning and Mike Ellis, and they have big plans for this small town that they accidentally stumbled on. When they decided to leave the U.K. in 2017, Manning said that Dawson City was the only place they could easily get work visas in Canada.

"Dawson City is just amazing, the most inclusive community I have ever lived in," Manning said, explaining that he appreciates the friends they've made, the business opportunities in town, and a great work-life balance there. "It feels like you're in a 'frontier' location, but it is fully inclusive, which is very rare."

Manning and Ellis are building a fully separate, larger version of the Yukon Spa a few blocks away on land they've purchased. The new spa will include more treatment rooms, a café, and a private courtyard. It won't serve alcohol, which the owners explained is important because alcoholism is a serious issue in isolated communities like Dawson City, which receive minimal daylight during the deepest part of winter.

I toured the charming downtown area with Janice Cliff, National Historic Site and Visitor Experience Manager from Parks Canada. Cliff, who identifies as queer herself, explained that the park system is focusing on stories beyond the gold rush tales that draw in visitors. Parks Canada is broadening the conversation to include the history of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation People who have been on this land for 12,000 years, along with stories centered on women and the LGBTQ community.

Wandering the town, I saw multiple examples of Dawson's City's culture of acceptance. Flyers for the monthly "Gaaaymes Night" at the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture were posted alongside notices for skiing festivals and pottery classes. I enjoyed a fantastic lunch at queer-owned BonTon, heralded as one of the country's best new restaurants. And I happened upon the "Queer Newfoundland Hockey League" traveling exhibit at the ODD Gallery. Artist Lucas Morneau cheekily crocheted 14 fictional hockey jerseys, imagining team names that reclaim LGBTQ slurs. Alongside jerseys for the Bonavista Buggers and the St. John's Sissies are doily-like goalie masks and trading cards that Morneau also crafted.

Knit jersey for Queer hockey teams on exhibition at Klondike Institute of Art & Culture in Dawson City
Paul Heney

While an accepting community is wonderful, the overarching reason most travelers come to Dawson City is for outdoor adventure — and the area has plenty to offer for all activity levels.

Through local outfitter The Klondike Experience, I watched for aurora borealis in relative comfort. My guide, Noby, picked me up from my hotel for a quick, 15-minute ride to the edge of town. From there, we hiked through a pristine evergreen forest to a well-equipped yurt. There, the wood-burning stove was roaring while coffee, hot chocolate, and sweets awaited. It was the perfect mix of creature comforts and accessibility to the cold, clear skies. We could pop outside every few minutes to look up, and then duck inside for warmth as necessary. Wintertime here is the peak season for northern lights viewing, and Dawson City is situated ideally to view the green-and-purple glow that is so rarely seen farther south.

Klondike Experience owner Jesse met me the next day for a two-hour snowmobiling experience, and I took to the powerful machines easily. We cruised through endless woods, along roadways, across trails, and eventually down to the frozen surface of the Yukon River. There, we sped along the riverbank, mimicking the same route a dogsledding race had taken days earlier.

View of snow covered downtown street in Dawson City
Paul Heney

Dogsledding is popular here, and I ventured out with Wild-Country Dog Sled Adventures. Matty, the musher, explained how much positive reassurance the dogs need throughout the journey. Our 10 dogs, an assortment of mixed breeds howled and barked with excitement until we left. Once on the trail, they were silent, focused on the task and listening for Matty's encouragements. I even had the chance to mush — standing on the sled, being whisked through the stunning scenery by these beautiful creatures was enchanting.

I finished the trip with a term I hadn't even known before coming to Dawson City: Flightseeing. Outfitter Great River Air took us up on a perfect, cloudless day, and we soared over the town. We glided northward, darting in and around the Tombstone Mountains, gazing down into impossibly gorgeous snow-covered valleys and watching for herds of caribou. I'd been nervous about the small aircraft, but our pilot Scott was a skilled flyer and great tour guide, and the stunning vistas all around us soon made me forget my fears.

Dawson City, I'll be back soon — wearing my Pride shirt and anticipating even more adventure.

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