Up here, there’s a story around every corner. Storytelling is a part of the Yukon fabric: from the stories of our First Nations people that have been handed down through the generations to the adventure of the Klondike Gold Rush to tales of life on the frontier both past and present. We’ve gathered some ideas and inspiration for you here that will give you a sense of the possibilities. But we invite you to come and discover your own.
Whether you’re travelling solo, with a loved one, or your entire family, Yukon’s capital city of Whitehorse is paradise for lovers of outdoor adventurer, culture, and prehistoric beasts. Yes, you read correctly, we’re talking sabre-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths. Known as the ‘wilderness city’, it’s the hub of Yukon where exciting outdoors meets great cuisine, live theatre, amazing wildlife, and the world-famous gold rush history. Read on for five memorable experiences you can only have in Whitehorse.
1. Beringia Interpretive Centre
A visit to the Beringia Interpretive Centre is a must-do. The centre houses a full-size replica of the largest woolly mammoth ever recovered and a reconstruction of the 24,000-year-old Bluefish cave archaeological site. Discover the beasts that roamed Beringia before the last Ice Age, from mammoths and the giant short-faced bear, to the steppe bison, and the scimitar cat. Immerse yourself in film, original works of art and exhibits of discovered remains that tell the story of the Beringia landscape, flora and fauna.
2. Whitehorse Fish Ladder
For thousands of years, salmon have travelled over 3000 kilometres from Alaska’s west coast, up the Yukon River, to lay their eggs in the gravel. Once hatched, the young salmon spend almost two years in the river before heading out to the ocean, only to return as adults to begin the cycle again. Visit the hatchery, watch the salmon migration first-hand and see these gentle giants up close – some of them up to three feet long!
3. MacBride Museum
Learn about the Klondike Gold Rush, Yukon’s First Nations, and the ground-breaking events that shaped the territory. MacBride, located in downtown Whitehorse, is Yukon’s first museum, open year-round, offering interactive gold-panning activities and daily demonstrations. The museum recently re-opened with a new, two-storey-high building expansion and new, exciting exhibits.
4. Millennium and Yukon River Trail
Stroll the Millennium Trail past the impressive Whitehorse dam and along the Yukon River to tour the regal S.S. Klondike sternwheeler, the last of its kind to operate on the river, now a National Historic Site. While you’re there, check out the historic White Pass and Yukon Route train station and the hear the fascinating stories of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation people at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. If you’re feeling particularly energetic, you can extend your walk to historic Miles Canyon. To the gold-seekers of 1898, the raging waters of the canyon, now tamed by a hydro dam, appeared like galloping white horses and gave rise to the Yukon capital city’s name.
5. Culinary adventures
For a small city, Whitehorse packs some culinary punch. Check out the diverse cafes downtown, from funky Burnt Toast Café to Café Balzam, a creperie inspired by French cuisine based on locally produced fare. For lunch on the go, make the most of Whitehorse’s thriving food truck scene. Lulu’s Lunch Truck serves outstanding salads and meat pies, Garlic A GoGo offers great Mediterranean food, while cheese lovers can’t get enough of Alligator’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese. For an evening meal to remember, head to Woodcutter’s Blanket for some of the best cocktails in the country. This historic log cabin is hard to miss, with two enormous faux moose adorning the exterior since the 1930s.
6. Fireweed Community Market
One of the best ways to get to know any community is to visit its markets. The Whitehorse Fireweed Community Market is a great place to chat to local artists and producers, and browse the wide selection of hand crafted goods, fresh produce, specialty foods, preserves, spices, and baked goods. You’ll fall in love with Yukon’s authentic, salt-of-the-earth characters, and might even feel tempted to become one yourself! The market is open each Thursday throughout the summer months.
7. Old Log Church
Take a guided tour of the only log-cabin-style cathedral in the world. The Old Log Church Museum showcases Yukon's church-related history, including the building itself, which is the oldest surviving structure in Whitehorse. Listen to the stories of the missionaries and whaling practices, as well as the legendary Bishop who boiled and ate his boots while lost in the wilderness, leaving only the sole behind. Goldrush era poet, Robert famously wrote the Shooting of Dan McGrew for the church’s ladies auxiliary, who were understandably shocked when it was first recited in the church by Service-himself given the themes described in the now classic poem!
The captivating story of the Klondike Gold Rush is alive and kicking in Yukon and the people of this remote, wild territory continue to live and breathe its rich history. Ride the train along the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway and feel the desperate hope of the gold-crazed men and women who risked everything for the chance to strike it rich.
The narrow gauge railway was built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush and is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation shared with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. 120 years since the very first rail journey on the over the White Pass, this day trip from Whitehorse has become a true bucket-list adventure. Read on to learn about the history of this engineering marvel and find out how you can ride the world-famous White Pass and Yukon Route railway during a trip from Whitehorse.
Re-live the legend
As thousands of prospectors made the dangerous 970-kilometre trek along the Chilkoot Trail and White Pass in the late 1890s, it was inevitable that, sooner or later, a cashed-up entrepreneur would seize the chance to build a railway through the White Pass, easing journey to the gold fields.
“Give me enough dynamite and a snoose and I’ll build a railroad to hell!”
Railroad contractor, Michael J. Heney famously bragged he could do the impossible when he joined forces with Sir Thomas Tancrede to build a railway over the treacherous Coastal Mountains of Yukon, British Columbia and Alaska. Started in 1898, with Tancrede’s money and Heney’s skill, this wonder of steel and timber was completed in 27 months by 35,000 men using only hand tools and black powder. The White Pass and Yukon route rises almost 873 metres from sea level at the port of Skagway to the White Pass summit on the U.S.-Canada border in just 32km, accomplishing one of the steepest climbs of any railroad in the world. Built for approximately $10 million to promote the Klondike Gold Rush around the turn of the century, the 108 km narrow-gauge railway remained an important part of the mining industry - transporting gold, silver, copper and lead ore from Canadian mines across the coastal mountain range to Alaskan ports - until it was closed during a period of low metal prices in 1982. The railway found new life six years later as a thriving excursion line serving the cruise-ship industry, drawing visitors from around the world, eager to immerse themselves in this vivid piece of yesteryear.
Day trip from Whitehorse
Board a motor coach at the White Pass Depot in downtown Whitehorse and cruise along the scenic South Klondike Highway to Fraser, British Columbia, where you’ll connect with the world-famous train.
On your route to Fraser, you will stop for a photo opportunity at scenic Emerald Lake, pass by the dunes of the world's smallest desert, Carcross Desert, and pause for 20 minutes at Carcross, where you’ll see some of Yukon’s oldest buildings, dating back as far as 1898, and pick up some tasty treats and excellent coffee from the local café, to take on the trip with you. Once in Fraser, you will board the vintage passenger coaches and gaze out at the panorama of mountains and glaciers as you listen to the historic commentary telling the story of this epic railway. Your 45 kilometre rail excursion will descend over the White Pass Summit into Skagway, Alaska. Traveling slowly through its hair-pin turns, steep slopes and narrow bridges, you’re given a sense of the harrowing reality the prospectors endured for the promise of treasure. The hazards of the unforgiving Klondike Trail of ’98 are worn into the rocks, paying eternal homage to the thousands of souls who perished in their futile search for gold. Once in Skagway, you’ll have 1.5 hours to shop, have lunch, or just stroll around the unique and historic town, before boarding your motor coach for the trip from Skagway back to Whitehorse along the South Klondike Highway, enjoying a higher elevation and different perspective of this beautiful, historic landscape.
Yukon is teeming with wildlife, roaming free through its forests and mountains. In fact, you’re likely to spot deer, beavers, and even bears, simply by walking the trails along the Yukon River in the capital city of Whitehorse. But for a guaranteed, possibly up-close-and-personal encounter with one of these iconic Yukon creatures, head to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve where you’ll find 13 species of northern Canadian mammals in their natural habitats. We’re talking bison, moose, mule, deer, woodland caribou, elk, mountain goats, Canada lynx, and two species of foxes, to name a few.
The Yukon Wildlife Preserve (YWP) is a fully-functioning ecosystem of lush green hills, marshes, steep cliffs and flat-lands spanning 700 acres. Even better than the animals who reside here, are the people who run this incredible not-for-profit organisation. Join an exclusive experience and check out the Wildlife Research and Rehabilitation Centre, where injured animals are cared for until they are ready to be released back into the wild. Find out how the YWP is committed to conservation, rehabilitation and education.
Open year-round, and located just 25 minutes north of Whitehorse, you can walk, ski, snowshoe or bike the five-kilometre viewing loop, or jump on a bus tour with a knowledgeable interpreter. Make the most of unparalleled wildlife viewing and make sure you have your camera ready to go.
Often referred to as the “Patagonia of the North”, Tombstone Territorial Park is just a short drive north of Dawson City.
The craggy, granite peak of Tombstone Mountain, so named for its striking resemblance to a grave marker, is the most recognizable of the peaks that make up the park’s wind-carved mountain range.
It’s a dramatic sub-arctic landscape that offers outstanding wildlife viewing, birding and scenic vistas. One of the best times to visit is during late summer when the tundra vegetation paints the landscape in vivid crimson, gold and red.
The 2,200km2 park lies within the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nations people who have hunted, camped and traded here for centuries.
Today the park is a popular spot for campers and hikers - with day hikes and longer overnight back country trails – as well as photographers and birders.
The outstanding Interpretive Centre is open from May to September and offers walking tours, interpretive displays and special events throughout summer.
Tombstone easily accessed via the Dempster Highway which runs through the park and makes the perfect day trip from Dawson City.
One thing that makes an appearance on many bucket lists is the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. The Yukon’s dark skies offer excellent aurora viewing opportunities from late summer to spring (mid-August to mid-April). To stand under the stars and watch as the lights shimmer and dance their way across the skies is a magical experience.
There are two distinct aurora seasons, each offering a once in a lifetime experience.
Winter aurora viewing can be paired with outdoor activities such as dog sledding, snowmobiling and ice fishing – activities that give visitors a taste of the northern winter lifestyle.
During the fall season, the beauty of the aurora is matched by the glorious riot of colour that comes to the Yukon landscape with the change of season. It’s the perfect time to get immersed in the scenery on a hiking trail, river or road trip. Wildlife tends to be active at this time of the year too, so the chances of seeing some of our fur and feather covered residents is high.
When it’s time to come indoors there are also plenty of festivals and events happening year round, or check out the vibrant culinary scene at a local restaurant with dishes that feature northern flavours.
Of course, for those wanting to escape it all there are the quiet comforts of a cozy wilderness cabin or lodge – the perfect spot for northern lights gazing.
The Yukon can lay claim to many of Canada’s superlatives. And one of those is Mount Logan. The highest point in Canada (and second highest in North America), reaching a breathtaking 5,959 metres (19,550 feet) it also happens to be the world’s largest massif. Named after Sir William Logan, father of the Geological Survey of Canada and a Canadian pioneer in geological sciences, Mount Logan sits at the heart of the world’s largest non-polar icefield. Believed to be 1.6 km deep, the St. Elias icefield is the source of huge glaciers that flow down the broad valleys of Kluane National Park and Reserve.
In addition, surrounding it are 20 of the 25 highest peaks in Canada. Mt. Logan is just one of several peaks in the 5,000-6,000 m (16,400-19,685 ft) height range.
You’ll find Kluane National Park and Reserve in the southwestern corner of the Yukon. With its neighbouring parks - Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park (B.C.), Glacier Bay National Park (Alaska), and Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park (Alaska) – it collectively forms one of the largest internationally protected areas on earth, covering an area roughly the size of South Korea, or about twice the size of Switzerland. The first bi-national park of its kind it’s also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While Mount Logan itself is the quarry of elite mountaineers who come from around the world to challenge themselves, a far more accessible option is to join a flightseeing tour. Or you can experience the park at ground level on one of the many hiking trails or with a rafting expedition on the Tatshenshini-Alsek river system.
Flowing through one of the world’s great wilderness frontiers, the Tatshenshini River is a world-class river roiling with Class III and Class IV rapids. Ranked #1 by National Geographic on their Top 10 Whitewater Rafting trips, the "Tat" is a superb journey trip through Tatshenshini-Alsek Park, one of four contiguous parks that are collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the largest internationally protected areas in the world.
A rafting trip on the Tat is either a raucous one-day whitewater excursion or a multi-day river rafting expedition. Surrounded by mountains, fields of wildflowers and massive glaciers, this lush river corridor provides habitat to a variety of large mammals including grizzly bears, wolves and moose, as well as abundant bird life.
The raw beauty of the area leaves all who pass this way spellbound.
Journeys on the Yukon’s rivers are frequently included in “best of” lists around the world. And with good reason. This is a paddler’s paradise offering world class canoeing, kayaking and whitewater rafting on pristine wilderness rivers.
None are more perfect than the Wind River. A tributary of the mighty Peel River, this Class II mountain river begins in the colour-stained Wernecke Mountains.
Accessible only by air, the Wind River enjoys a rare combination of factors that make it the ideal northern wilderness canoeing journey: it flows through stunningly beautiful landscapes, the alpine hiking from the river is extraordinary, wildlife is abundant, and it’s novice-friendly. It’s also what isn’t here that adds to its charm – no roads and no signs of human settlement – this is one of North America’s truly wild places.
Highlights on a 10-day to two-week trip could include fishing for Arctic grayling, watching wolves, finding fossils or learning about the region’s ill-fated Lost Patrol.
Imagine having to haul a ton of supplies over a treacherous mountain pass. On foot. In the snow.
This was the reality that faced tens of thousands of gold-seekers in 1898 on their way to the Klondike goldfields. The daunting Chilkoot Trail, with a climb of 1,067 m (3,500 ft), some of it at a nearly 40-degree angle, is immortalized in iconic old photographs of weary packers climbing the Golden Staircase to the summit.
Today, hikers can retrace the rugged and beautiful 53 km (33 mi.) trail from coastal Alaska to the shore of Lake Bennett. The route is lined with alpine lakes and century-old Gold Rush artifacts. Co-managed by Parks Canada and the U.S. National Parks Service, the Chilkoot Trail is Canada’s largest National Historic Site. Most people take three to five days to complete the journey.
But today’s hikers have it easy compared to the prospectors. In order to get the mandatory year’s supply of goods over the mountains, the stampeders had to make multiple trips, some of them walking nearly 1,000 miles to transport everything along the 33 miles of the trail. Once they finally reached Lake Bennett with all their supplies, they built boats by hand and waited for the lake ice to thaw before starting the next section of their harrowing journey via the Yukon River to the Klondike.
Kluane National Park and Reserve is a dream hiking destination, offering an alpine and sub-alpine landscape for hikers of all levels; from day hikes to multi-day treks.
The park is over 22,000 km2 (13,670 mi.2) and 82% of it is covered in mountains and ice. It’s home to Canada’s highest mountain and the largest massif in the world, Mount Logan, as well as the world’s largest non-polar icefields.
A hub for wildlife, it’s not uncommon to see grizzly or black bears, Dall sheep, caribou and moose as well as smaller mammals and plenty of birdlife. A profusion of wildflowers bloom during summer and in the fall the aspen forests and tundra create an unforgettable display of colour.
Parks Canada maintains the park in a natural state, with very few man-made structures.
Beginner to intermediate hikers will have easy access to a wide range of trails which are graded according to length and difficulty.
Experienced hikers can journey deep into remote areas where there are only routes rather than trails. These journeys involve no-trace camping and require map reading and navigation skills as well as crossing creeks or rivers without bridges. Depending on the route, they offer views of hanging glaciers, cirques and stunning mountain vistas in every direction. It’s also possible to start some hikes further into the park with a floatplane ride - one such route is the epic 96 km (60 mi.) Donjek which brings hikers to the toe of the massive Donjek Glacier.
The Carcross Desert is affectionately known as the world's smallest desert.
Although this approximately 2.6 km2 (1 mi.2) area looks like a desert, it’s actually a remnant of the last Ice Age. 10,000 years ago this was the bottom of a large glacial lake.
Located just outside the village of Carcross, the arid climate and wind conditions have created sand dunes which provide a unique ecosystem. Adapting to this extreme environment, at least ten insect and several plant species that live here are found in few other places on earth.
This pocket desert is a popular stop along the South Klondike Highway that runs between Whitehorse and Skagway, Alaska.
Did you even know that chainsaw chucking was a thing?
You do now. Chainsaw chucking is one of the many quirky “only in the Yukon” events that happen during the annual Sourdough Rendezvous Festival.
Perhaps axe throwing or flour packing is more to your taste?
Ranked #3 by Reader’s Digest in their list of Canada’s 10 Coolest Winter Festivals, Rendezvous takes place in late February. It’s a chance for Whitehorse to celebrate its frontier spirit and heritage in uniquely northern style.
After months of winter, Yukoners are ready to escape the cabin fever and cut loose at this kind of Mardi Gras in mukluks. It’s a week of wintertime silliness and celebration, with downtown Whitehorse taking on a carnival atmosphere with games, concerts and snow carving, while individuals can test their skills and stamina in northern contests.
Can-can dancers, the world-famous Snowshoe Shufflers (yes, dancing on snowshoes is also a thing), frozen turkey bowling and even a hair freezing competition…no wonder it’s such a favourite of locals and visitors alike.
1,000 miles (1600 km) of grit and determination through some of the harshest and most unforgiving wilderness on the planet. This is the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
Every year in February, when weather conditions are at their coldest and most challenging, this legendary race, which has earned itself the moniker ‘the toughest sled dog race in the world’, is run between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska.
It’s an endurance event that attracts up to 50 dog teams from around the world, made up of one human ‘musher’ and up to 14 canine endurance racers. The Quest trail follows historic Gold Rush and mail delivery dog sled routes that were once the transportation highways of the North.
The race has been run every year since 1984 and takes from 10 to 16 days, or until the last team crosses the finish line. It’s an incredible test of the capacity of both dogs and humans and reflects the strong bond between them. Dramas unfold on the trail daily—teams running neck and neck, racers helping one another out of perilous situations, exhausted mushers seeing apparitions on the trail.
These dogs are elite athletes, and just like their human counterparts are monitored closely during the race by a team of doctors (or in their case, veterinarians!). They are descendants of dogs that thrived during the Klondike Gold Rush and are unmatched in their dedication and feats of endurance – ideally adapted to this harsh landscape.
Media and visitors gather in Dawson City, the halfway point and mandatory layover, to see and hear first-hand the rigours of the race. There are also road accessible points along the race route between Whitehorse and Dawson City where competitors can be viewed.
Giant red and white candy-cane striped tent – 1
Eclectic small northern town – 1
Venues – 6
Hours of daylight – 24
Artists performing – 25+
One of the most eagerly anticipated events on the Yukon calendar is the Dawson City Music Festival (DCMF).
For one weekend in late July, under a warm midnight sun, locals, visitors and performers from across the country gather in this Klondike Gold Rush town for what is essentially one giant summer party. The vibrating dance floor of the main tent is packed with folks gyrating with hoola hoops or with kids hoisted onto their shoulders.
The party spills outside where music mingles with the smell of freshly cut lawn and sizzling barbeques in the open-air beer garden. A nearby market area showcases local arts and crafts as well as food vendors tempting palates with everything from fresh tacos made with local ingredients to cotton candy.
A series of workshops covering music genres that range from indie-pop to brass to folk take place throughout the weekend and offer semi-structured jam sessions and a chance to experience music on a more intimate scale.
It’s story shared by more than a few Yukoners – they first came to the Yukon for a holiday and now they live in a cabin with a couple of huskies. Such is the allure of dog sledding. While you’re certainly free to leave afterwards, you should be warned that it’s easy to get hooked on riding through a magical winter landscape behind a team of excited sled dogs.
There’s something infinitely appealing in leaving the trappings of modern civilisation behind and entering a world where entertainment comes courtesy of four legs. You can start to hear yourself think when the only noise is the sound of sled runners over snow and the occasional dog yap.
The Yukon offers a variety of ways to sample this uniquely northern experience. Several Yukon mushers offer kennel tours, and some offer half-day, full-day or overnight packages. A dog mushing trip is an interactive experience…..you’ll learn the basics of running a team and get to know your four-legged companions. Dog sledding trips also give you the chance to chat with people who have chosen to live the dog mushing life.
Longer adventures are also possible. You can take to a wilderness trail with your own team while getting a real taste of winter life in the north staying in cozy wall tents and getting involved in the care of the animals while on the trail.
It’s also possible to see elite canine athletes in action at the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race that takes place every February.
The Yukon’s pristine wilderness provides the perfect backdrop for some incredible fishing lodges. While a few are accessible by road, many involve a float plane or helicopter ride to get to. But all of them offer world-class fishing on secluded lakes and rivers.
Lodges offer a range of accommodations and facilities – from rustic cabins, to deluxe, all inclusive accommodation with gourmet chefs on hand.
Depending upon the location, fish species can include Lake, Bull and Rainbow Trout, Arctic Grayling, Northern Pike, Whitefish, Dolly Varden, Burbot and Salmon. Experienced guides are on hand to share their favourite fishing spots and techniques, with lodges providing all the necessary gear.
In addition to outstanding fishing, many lodges also offer other activities that can include anything from quad biking to heli-hiking excursions. And because of their remote locations, wildlife viewing is almost guaranteed. Don’t be surprised if find yourself sharing your lake with moose, bears or eagles.
Lengthy summer days under the midnight sun mean that you can fish to your heart’s content even if that means at 2am….there’s always a fish biting somewhere.
Without doubt, one of the best ways to get up close and personal with the Yukon is on a road trip. So pack that mix tape and let’s go explore….
Seven scenic drives can take you from the tundra of the high Arctic to the coastal mountains, from gold-panning to glaciers. All of the routes offer a rare combination of wilderness vistas, wildlife viewing, historical significance and plenty of photo ops. Oh, and a refreshing lack of traffic. Although we can’t guarantee that you won’t have to wait for a herd of elk to get off the road.
Celebrating its 75th Anniversary in 2017, and arguably the Yukon’s most iconic drive, the Alaska Highway was once called “the biggest and hardest job since the Panama Canal”. Constructed in record time between March and October 1942 by a workforce of 16,000, it was built in order to link the US Mainland with Alaska and improve strategic war efforts during WW2. Today it’s a 2,200km ribbon of pavement that passes through southwest Yukon on its journey from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Delta Junction, Alaska.
The Golden Circle is a three day loop drive from Whitehorse that will take you through picturesque Yukon towns and alpine passes to the Alaska Panhandle communities of Skagway and Haines. From there the road heads north into magnificent Kluane country, with its mountain vistas, glaciers and abundant wildlife.
Those with more time can continue north on the Klondike Kluane Loop. From Haines Junction this route follows the historic Alaska Highway to Beaver Creek and then loops through Alaska, returning to Canada via the scenic Top of the World Highway and on into Dawson City. Home of the Klondike Gold Rush, Dawson is packed to the rafters with interesting people, history and things to do.
And from Dawson, it’s a short drive to the start of Canada's only all-season road across the Arctic Circle – the Dempster Highway. This adventurous journey to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories is unpaved for most of its 740km. It’s remote and hauntingly beautiful, especially in late August when the tundra paints the landscape in vivid hues of red, crimson and gold.
Trails have been an integral part of economic life in the Yukon since long before the coming of roads. Local First Nations used them for trade, gold prospectors used them to get to the Klondike, miners have depended upon them and today these traditional routes are undergoing a modern day renaissance as mountain biking trails.
In the communities of Carcross and Dawson City, local First Nations youth are finding employment, purpose and a reconnection with their ancestral lands through the construction of mountain bike trails. Not only is the development of this growing tourism sector having a positive impact on youth, it’s also driving economic growth and community engagement in these small towns. The Yukon receives about 2,500 mountain bikers from around the world each year which creates opportunities for other developments such as the Carcross Commons, a unique retail village featuring Tlingit-inspired facades and totem poles.
The trail developments at Montana Mountain in Carcross and The Dome in Dawson City, added to the existing 700km of trails within the city limits of Whitehorse, ensure the Yukon’s continued growth as one of the world’s most exciting mountain biking hotspots.
Find out more here:
Carcross Teens Develop World Class Mountain Bike Trail
Moose Hide Trails Yukon: A Mountain Biking Story on the Dawson Dome
Boasting twice the national average of artists per capita, the Yukon attracts creative people from around the world. Although it only has a small population, it’s a place that celebrates its artists. And they in turn celebrate the land in which they live. The heart and soul of the Yukon is very much in evidence in the work of local artists. First Nations culture and traditions also feature prominently in the Yukon arts scene.
The Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse is the Yukon’s premiere venue for the performing arts and attracts national and international performers that run the gamut from ballet to comedy. And in just about every small bar you’ll find a local musician performing.
Galleries, artist collectives, local stores and seasonal markets around the territory are filled with the works of talented local artisans.
Published by the Yukon Government, “Art Adventures on Yukon Time”, available online or at Visitor Information Centres, lists Yukon artists and how to contact them and where to find their work.
The Yukon’s calendar is packed with art festivals and events big and small. Some of the larger arts festivals include the Adäka Cultural Festival, Dawson City Music Festival, Available Light Film Festival and the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival.
In the Yukon, art is found around every corner. People just seem naturally inclined towards creativity up here.
The Yukon’s vast wilderness sets the stage for some of the planet’s most challenging contests. Professional and amateur athletes from around the world come to the Yukon to test their mettle, attracted by the adventure of pitting themselves against the environment and the limits of physical endurance.
During the long sunny days of June, more than a thousand cyclists wind their way through the high mountain passes of the scenic Haines Highway in an epic team relay race from Haines Junction, Yukon to Haines, Alaska.
The 250-km route passes through Kluane National Park and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park to the coastal Alaskan town of Haines and it’s not unheard of for cyclists to report seeing a grizzly bear ambling across the road.
On the water, the Yukon River Quest is the longest endurance marathon canoe race in the world, and it attracts some of North America’s top long-distance paddlers. Canoes and kayaks take to the Yukon River in Whitehorse trying to be the first boat to Dawson City, 700 km downriver. The race is open to all comers and even sees a voyageur team of breast cancer survivors, Paddlers Abreast, compete each year.
And for the toughest of the tough there’s the Yukon Arctic Ultra – the world’s coldest and most challenging ultra marathon held each year in February. Competitors compete over a variety of distances on mountain bike, cross country skis or by foot.
The great thing about the Yukon’s endurance events is that they’re accessible to everyone, not just the pro’s. It’s about the personal satisfaction of taking on a challenge and giving it your best effort, no matter what your athletic level.
As our urban areas continue to expand, it becomes more difficult for many people to experience one of life’s simple pleasures – gazing up at star-filled sky. But we can fix that.
From late August to April it’s time to look up. With its lack of light pollution, the Yukon’s dark night skies provide the perfect stage for star gazing. If you time it right you can see the Milky Way strewn across the heavens or watch the northern lights in their mesmerizing dance.
During the day the gentle arctic light plays across the landscape. And at dawn and dusk the mountains are painted with the rosy light of alpenglow. And, like many things in the Yukon, the sunrises and sunsets happen slowly giving you plenty of time to enjoy.
As winter turns into spring, the days grow longer… gaining more than 5 minutes of sunlight per day in March until eventually the sun just no longer sets.
In his poem The Cremation of Sam McGee, the Yukon’s most famous bard, Robert Service, immortalised the phenomenon with the words “there are strange things done in the midnight sun”.
It’s easy to see why 24 hours of daylight might lead some to strange behaviour. And it does sort of make you lose track of time. But who cares? Up here we’re on Yukon time anyway.
All over the Yukon, from late May to early August, you can sit out on the deck of your cabin and read a book all night if you choose. Or go fishing at 2am. Or tee off at midnight and chase a little white ball around a manicured lawn which you may or may not have to share with a local moose. And people do. Just because they can.
Things reach their peak on the summer solstice (June 21) which just happens to be a great day to head up the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Circle, take an awesome selfie at the Arctic Circle sign and watch the sun circle the sky. Above the Arctic Circle the sun doesn’t actually set for days or even months.
As well as bringing us long, long days, the midnight sun also makes for wondrous carmine and magenta skyscapes that last for hours. And that Holy Grail of photographers, the “golden hour”, lasts for hours in the summer.
Eye shades are recommended. But only if you plan on sleeping.
With just over 37,000 human inhabitants in an area the size of California, the Yukon has a lot of space for wildlife. From broad uninhabited valleys to crystal-clear rivers and endless mountain peaks, more than 80 percent of the Yukon landmass is wilderness. Its home to more than 250,000 caribou, 70,000 moose, 22,000 mountain sheep, 6,000 grizzly bears, 10,000 black bears, 1500 polar bears and 284 species of birds.
It’s no surprise then that seeing wildlife is a highlight of a visit to the Yukon. And on just about any road, anywhere in the Yukon, it is not at all uncommon to see wildlife.
More than a quarter of Canada’s grizzly bears live here, making it one of the best places anywhere to see one. Sightings of both grizzly and black bears from the side of the road, while hiking and paddling, or even from the air are common.
Shorter summers in the North mean that grizzlies must be as efficient as possible in preparing for their long winter hibernation. They depend on thick crops of berries and seasonal runs of salmon to fatten up. In an autumn feeding frenzy, a grizzly can eat 200,000 berries in a single day!
One of the most unique bear viewing opportunities takes place at Bear Cave Mountain. In a remote location near the Arctic Circle, thermal springs create a turbulent effect in the river water, preventing it from freezing, creating the perfect habitat for salmon. Grizzly bears are attracted to this bounty and are able to fish much later than elsewhere. Long after the snow starts falling, grizzlies congregate here to feast, which has earned them the moniker “Ice Bears” due to water that freezes in their long winter fur. Visitors tell stories of the ice ‘tinkling like a chandelier” while the bears walk along the waters’ edge. With only a handful of guests permitted at any one time, and exceptional photographic opportunities, it’s a remarkable experience.
It’s not all about the bears though. The Yukon is witness every year to many spectacular wildlife migrations. Watch as thousands of salmon make their way up the longest wooden fish ladder in the world in Whitehorse. On land the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the fifth largest herd in North America, ranges over its vast territory in northern Yukon. The herd can be seen in spring and fall as it migrates along the Dempster Highway corridor from south to north, and back again,
often in groups of hundreds or even thousands.
And during spring and fall the skies over the Yukon come alive with thousands upon thousands of migratory birds as they make their way along the Pacific Flyway. Several of these migrations are celebrated in festivals throughout the Yukon. During the Celebration of Swans at Marsh Lake near Whitehorse, approximately 3,000 swans and thousands of other waterfowl stopover on their spring migration north. At the Crane and Sheep Viewing Festival in Faro an estimated quarter of a million Sandhill Cranes pass through on their spring migration to summer nesting grounds. Tombstone Territorial Park provides habitat to 148 species and the annual birding festival Weekend on the Wing offers an opportunity to see many migratory birds. Environment Yukon offers these as well as other wildlife and bird viewing programs.
Perhaps because of its relative isolation, the Yukon seems to be full of enterprising, inventive folk who have created a vibrant and growing artisan community.
In the Yukon’s thriving culinary scene, local chefs use ingredients grown or harvested from the wild in imaginative dishes that tempt the palate with unique and unusual flavours. Some of those delectable recipes have been included in cookbooks that have won national acclaim. From locally roasted fair-trade coffee to hand-made goat’s cheese (made by a blind cheesemaker!) to chocolate… it’s a foodie’s paradise.
We also have our two micro-breweries. Yukon Brewing, produces award winning craft beers and distilled spirits including one of only two true single malt whiskeys being made in Canada, as well as small batches of Yukon wild berry-infused gins. Winterlong Brewing Company began life when a home brewing couple decided to make their enterprise commercial. They now produce year round and seasonal craft beers. And staying with the alcohol theme, there are two small vodka distilleries as well. But not just any vodka. Our vodka is made with gold. Yukon Shine Distillery is one of only a handful in the world that uses gold nuggets in the filtration process. And Klondike River Distillery adds gold flakes to their hand numbered bottles.
But the story doesn’t end there. Wild Yukon plants are used in herbal preparations and body treatments. One of the leaders in this area, local herbalist Bev Gray’s book “The Boreal Herbal” has won numerous international publishing awards.
And the “Yukon-made” ethic also finds its way into the fashion world. SKOOKUMbrand has won national awards for the design and innovation of their winter anoraks. And Sho Sho Esquiro, from the tiny hamlet of Ross River, is taking her First Nations inspired fashion designs to the world stage in New York and Paris.
New artisanal businesses are emerging all the time in the Yukon, bringing a dynamic and exciting energy to the local economy.