Airplane day trip: Fairbanks to Eagle and Dawson City

Colleen Mondor

Alaska’s gold rush history is celebrated across the state, but aircraft owners can enjoy a particularly unique perspective by flying to the Interior town of Eagle and then on to Dawson City in Yukon Territory, Canada. Both destinations offer visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in the past while also enjoying some staggering sights along the way.

Located about 190 miles east of Fairbanks, the village of Eagle is about a two-hour flight in a Cessna 180. The flight is directly along the Mertie Mountains, named for one of Alaska's great geologists and explorers and the town itself is located on the Yukon River, a dozen miles upriver from the Yukon-Charley National Preserve.

Best known Outside as a checkpoint on the Yukon Quest and setting for a portion of John McPhee's "Coming Into the Country," Eagle was originally populated by the Han Athabascan Natives and was the first incorporated city in the region. At its population peak during the late 19th century, 1,700 people lived in Eagle, most of them gold miners.

In an effort to combat some of the region’s lawlessness, the U.S. Army constructed Fort Egbert in 1899, and Judge James Wickersham built a courthouse and jail around 1900. According to the Eagle Historical Society, these buildings were active for about 20 years before the rush played itself out and the population settled down to its current figure of less than 100.

The Eagle Historic District is a national historic landmark and includes many buildings from the Gold Rush Era including Wickersham’s courthouse and several buildings from Fort Egbert. Through Labor Day, the Eagle Historical Society offers daily walking tours for the area for a low fee. See the website for times and contact information.

Since the 2009 flood there is no longer a restaurant in Eagle, but food can be purchased at the store. An easy alternative to eating out is bringing along a picnic and eating along the river before returning to the airport and continuing along to Dawson City.

When departing Eagle, be sure to fly downriver and into the Yukon-Charley National Preserve, keeping an eye out for rafters and wildlife.  While it is not common to sight wolves from the air during the summer months, they are protected in the preserve and are a significant presence in the preserve’s ecosystem.

Seventy-five miles east-southeast of Eagle -- about a half-hour if you're flying direct -- is Dawson City. The airport, where customs is located and open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer, is 15 minutes from downtown. Most of the hotels provide shuttle service for their guests, or you can arrange a pickup from a local cab service.

If you do plan to stay the night in Dawson, reservations are a must this time of year, and there are many accommodations to choose from. Start your visit at the Visitor’s Centre on Front Street, where you can learn about available guided tours (one with Robert Service poetry!),  areas to visit on your own and special events. There are historic buildings to see, shows to attend, the Jack London museum, a paddlewheel graveyard and many restaurants. Dawson City has plenty to keep you occupied into the next day, so an overnight visit is a good choice. Then head back out to the airport and fly home, being sure to check ahead that customs will be open in Fairbanks upon your return.

"Coming Into the Country" is one of John McPhee's most famous books. It is widely available at bookstores throughout Alaska and online. Robert Service is the poet of the Yukon Territory; you can read "The Cremation of Sam McGee" at and easily find collections of his work, especially in Dawson City.

Contact Colleen Mondor at