Need travel inspiration for 2015? Why not plan a trip around a music festival? I made the Dawson City Music Festival the focal point of a wild trip to the Yukon last summer.  

When you’re planning your travel vision board for 2015, there’s no better way to soak in great music and feel a sense of place and community than a good ol’ music festival!f

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Clockwise: Alex Cuba, Dawson City Music Festival headquarters, Drea and the Naysayers, rainbow over festival tents, Pharis and Jason Romero playing the Palace Grand, and By Divine Right.

My partner and I flew into Whitehorse, rented a car, and camped along the Klondike Highway to Dawson City. After two weeks rocking to tunes under the midnight sun (the sun barely sets in the summer), I returned from the Klondike basking in the gold rush history of the Yukon, playlists brimming with new names from the Canadian folk and indie music scene.

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If you’re lucky, the Parks Canada guide might let you view the historic Palace Grand Theatre from the Post Office tower.

Here are the reasons I’m adding Dawson City to the list of places I’d travel back to in a heartbeat:

Small town music festival

The Dawson City Music Festival is the less crowded gem of Canadian music festivals. It’s a unique mix of big festival-quality talent with a small town feel. Watch the steamboats paddle up river on your daily commute across the Yukon River from the local campground.

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Watching show after show in a gold rush-era theatre or church, or in a festival tent staked on the tundra makes the festival extra special.
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The Gazebo: the festival’s family-friendly outdoor venue.

Get your French on

Walking along the river and the boardwalks of Dawson City, you’ll hear as much French as English. Bilingual Parks Canada employees, visiting musicians, and seasonal workers from Quebec make for a rustic French-Canadian experience outside of Quebec.

And no one parties like the French-Canadians!

Beautiful gams

See all three gold rush-era cancan shows at Diamond Tooth Gerties! Even if gambling isn’t your thing, the gold rush spirit is alive and well at this historic hall of debauchery!

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The talented dancers at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s.

I heart Canadian music

Performers oozing with stage presence, tight sets and themed jam sessions make for a chance to witness exactly how skilled these artists are: it says a lot when musicians can pick up an instrument and play well—unrehearsed—with others.

High school social studies come alive

Dawson City’s a living, breathing gold rush town. Encounter historic sites, Parks Canada guides in period costumes, and picturesque buildings at every turn. Explore where gold was first discovered at Claim no.1, try your hand at panning for gold, walk the same, muddy streets as the millions who flocked to Dawson City with gold rush fever. Visit the largest wooden hulled bucket lined dredge in North America, Dredge No.4 and learn about mining history while wearing an invaluable gold nugget—if just for a moment!

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leah wearing solid gold necklace from Yukon

Friendly is an understatement in the Yukon

If you’re stopped on the highway to take a photo, expect every passing vehicle to stop and ask if you’re okay. When you’re in such remote country, people take care of each other.

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The Dempster Highway: Be sure to check your gas! The next gas station is 363 km away!

Visit Tombstone Territorial Park

No visit to the Yukon is complete without seeing Tombstone Territorial Park and driving part of the Dempster Highway. If you don’t have time to drive all the way to the Arctic Circle, a few days roaming the vast valleys of tundra in Tombstone is a must. Handy tip: If you’re renting a vehicle and planning to visit Tombstone, make sure the rental company allows you to drive on the dirt roads of the iconic Dempster Highway—you might need to rent a truck (or search for another company if you’re partial to a car). Read more tips for road tripping like a pro to make your trip memorable.

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The views on the hike to Grizzly lake, Tombstone Territorial Park.

Vast Canadian landscape

One word describes the landscape: vast. The vistas of the boreal forest, the tundra and the permafrost make you feel very small, indeed. Look down at your feet for a microcosm of a million miniature plants, moss, lichen and hardy trees.

Go for the bears

Bring your hiking boots and bear spray to Tombstone; backcountry enthusiasts will definitely want to plan for the overnight hike to Grizzly, Divide and Talus lakes (permits required). For a day trip on a nice day, you can view Monolith Mountain from an easy day hike from Grizzly Creek just past the Monolith lookout.

Speaking of bears, this is about as close to a Grizzly as you want to come. Definitely keep your distance if you see a mama bear with cubs! Read why you need travel insurance when it comes to bears.

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Clockwise: Pierre Burton’s childhood home, “Don’t laugh at me, I’m 100 years old”- an example of found old flattened barrels used as siding, Robert Service’s cabin (the Bard of the Yukon), grizzly bear in Tombstone Territorial Park, what happens to buildings over time on the permafrost, brown mama bear with playful cub.

Eat local

Before flying out of Whitehorse, we had a memorable dinner at the historic Klondike Rib and Salmon restaurant. Choose a table in the ‘shack’ for a truly Canadian experience!

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Who knew reindeer stew could be so delicious? – At the historic and delicious Klondike Rib and Salmon Restaurant in Whitehorse.

Leah’s Dawson City Music Festival tips:

  • Don’t miss the “Songs I wish I wrote” usually held on Saturday afternoon. Bands play their favourite covers—often the most playful and moving part of the festival.
  • Pack a pair of rocking boots—they’ll look cute paired with a cute vintage dress (or shirt) and hand knit sweater, and keep your feet free of Yukon dust or mud if it rains. For gentlemen: beards and suspenders are always in fashion in Dawson City!
  • Get friendly with the musicians: meet some new friends in the line ups, have brunch with your favourite band. You’ll run into the same people over and over again, guaranteed: brunching in the local café, perusing the merch stands, or playing with their kids between shows.
  • Take a midday nap. That midnight sun can trick you—you won’t notice you’re tired, so don’t let fatigue hit during the big concert!

Other Canadian Music Festivals I recommend:

Close to (my) home: Vancouver Folk Festival – July17-19, 2015, Squamish Valley Music Festival – Aug 7-9, 2015, for the forest eclectic electronica set: Bass Coast – July 10-13, 2015, as well as the all-time Canadian faves: Montreal Jazz Festival – June 26 – July 5, 2015, and the Festival d’été de Québec – July 9-19, 2015. Remember, even if you’re Canadian travelling to other provinces or territories, don’t forget your travel insurance!

I’ll be adding more music festivals to my travel resolutions for 2015. How about you?

Happy New Year and happy travels!

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