The land north of the 60th parallel serves up a menu of adventure tourism experiences to flood the senses: from watching northern lights dancing across jet black skies, to scooting across a frozen lake by dogsled or snowmobile, from canoeing, kayaking, rafting and boating to backcountry hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping and wildlife viewing. Add in some of the continent’s most spectacular scenery, including mountains, lakes, desert and tundra, and you’ve got the ingredients for an unforgettable, authentic wilderness experience. Best of all, Yukon is on its game, year-round.
CELEBRATE THE SEASONS
Put aside notions of being housebound through a Yukon winter visit! The opposite is true—Yukoners know how to embrace the guaranteed snow of the season and they celebrate it with a host of outdoor activities, eccentric festivals, world-class races and competitions. Bundle up and jump in for sled dog mushing experiences, snow sculpture competitions, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Grab a mug of hot chocolate and sit outside to watch the northern lights, described by poet Robert Service as “The wild sky is blazing.”
Summertime is a different story. Known as The Land of the Midnight Sun, the light-filled days and nights of summer are perfect for canoeing, biking, hiking and fishing. The June solstice sun doesn’t set at the Arctic Circle, so golfing at midnight or hiking into the wee hours are both possible. After a long day, relax in thermal hot springs.
CONNECT WITH A CANADIAN WILDERNESS LANDSCAPE
In this northern place called Yukon, more than 80 percent is still pristine wilderness. Much is protected in vast, uninhabited parks like Kluane, Ivvavik and Tombstone, and along world-famous paddling and rafting rivers.
The chance of encountering wildlife is excellent. There are more caribou and moose than people; bears and mountain sheep create “wildlife jams” as passersby spot them beside the roadways; grizzly bears are found across the territory.
The wilderness knocks at the back doors of the Yukon’s few urban areas—the city of Whitehorse and the historic town of Dawson City. Dense, endless greenery edges unhurried highways and, in summer, brilliant magenta fireweed, the Yukon’s territorial flower, lines many roadsides. Mountains, lakes, rivers and some of the country’s most majestic glacier fields provide a photographer’s dream.
IN THIS PLACE, HISTORY STILL SHINES
Everywhere there are markers of the territory’s 1890’s Klondike Gold Rush history, a time when desperate stampeders surmounted unimaginable hardships to reach stream beds they believed were thick with gold nuggets. Few found these riches and many lost their lives or their savings in the quest for instant wealth. Gold is still a vibrant part of the Yukon economy, but modern machinery has replaced the gold pan, although visitors can still pan for gold in the creeksides. Small museums showcase local history and folklore, weaving together the heritage of First Nations peoples and tales of the Gold Rush.
For the Klondike gold seekers, the Yukon’s many waterways were the highways into the north. Today’s paddlers trace many of the same water-borne routes—this time in search of canoeing and kayaking adventures on the territory’s many lakes and 70 wilderness rivers. In winter, the frozen rivers are the routes of world-class sled dog endurance races.
2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of storyteller Jack London, author of Yukon classics like White Fang
and Call of the Wild
. Learn about the Gold Rush days at the Jack London Museum in Dawson City, located in a cabin built from the logs of London’s actual home (www.dawsoncity.ca
Base Camp Trips at Ivvavik National Park are an Arctic adventure of a lifetime with five-day catered trips and seven-day self-catered trips. The new Parks Canada program includes ranger-led day hikes on terrain that varies from fairly flat to uneven and sometimes steep (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/yt/ivvavik/ne/Camp1.aspx
Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon, gained its name from the roiling White Horse Rapids on the Yukon River. Whitehorse is the urban heart of the territory, with historic and heritage sights, a vibrant arts community, and a wide range of dining and accommodation choices (www.travelyukon.com
Unusual Dawson City preserves its storied Gold Rush past with historic false-fronted buildings, rustic log cabins, can-can dancing and a frontier energy. Downtown Dawson has been declared a national historic site (www.dawsoncity.ca
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
In Yukon’s unspoiled wilderness, outdoor enthusiasts can explore on foot or mountain bike or retrace the prospectors’ footsteps by hiking the challenging Chilkoot Trail. Angle for trophy fish in a northern glacier-fed lake or climb a mountain—majestic Mount Logan is the highest point in Canada at 5,959 m (19,551 ft.). Go heli-hiking or heli-skiing, kayak, canoe or raft part of the 3,185-km (1,979-mi.) Yukon River—Canada’s second longest.
The Yukon—home to some of the most renowned rivers in Canada—is a paddler’s dreamscape. In addition to the Yukon and Klondike rivers, the territory has four Canadian Heritage rivers—the Alsek, Thirty Mile, Tatshenshini and Bonnet Plume. These ribbons of water offer challenging whitewater to calm waters, with outstanding opportunities to spy wildlife.
The winter months are a special time of colours bursting across the sky. Spectators cheer on mushers in the famous 1,609-km (1,000-mi.) Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race (www.yukonquest.com
). Visitors can mush their own team on one-hour to multi-day dog sledding adventures just minutes from Whitehorse (www.skyhighwilderness.com
Yukon Wild, a group of professional adventure travel companies, holds year-round trips with experienced local guides and equipment. Activities range from fishing, hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, horseback riding or rafting, to dogsledding, snowshoeing, skiing and snowmobiling (yukonwild.com
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
When the news of “Gold!” echoed from the Klondike, tens of thousands of gold seekers set off, lured by dreams of riches. The history of the Gold Rush is still at the hub of many Yukon experiences.
The Dawson City Museum is the perfect spot to learn about the town at the heart of the Gold Rush (www.dawsonmuseum.ca
). Watch the award-winning film, City of Gold
, narrated by Yukon-native Pierre Berton.
Visitors can join a guided hike at the Robert Service Cabin in Dawson City where they’ll be treated to readings of his poems and some insights into the more idiosyncratic aspects of the author’s personality (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/yt/klondike/activ/robservice.aspx
At the MacBride Museum of Yukon History in Whitehorse, pretend you’re a prospector panning on the Klondike creeks or peer into prospector Sam McGee’s cabin (www.macbridemuseum.com
Every summer musicians and music lovers from across Canada come to the Yukon for the Dawson City Music Festival, a world-class showcase of North American talent (www.dcmf.com
Explore the heritage of the First Nations people at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse (www.kwanlindunculturalcentre.com
) or the Da Kų Cultural Centre at Haines Junction (www.cafn.ca
MUST SEE, MUST DO
Visit in winter for guaranteed snow. Mush a dog team, snowshoe or snowmobile through silent forests, then end the day with a soak in the hot springs.
Dawson City, the “heart of the Klondike Gold Rush,” bustles with the history of a wild era when prospectors rushed to follow their dreams.
Taking a light-filled nighttime hike in The Land of the Midnight Sun at the summer solstice is something special to the North.
Winter or summer, take a sightseeing flight by small plane or helicopter over the Kluane National Park icefields (www.kluanehelicopters.com
Enjoy the magical aurora borealis—or northern lights—as brilliant colours shimmer across dark winter skies on a silent Yukon night (www.northernlightscentre.ca
Try a quirky Sourtoe Cocktail in historic Dawson City (www.downtownhotel.ca
The Golden Circle Route’s 600-km (373-mi.) begins in Whitehorse and circles to include Skagway, Alaska and Kluane National Park, showcasing spectacular alpine scenery.
The secluded Top of the World Highway, open seasonally only, hugs the top of mountains for outstanding scenery. At the east end of the unpaved drive, hop on the free car ferry and cross the Yukon River to Dawson City. Bring your passport—the crossing from Yukon to Alaska is the most northern international border crossing in all of North America.
The breathtaking and bumpy Dempster Highway, an iconic wilderness highway, is best travelled in summertime. The 736-km (457-mi.) gravel roadway is Canada’s only all-weather road across the Arctic Circle.
The Alaska Highway, one of the continent’s great wilderness drives, stretches from Watson Lake near the British Columbia border to Beaver Creek at the Alaska border.
Travelling with kids twelve and under? They can learn and walk the streets of the Dawson Historic Complex and the S.S.Keno
National Historic Site with the Xplorer activity booklet. Booklets are available at the Parks Canada Desk at the Visitor Information Centre on Front Street in Dawson City.
PARK PICK: IVVAVIK NATIONAL PARK
Look on a map at the very northwest tip of Canada and you’ll pinpoint Ivvavik National Park, a true Canadian wilderness experience and the first Canadian national park to be created as a result of an Aboriginal land claim agreement. Summer is a special time to visit with warm weather and 24 hours of sunlight. Hikes are a popular way to explore a treeless tundra that is fully alive with colour. Trails leave from the Imniarvik base camp. For a watery wilderness experience, book with an outfitter to raft the beautiful Firth River. Arctic wildlife inside the park includes bears, caribou, muskox and Dall sheep (www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/yt/ivvavik/index.aspx
More info on National Parks and Historic Sites: www.pc.gc.ca