Fort Selkirk, located in Canada’s Yukon Territory, is the featured ghost town in this month’s installment of Ghost Town Trails.
Last month we visited Coolidge, Montana, also known as Montana’s Mystery Camp.
I chose Fort Selkirk as the August entry as you can only visit this site in the summer. Hopefully, some of you reading this are up north and can add it to your itinerary before heading back south.
History of Fort Selkirk
In 1848, the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post near the confluence of the Yukon and Pelly Rivers. The post interfered with First Nation’s traditional trading partners. That resulted in First Nation warriors attacking and looting the post in the summer of 1852. 40 years later, the fort was rebuilt at its current location and served as an important supply stop along the Yukon River.
In 1896, the Klondike Gold Rush caused the small community of Fort Selkirk to rapidly grow as thousands of stampeders stopped there as part of their journey down the Yukon River in search of gold at Dawson City. Given the strategic location, the North West Mounted Police established a post at Fort Selkirk in 1898. Throughout the first half of the 1900s, Fort Selkirk remained a stable, thriving community serving the sternwheeler traffic on the Yukon River.
However, that all ended with the construction of an all-weather highway between Whitehorse and Dawson City. This new highway bypassed Fort Selkirk and the newly constructed highway bridges over the Yukon River were too low for sternwheelers to pass beneath. With the highway providing faster and more reliable transportation, combined with the restrictions from the bridges, the sternwheelers ceased plying the river. When the sternwheelers went away, so did the population, creating another ghost town. Fortunately, the remote location and lack of access kept the abandoned town in pristine condition. In time, the Canadian government preserved the site, which is now a historic site.
Since there are no roads to Fort Selkirk and no sternwheelers to jump aboard any longer, we had to find our own transportation to get there. Your choices are your own watercraft (many use canoes), aircraft as there is an airstrip nearby, or tour boat. Not having our own watercraft or airplane, we chose to book four spots on the tour boat.
Conveniently, the tour boat departed from Minto Landing adjacent to the RV park we were staying in. Therefore, we were able to conveniently walk from our RV to the dock to board the tour boat. The scenic boat ride downstream on the mighty Yukon River to Fort Selkirk took about an hour. As it came into view, I was instantly impressed and thankful the Yukon Territorial government and the Selkirk First Nation recognized the historic value of Fort Selkirk and the great job they had done to preserve it.
My family enjoyed walking in and among the more than 40 structures, which included churches, stores, and homes. There are also several cemeteries dating from 1892 through the 1950s, some containing “spirit houses” built by First Nations People over the gravesites. It was then back on the boat for the journey back to our RV. Be sure to watch for wildlife along the river during your boat ride.
Getting to Fort Selkirk
Fort Selkirk is located approximately halfway between Whitehorse and Dawson City on the Yukon River, just below the mouth of the Pelly River at N62° 46.495 W137° 23.265. In the days when the Yukon River was the primary “highway” in the Yukon you could sail right to it. Today the paved highway is nearly 20 miles away. As mentioned above, you will ether need to fly or travel by boat. Tutchone Tours is the current tour boat company providing service to Fort Selkirk. The tour, which departs from Minto Landing, includes a guide and lunch. Keep in mind that boat trips to Fort Selkirk are only available in summer because the Yukon River is frozen between mid-December and mid-May.
If you find yourself in the Yukon the third Saturday in July, you can hitch a free ride to the fort compliments of Canada Day. Canada Day offers free admission/access to national parks, historic sites, and marine conservation areas throughout Canada. The free tour boats offered during Parks Day typically depart from Pelly Farms, which is closer to the fort, but the road is not suitable for larger RVs. Learn more here.
While there is a free campground at Fort Selkirk, it is only accessible via boat or aircraft, which means you will have to bring a tent if you want to stay the night.
Minto Resorts is located at Minto Landing and is a great place to camp if you are booking a tour with Tutchone Tours. It offers 20 campsites and can accommodate large RVs.
Pelly Crossing Campground would be a good place to stay if are able to take part in Parks Day when taking advantage of the free tour boat ride from Pelly Farms. The campground is free and can accommodate large RVs.
Special thanks to Murray Lundberg, who authors Explorenorthblog.com, for providing updated photos and information on this unique ghost town. Here are two of his blog entries on Fort Selkirk you may want to check out: Exploring Historic Fort Yukon and Back to Fort Selkirk on Canada’s Parks Day.