Staking Adventure in Keno City on the Yukon’s Silver Trail

Though it never rivalled the gold rush, the Silver Trail yielded millions of ounces of silver in its heyday. Today the area is known for its pizza

Credit: Kathy Sinclair

The Keno City Snack Bar doubles as a social hub for locals and tourists on the Silver Trail

You’ve probably heard about the Klondike Gold Rush—that mad period at the turn of the century when tens of thousands of otherwise sane North Americans headed north for the promise of striking it rich. But how about the Yukon’s Silver Trail?

In 1919, prospectors found silver ore on Duncan Creek in the central Yukon. Though that search never approached gold fever, millions of ounces of silver, lead and zinc were shipped out from the 1920s to 1989, when United Keno Hill closed its mines.

The Silver Trail stretches from Stewart Crossing through Mayo and Elsa to Keno City. Once a bustling centre where moonshine, dance halls, gambling and prostitution were common, Keno City is now a tiny hamlet (pop. 20) with few services, but a rich history—and, I’d heard, an excellent pizza restaurant.

One Sunday a friend and I drove the 214 km from Dawson City to Keno seeking adventure, if not silver.

Keno City, Yukon: World-Class Pizza and Foosball

After a brief stop in the community of Mayo, we bellied up to the bar—the Keno City Snack Bar, that is. As I admired the quirky ’50s and ’60s antiques decorating its walls, any questions about how the place survives with such a small potential market were laid to rest. The eatery doubles as a social hub for locals and tourists; it also serves prospectors from visiting mining camps.
We ordered a half-vegetarian, half-pepperoni. Proprietor Mike Mancini and another local joined us in a raucous game of foosball next to the woodstove, and the place filled up.

The pizza was warm and delicious, with oozing mozzarella, perfect tomato sauce and a crispy crust—the ideal meal before a night of camping next to beautiful Lightning Creek.

Still Prospecting for Paydirt

The next morning, we returned to the Snack Bar and found ourselves chatting with Walter, a former prospector now living in Whitehorse who hadn’t been to Keno in 40 years.

Over coffee, he dug out a map that showed the location of his claim at Duncan Creek, regaling us with stories of mining, logging and living over the last eight decades. He’d found silver on his claim over the years and was back to search for more paydirt; we wished him luck.

The Keno City Mining Museum and a self-guided walking tour of some of the area’s historical cabins shed light on the hamlet’s history. We stumbled upon the Keno City Library, housed in a 450-sq-ft former Anglican Church. It may have a small collection (including a section of books about chess), but how many libraries have 24-hour access, without any staff

First Snow of the Season

No visit to Keno is complete without heading to the top of Keno Hill (elevation 6,000 feet), up a steep, rocky road 11 km from “town.

The vista boasts panoramic views of the McQuesten Valley, and a well-known signpost points out directions and distances to cities all over the world.

On a clear day, I hear, you can see forever. But on this day in August, we found ourselves in the midst of one of the first snowfalls of the season!

Just below cloud level, however, the light moved over the land, and I glimpsed the beauty—if not the mineral riches—that led so many there before me.

Check more photos in our Keno City, Yukon photo gallery.

Kathy Sinclair is a travel writer who owns zero ounces of gold and an infinitesimal amount of silver, but still considers herself rich.