At 3,200 km, the Yukon River is the tenth-longest river in the world and the fourth longest in North America. The “Thirty Mile” is a relatively narrow (50-100 metre wide) river channel comprising a 48 km segment of the river in south-central Yukon. The section begins at the outflow of Lake Laberge, 96 km north of Whitehorse, and ends at the confluence of the Teslin River.
With its crystal clear waters, deeply incised tributary channels, slumping and undercut river banks and almost perpendicular sand and gravel bluffs nearly 100 metres high, this is perhaps the most scenic segment of the Yukon River. The Thirty Mile’s blue-green waters are important to the river’s salmon migration.
White volcanic ash in the river banks was deposited over the southern Yukon region by a major eruption more than 1,200 years ago. Other interesting geological features such as moraines and eskers provide evidence of glaciation. Wolverines, grizzly bears, bald and golden eagles, and trumpeter swans prowl the river and its banks, which are also home to large populations of migrant birds.
From prehistoric times until the late 1950’s, when all-weather roads were first built and air travel became common, the Yukon River was the region’s highway for settlement and development, and the nomination of the Thirty Mile to the CHRS was based largely on its close connection with the famous Klondike gold rush and paddle-wheeler eras on the Yukon River. At its peak in 1898, the Klondike gold rush saw nearly 30,000 gold seekers in 7,000 boats travel the Thirty Mile en route from Bennett, B.C. to the goldfields near Dawson City. The Thirty Mile was the most difficult part for the run between Whitehorse and Dawson City. Its strong current, shifting shoals and treacherous rocks claimed more ships than any other stretch of the Yukon River. Simply marked gravesites are found along the Thirty Mile, and some locations are named after the boats that were wrecked there, such as Domville Creek, Casca Reef, La France Creek, and Tanana Reef.
With scenic views and fascinating historical artifacts from the Klondike era, Thirty Mile attracts many paddlers and boaters. Each year many river tourists travel the Thirty Mile in canoes, kayaks, power boats and rafts between Whitehorse and Carmacks or Dawson City seeking to re-create the experience of the gold seekers while enjoying Yukon wilderness. Yukon Parks maintains campsites and facilities along Thirty Mile through a partnership with Ta’an Kwäch’än First Nation. There is good camping, with plenty of water and firewood. The best sites are Johnston Island and Hootalinqua.
Viewing and photographing Yukon wildlife and hiking up nearby hills for views of the river are favourite activities, as are visiting historic ruins and fishing for migrating salmon, grayling, northern pike, lake trout, whitefish and inconnu.
The name Yukon comes from the Gwich’in word Yu-kun-ah meaning “great river” and is a reference to the Yukon River.
Shipyard (Hootalinqua) Island is associated with the gold rush era and is still occupied by the S.S. Evelyn/Norcom, a paddlewheeler built in 1908 that has been slowly disintegrating there since being hauled to this winter storage facility at the end of the 1913 shipping season.
The Thirty-Mile River is managed by the Yukon Government. Yukon Parks and Yukon Tourism and Culture’s Historic Sites Unit and Tourism Branch all have responsibilities for the river. The management plan for the river and the ten-year report on the designation are available online.
The Ta’an Kwach’an Council also protects and promotes sites within the river corridor that are part of and contribute to their values and cultural heritage.
The Thirty Mile – a section of the Yukon River – was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1991 for its outstanding natural, historical and recreational features. It was a rich hunting and fishing area for the Ta’an Kwach’an people.
In the era following the 1897 Klondike gold rush, the captains of paddlewheelers who sailed the river referred to the swift, winding section as the “Thirty Mile,” and many ships were wrecked on its shoals and rocks. Today, paddlers navigating this 48 km section of the river can explore the abandoned gold rush-era settlements of Lower Laberge and Hootalinqua, where deteriorating wooden buildings and ships recall an era during which 250 paddlewheelers transported settlers, goldseekers, and supplies up and down the river until the late 1950s.
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The Canadian Heritage River plaques offer a brief glimpse into why a river has been designated to the System. They are often located nearby one of its historically significant locations, and highlight some of the most important natural, cultural and recreational values of the river.
Thirty Mile (Yukon River) Plaque Text
The Thirty Mile Yukon River - The Thirty Mile section of the Yukon River exemplifies both the history and the landscape of the fourth longest river in North America. For centuries, ancestors of the Ta’an Kwach’an First Nation derived their living from an abundant harvest along The Thirty Mile. More recently, thousands of adventurers travelled its blue-green waters on their way to the Klondike in search of gold. Artefacts left by the Ta’an Kwach’an, and abandoned gold rush settlements and the remains of the paddlewheeler S.S. Evelyn, all evoke images of a colourful history. This, together with its great natural beauty, creates “Thirty Miles of Magic”, for which The Thirty Mile has been proclaimed a Canadian Heritage River.