In 1898, prospectors flock to Alaska in search of gold. Among them is young Jack Conroy, who arrives in the town of Skagway, telling fellow passenger Beauty Smith of his search for prospector Alex Larson. Beauty and his companions, Luke and Tinker, direct the boy to the Chilcoot Pass. The three men surround Jack and steal his money, but he is undaunted and makes his way to the pass. Jack finds Alex and his companion, Clarence "Skunker" Thurston, at the top of the pass. He introduces himself as the son of Scott Conroy, who died a year earlier, leaving behind a claim. Although Alex and Scott were close friends, the former doubts there is gold in the claim and advises Jack to go home. However, Skunker takes a liking to the boy and persuades Alex to bring him as far as Klondike City, Alaska, after they bury their dead comrade, Dutch.
A pack of hungry wolves follow the expedition through the wilderness, hoping to feed on the sled dogs. A female wolf named Kiche infiltrates the dogs while they are being fed and escapes with a fish, which she feeds to her cub. As the expedition resumes the next day, the sled falls over an embankment, spilling Dutch’s corpse onto a frozen lake. Despite warnings from Skunker, Jack ventures onto the lake to retrieve a box of ammunition and falls through the ice. Dutch’s corpse falls in as well, supplying Jack with a buoy to help him reach the surface. By nightfall, wolves surround the prospectors’ camp and Kiche approaches, attracting Digger, the lead sled dog. Skunker realizes she is a “part dog” decoy luring his animals to the wolf pack. He shoots Kiche and runs to Digger’s rescue, but is killed by the pack. Jack and Alex survive the night, using fire to keep the animals at a distance. The injured wolf hobbles back to her den, and her cub remains by her side until she dies. The cub attempts to join the wolf pack but is soon left behind.
When a group of native Alaskans discover the cub, their chief, Grey Beaver, notes his “white fang,” proving the animal is descended from a domesticated dog. Grey Beaver adopts the cub and names him “Mia Tuk", a name meaning "White Fang". Meanwhile, Alex and Jack bury Dutch and continue on to Klondike City, where Alex reunites with his lover, Belinda Casey. Although Alex has no intention of leaving town, he agrees to guide Jack to his father’s claim. They travel downstream to Grey Beaver’s village, and spend the night there at the chief’s invitation. Jack is intrigued by White Fang and tries to befriend the dog, but Grey Beaver discourages him, explaining that dogs are for work, not friendship. In the morning, Jack wanders away from the village and is pursued by a bear. He takes cover under a woodpile while White Fang comes to his defense and chases the bear away. Jack rewards the dog with a piece of jerky before he and Alex leave. After they arrive at Scott Conroy’s abandoned cabin, Alex offers to work the mine if Jack teaches him how to read.
Meanwhile, Grey Beaver and White Fang arrive in Klondike City, where they encounter Beauty and his fighting dog, Buck. While Grey Beaver offers animal pelts to a storekeeper, Beauty instigates a fight between the two dogs and White Fang wins. When Grey Beaver emerges from the store, Beauty demands compensation for his injured dog, forcing the chief to surrender White Fang. Following a training regimen of taunting and abuse, Beauty and his henchmen enter White Fang in his first fight. He kills his opponent and continues undefeated through numerous fights. Jack and Alex come upon a dogfight in which White Fang is pitted against a pitbull named Cherokee, owned by Beauty’s archrival, Mr. Sykes. A police raid drives the spectators away as Cherokee grabs White Fang by the throat. Jack pries the dogs apart with a crowbar, then claims White Fang as restitution for the money he lost to Beauty months earlier. Alex holds Beauty at gunpoint, compelling him to relinquish the dog. Jack nurses White Fang back to health, but Alex is doubtful the animal can be tamed. However, Jack’s patience and kindness eventually overcome White Fang’s resistance and they become constant companions.
One day, a section of the mine collapses, revealing a large vein of gold ore. Jack takes a sample to the assayer in Klondike City, accompanied by White Fang. Luke informs Beauty and Tinker, and they follow Jack back to the mine. The next morning, Beauty and Tinker open fire on the cabin and attempt to burn it down. White Fang attacks Tinker, who accidentally discharges his gun, wounding Luke. After White Fang subdues Beauty, Jack and Alex take their assailants prisoner and force them at gunpoint to haul gold ore into town. Alex and Belinda decide to marry and start a new life in San Francisco, California. They invite Jack to join them, but remind him that White Fang is not suited for city life, and should be set free. Jack releases the dog, but ultimately decides to stay in Alaska. He returns to the cabin to make repairs and is reunited with White Fang.
- Ethan Hawke as Jack Conroy
- Jed the Wolfdog as White Fang
- Klaus Maria Brandauer as Alex Larson
- Seymour Cassel as Clarence Skunker Thurston
- James Remar as Beauty Smith
- Susan Hogan as Belinda Casey
- Bill Moseley as Luke
- Clint B. Youngreen as Tinker
- Pius Savage as Grey Beaver
- Suzanne Kent as Heather
- Michael Davis Lally as Mr. Sykes
- Aaron Hotch as Mit-Sah
- Diane E. Benson as Kloo-Koosh
- John Beers as Sykes' Dog Handler
- Charles Jimmie Sr. as Older Indian
- Clifford Fossman as Old Timer 1
- Irvin Sogge as Old Timer 2
- Tom Fallon as Prospector
- Dick Mackey as Sled Dog Prospector
- Robert Hoelen as Bar Patron
- George Rogers as Registrar
- Raymond R. Menaker as Shopkeeper
- Davis Fallon as Lookout
- Michael A. Hagen as Teenager
- Robert Scott Kyker as Frozen Prospector 1
- Tom Yewell as Frozen Prospector 2
- Van Clifton as Piano Player
- Jim Moore as Violin Player
- Marliese Schneider as Woman of the Night
- Bart the Bear as Bear