Yukon Canada Travel Guide
The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.Christopher McCandless
Yukon Territory is your ultimate Northern Road Trip. The Yukon is the smallest of the three territories in Canada. There is a vast amount of space and wilderness up there with a largely untouched landscape.
At 5,959 m, Yukon’s Mount Logan, in Kluane National Park and Reserve, is the highest mountain in Canada and the second-highest on the North American continent.
Thousands of heritage sites can be found throughout the Yukon Canada Territory and you have many opportunities to learn about Yukon’s colourful past.
By Air – Scheduled flights to Whitehorse depart Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Ottawa and Edmonton, as well as the Northwest Territories, Alaska and Frankfurt, Germany. You can fly to the Yukon and rent a car or RV in Whitehorse, or book an adventure package with an outfitter. Once you arrive, make sure to visit one of the Community Visitor Information Centres for current information and bulletins.
By Bus – Greyhound Canada comes to Whitehorse and connects to various western Canada destinations. Husky Bus offers service between Whitehorse and Dawson City.
By Sea – The nearest port is Skagway, Alaska. Passengers leaving ferries and cruise ships can travel by the historic White Pass and Yukon Route railway to Carcross and then connect by bus to Whitehorse.
Yukon First Nations
Yukon has been home to First Nations people for many generations. Today, the Yukon has 14 First Nations communities who speak eight different languages. Each First Nation has a unique culture and a strong presence in the Yukon Territory.
The term First Nations may be new for many visitors to the Yukon. It is used throughout Canada in place of aboriginals, natives or Indians and recognizes First Nations as distinct nations and as the first people of this land. Remember when you travel in the Yukon, that modern Yukon is built on a cultural framework and set of practices. Respect the traditional sites and activities you may come across. Take your time and learn about the culture and the people.
Times Gone By
In the 18th century, Russian explorers came to the Yukon Canada in search of furs and other useful resources. Explorers from Europe started to arrive as well. First Nations people traded furs for tobacco, guns, and other goods. The fur trade developed when the famous Hudson’s Bay Company followed by other traders established posts throughout the Yukon Territory.
Klondike Gold Rush
The legendary Klondike Gold Rush was launched when three men found gold on Bonanza Creek near Dawson City in August 1896. As soon as the rest of the world heard about the discovery, thousands of prospectors headed north into the Yukon Canada. Dawson City became to be the largest city north of San Francisco and west of Winnipeg. Close to 100,000 set off for the Klondike, where they faced imposing mountain passes, the Chilkoot Trail and the mighty Yukon River on their journey to Dawson City.
The Klondike Gold Rush ended in 1903. By that time, more than 95 million dollars had been extracted from the Yukon River.
Take along an old gold pan along when I head up there. There must be some nuggets left, I’m pretty sure.
Northern Yukon, Land Of The Midnight Sun
Northern Yukon Canada is about as far as you can go. The beauty of the region is protected within five wilderness parks. In spring thousands of caribou and migratory birds return each year to give birth to their young.
It’s the land of the midnight sun where summer light just doesn’t quit. Life thrives under intense sunlight. The land hosts millions of migratory birds and wildflowers shoot up to a magnificent extent.
Northern Yukon also boasts the only Canadian highway that crosses the Arctic Circle – the Dempster Highway.
Famous Alaska Highway
The Yukon Canada portion of the Alaska Highway starts at the British Columbia border near Watson Lake in the south-east and exits near Beaver Creek at the Alaska border in the west. Distance: 892 km (one-way)
South Klondike Highway and Skagway
The South Klondike Highway runs from Skagway, Alaska to Carcross, Yukon and Whitehorse. The road climbs high into the hills and then drops down into the Yukon with an impressive panorama.
During summer, Skagway Alaska is touristy with cruise ships docking at the end of the main street every day dropping off ice cream consuming tourists at this tiny town. Still, Skagway remains a beautiful little town and when you walk the streets in the evening after the ships have left or outside of the main season, you have the place for yourself. Skagway’s gold rush history has many good tails to tell.
Most of the attractions operate only during the summer season. Note that Skagway is in the USA and its clocks are an hour behind the Canadians.
North Klondike Highway
At Stewart Crossing, right at the Silver Trail Visitor information cabin is the junction and turn off to Silver Trail. Silver Trail runs to the northeast to Mayo and Keno and is worth the detour.
And finally, Dawson City. Arriving in Dawson is like coming to another world.
Robert Campbell Highway and Canol Drive
Travelling to one of the Yukon’s least populated regions, the Campbell/Canol wilderness drive offers a quiet, very remote experience with excellent fishing and wildlife viewing. The Robert Campbell Highway is an alternate route to or from the Klondike. The gravel road takes you through an untouched wild landscape for a true northern driving experience. RVs are not recommended on the Canol Road South #6 and all travellers should be well prepared.
This is a stunning stretch of road. Highway #11, the winding Silver Trail passes through moose habitat and offers scenic views of the Stewart River. It leads to the towns of Mayo Keno. Mayo and Keno were once bustling mining towns. The old mining roads create great hiking and biking trails through a little visited but amazing landscape.
Today, Mayo is a thriving regional centre that serves tourism, outfitting, and mining. Take the time to explore the neighbouring Keno, which has only 20 inhabitants. In Keno the northern mining experience is still fresh, creating an authenticity that you won’t soon forget.
White Pass and Yukon Canada Route
Completed in 1900 during the Klondike Gold Rush, the White Pass and Yukon Canada Route are known as “The Scenic Railway of the World”. Today, travellers have different options to experience a breathtaking panorama of mountains, glaciers, trestles and tunnels from the luxury of vintage train cars.
The railway does not run all the way to Whitehorse anymore. You have several trip options on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. The trips take you past glacial rivers, gorges, and waterfalls for a real taste of the north.
- Board a motor coach at the White Pass Depot in Whitehorse for a trip along the scenic South Klondike Highway.
- A bus-train-bus combination runs Whitehorse – Carcross – Fraser – Whitehorse or
- Whitehorse – Carcross – Skagway – Whitehorse (passport required).
The trips operate between early May and late September each year. The White Pass and Yukon Route is a favourite on many Alaska/Yukon travellers must-see lists.
You will feel like being in another era on this authentic train, as you climb 2.000 feet to scenic places and past spots named Inspiration Point and Dead Horse Gulch on the way. You will get a good look at the headwaters of the famous Yukon River.
Dempster Highway, thrill of a lifetime
The Dempster Highway may be over 34 years old, but it’s still one of the best-kept secrets of the Yukon Canada.
Once you leave the Klondike Highway 40 km east of Dawson, the road follows the Klondike River valley. There it turns north through the Ogilvie Mountains to the Blackstone River. It crosses the Ogilvie River and goes on to the Eagle River which it follows until it turns east through the Mackenzie Mountains to Fort McPherson and on to Inuvik.
The highway design and construction of the Dempster are very unique. It sits on top of a gravel berm to insulate the permafrost in the soil underneath. The gravel pad ranges from 1.2 m up to 2.4 m thickness in some places. Without the pad, the permafrost would melt and the road would sink into the ground.
Driving the Dempster in Yukon Canada
This definitely can be a challenge for some people. Watch out for an amazing variety of several hundred species of birds. The sun shines 24 hours a day during summer. The land around Eagle Plain is a rolling, hilly region. The trees lean in all directions because of permafrost under the soil. Dramatic views are everywhere, and from just about anywhere you can see forever.
The Dempster Highway connects Dawson City with the communities of Tsiigehtchic, Fort McPherson and Inuvik in the Northwest Territory. Inuvik is set in the midst of the huge Mackenzie River Delta which empties into the Arctic Ocean. From here you can travel by boat or plane to other communities in the Western Arctic region including Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, Paulatuk and Sachs Harbour.
Breathtaking scenery and northern wildlife make a trip up the Dempster Highway an experience of a lifetime. There are many points of interest on the way.
At km 403 the Dempster crosses the Arctic Circle.
The highway is open year-round except for short periods during spring thaw and fall freeze-up. Ferries at the Peel and Mackenzie rivers will take you across free of charge from June to October. In winter, ice bridges allow traffic to cross.
Well maintained campsites and roadside services can be found along the length of this 747 km gravel highway. At km 371, the Eagle Plains Hotel provides food, accommodation and a service station to travellers. The communities of Fort McPherson and Arctic Red River also offer a number of essential services.
Take the time to visit the Western Arctic Visitors’ Information Centre located in the Yukon Navigation Building on Front Street in Dawson City. Check road condition reports before departing Dawson City.
Read my article Dempster Highway Roadtrip To The Arctic for more information.
From fall to spring, when darkness comes to the Yukon skies, the northern lights come out. First, you may notice a hint of neon light in the clear starry sky, followed by an explosion of green and soon you will see a display of stunning aurora borealis. Cloud conditions will add to a magical show overhead.
Robert Service made Yukon his home during the gold rush. While he was a banker by day, his fame came with his Yukon-inspired poetry that is world renowned. “Amber and rose and violet” is how he described the colours he witnessed in the Yukon skies.
The Tlingit people tell their own story of the northern lights and talk about the dancing spirits of those who have gone to the above people’s country. Experience it yourself and watch the stunning lights that have inspired generations.
The largely untouched landscape in the Yukon is ideal for activities like river rafting, fishing, hiking, camping, and cycling. The wild rivers of the Yukon are superb for canoeing, whitewater rafting, and kayaking.
Get some unique feel for the northern lifestyle on a dog sled kennel tour. Head out to Ivvavik National Park to take in the incredible sights and sounds of the wilderness.
At Yakhini Hot Springs you can soak or swim in the rejuvenating mineral water, or take part on a leisurely cruise down the Yukon River. Whatever you decide to do, the authentic northern environment is unlike any other.
Many people go to the Yukon for paddling and hiking vacations. There are many websites and books that give information on that. The itineraries below are meant for summer travellers. Winter activities are often arranged through tour operators.
If you only have one week to spend in the Yukon, I suggest you head to Kluane National Park for a couple of days. Enjoy some half-day and day hikes and get a feel for this amazing wilderness out there. Drive back to Whitehorse, “the wilderness city” which is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in Canada. From Whitehorse fly to Dawson City or drive up the Klondike Highway. To drive it will take you a whole day from Kluane/Haines Junction. Spend two or three nights in Dawson city soaking up the history and atmosphere. From Dawson take a day trip up the Dempster Highway to Tombstone Territorial Park.
For a two-week trip, you could spend a few days in Kluane and a few days in Dawson city, as suggested above. With the extra time drive up the Dempster Highway with a stop at the Tombstone Territorial Park. Spend one or two nights in Inuvik from where you can do a day trip to Tuktoyaktuk and Herschel Island.
Three weeks or more
If you have three weeks or more in the Yukon, you have time for other adventures. In addition to the above recommendations, think about spending a few days in the small village of Keno, or head for the Campbell Highway and stop in at the small town of Faro.
Yukon Territories first national park was established in 1972, with the foundation of the Kluane National Park and Reserve. The second Park, IVVavik National Park was established in 1984.
Today, the Yukon has three National Parks and Park Reserves.
- Kluane National Park – 150 km west of Whitehorse, the park contains unclimbed peaks, the world”s largest nonpolar ice fields, lakes, glaciers, and abundance of wildlife. United Nations World Heritage Site and home to Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan (5,950 m).
- Ivvavik National Park – 800 km north-west of Whitehorse and 200 km west of Inuvik, NWT. No road access to the park. Access via charter flight from Inuvik. The park offers high mountains, broad river valleys and endless tundra plus the Arctic seacoast. It is the migration route of the porcupine caribou and is a major waterfowl habitat.
- Vuntut National Park – Bounded to the north by Ivvavik National Park and to the west by Alaska. Access is by aircraft from the village of Old Crow or by canoe. The park has thousands of lakes and ponds and is visited by half a million waterfowl each fall. It is also on the migration route of a porcupine caribou herd each spring. The park is also home to an archaeological site that contains undisturbed fossil beds that date back nearly 40,000 years.
The Yukon Canada has a large network of government campgrounds and day-use areas. The government also maintains several backcountry campgrounds like Tombstone Territorial Park, situated along the Dempster Highway.
Territorial campgrounds offer picnic tables, campfire pits, free firewood, picnic shelter, outhouses and fresh or hand-pumped cold water. Camping is on a first-come, first served basis and there is no site reservation option.
Check out the government park website for more information.
If you prefer other conveniences like power, water, showers, store, the Internet, laundromat or semi-dump etc. stop at one Yukon’s privately owned RV parks or campgrounds.
To find a free camping spot is easy in the Yukon. Unless there is a “No Overnight Camping” sign, you’re safe to park your car or camper for the night. For more on Free Camping and Boondocking check out Backcountry Camping.
Bugs in Summer
Mosquitoes are out in June, July, and August and black flies appear in late August and September. Yes, it is true, there are bugs in the Yukon, but so do we have in other parts of the country. It gets worth after a rain. Pack along repellent or a bug jacket, just in case.
Wilderness and Wildlife
If your passion is the wilderness, it is waiting for you here in one of the world’s last frontiers. Most of the Yukon remains wild. More than 80 percent of the Yukon is wilderness.
A few tips on wildlife viewing
- Early morning and late evening are the best times to see wildlife.
- Be quiet! This increases your chance of seeing wildlife. Once you spot animals, keep your distance.
- Use binoculars.
- Check the area for clues, such as tracks, be quiet and listen. You often can hear wildlife before you see it.
- If you see wildlife on the side of the road and you stop your car, make sure you’re not a hazard to other traffic.
Every year the Yukon Quest runs 1,000 miles between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska, following the historic routes of indigenous people, trappers, traders and early gold-seekers. Teams set out with 14 dogs, one musher, and a loaded sled. Mushers can only get new supply at 10 checkpoints along the route. Mushers care for their dogs day and night, supported by the veterinarian team throughout the race.
People come from all over the world either to watch the quest or to volunteer.
Good to Know
- Yukon Road Conditions, Highway Conditions, Traffic and Transit Information highwayconditions.com
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