The Yukon is one of Canada’s three northern territories. It is an area larger than Sweden but with a much smaller population (given Sweden has low population density, to begin with).
It is a wildly beautiful region, with extremely long, warm summer days and extremely short, extremely cold winter days. Exploring this region can be expensive, but very rewarding.
Many of the visitors in the Yukon are traveling to Alaska on the Alaska Highway.
Mackenzie Mountains, Yukon
A Brief History
Long before the arrival of Europeans, central and southern Yukon was populated by First Nations people.
Sites of archaeological significance in Yukon hold some of the earliest evidence of the presence of human habitation in North America.
The volcanic eruption of Mount Churchill in approximately 800 AD in what is now the U.S. state of Alaska blanketed southern Yukon with a layer of ash which can still be seen along the Klondike Highway, and which forms part of the oral tradition of First Nations peoples in Yukon and further south in Canada.
Coastal and inland First Nations had extensive trading networks. European incursions into the area began early in the 19th century with the fur trade, followed by missionaries. By the 1870s and 1880s, gold miners began to arrive.
The increased population coming with the Gold Rush led to the separation of the Yukon district from the Northwest Territories and the formation of the separate Yukon Territory in 1898.
Things To Do In Yukon
Mountain Goat Wildlife in Yukon
Yukon is sparsely populated and has wide-open spaces under a great big sky, ready for outdoor recreation. You’ll be on your own more than in other places as there are fewer tourism businesses, but with some research and planning, Yukon can provide a top-notch adventure experience.
Many of the visitors in the winter come to the North specifically to see the Northern Lights. In the summer, the days are very long (up to 24 hours when north of the Arctic Circle).
If you can’t see them outside, see them inside at the Northern Lights Centre in Watson Lake, which features a northern lights multimedia presentation in a theatre.
Dawson City is the place to go to get a taste of the history of the Gold Rush. The “Dawson Historical Complex” is a National Historic Site encompassing the historic core of the town.
Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall is a touristy relic with can-can shows and gambling.
The Paddle Boat Graveyard has a collection of old paddle boats that you can crawl around in and on.
Lake Laberge, Whitehorse
In Whitehorse, you’ll find sternwheeler paddleboat, turned into a museum, the MacBride Museum of local history, and the Beringia Interpretive Centre about the land bridge from Asia to North America.
First Nations Culture
The Tage Cho Hudan Interpretive Centre in Carmacks and the Da Kų Culture Centre in Haibes Junction showcase the past and present culture of the territory’s First Nations.
The Signpost Forest, at the intersection of the Alaska and Robert Campbell Highways, in Watson Lake has over 80,000 signs to cities and towns around the world.
Seeing the caribou migration near Old Crow is not an easy thing to do, but would be an amazing experience if you can manage to pull it off. The biggest challenge is that it’s expensive to organize a tour by yourself and then paying for it by yourself.
If you are interested then visit Vuntut National Park.
Vuntut National Park
A very undeveloped, no roads or developed trails, fewer than 25 human visitors a year, but more than 200,000 Caribou pass through annually. See above.
Hiking & Camping
In summer, there is hiking, camping, canoeing on wild rivers, and cycling. There is rafting on the Alsek River in Kluane National Park and down the Firth River through Ivvavik National Park to the Arctic Ocean.
You can also hike the Yukon sections of the Trans Canada Trail.
Heliskiing in Yukon
In the winter, you have the option of alpine skiing at Dawson City, Whitehorse or Watson Lake, cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling, dog sled rides, and ice fishing, and fat bike cycling.
Flightseeing Kluane National Park
“Flight-seeing” over Kluane National Park, or tours by airplane, is expensive but can be an excellent way to appreciate the vastness of the Yukon wilderness. It’s only accessible via a flight-seeing tour or on a serious mountaineering or ski touring expedition.
Kaskawulsh Glacier in Kluan
Yukon’s only offshore island, and a possible future UNESCO World Heritage Site because of evidence of settlement by the Thule culture a thousand years ago. Roald Amundsen wintered here in 1905.
Ivvavik National Park
Hiking and rafting on the Firth River, which drains into the Beaufort Sea, and is considered one of the great rafting rivers of the world.
Tombstone Territorial Park
A rugged peaks, permafrost landforms, and wildlife, including sections of the Blackstone Uplands and the Ogilvie Mountains.
Main Towns in Yukon
As the Yukon region is sparsely populated, populations that barely register as a spot on the map elsewhere are “major towns” in Yukon terminology.
- Whitehorse — the capital and largest city of the Yukon
- Dawson City — historic Klondike gold rush town, now a National Historic Site
- Watson Lake — the Yukon’s most southern community, and home of the famous Signpost Forest
- Haines Junction — the gateway to the Kluane National Park and Reserve (pictured above)
- Teslin — home to the Teslin Inland Tlingit First Nations, it has one of the largest Native populations in Yukon
- Carcross — world-class mountain biking on the near-by Montana Mountain, and access to the Carcross Desert, often referred to as the “world’s smallest desert” (pictured below)
- Old Crow — a small village in the north, and the only community in the territory without road access
- Beaver Creek — Canada’s westernmost community
- Faro — a place to see Dall’s sheep and Stone’s sheep, a species of mountain sheep almost unique to the surrounding area, and it has a golf course running through the main part of town
- Mayo — home of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun
- Carmacks — a traditional stopover for travelers between Whitehorse and Dawson City
- Tagish — at the northern end of Tagish Lake
- Ross River — a former mining town, home of the Ross River Dena First Nation
Best Time To Visit
While the average winter temperature in Yukon is mild by Canadian arctic standards, no other place in North America gets as cold as Yukon during extreme cold snaps.
The temperature has dropped down to −60 °C (−76 °F) three times, 1947, 1952, and 1968. The most extreme cold snap occurred in February 1947 when the abandoned town of Snag dropped down to −63.0 °C (−81.4 °F).
Unlike most of Canada where the most extreme heat waves occur in July, August, and even September, Yukon’s extreme heat tends to occur in June and even May.
A number of terms are commonly used in the North:
- cheechako — someone who has spent less than a full year in the North
- ice bridge — a road that crosses a river on ice
- outside — anywhere below the 60th parallel, which is the southern border of Yukon
- parka — a very bulky jacket, a necessity in the winter
- sourdough — someone who has lived in the North for a number of years
- The Yukon — don’t omit the article unless you want to alienate the locals. Only the government calls it “Yukon”
- tree line — the northernmost extent of trees, north of which trees do not grow. The exact extent depends on elevation
- winter road — a road that can only be used in the winter. Usually too wet and muddy in the summer to be passable
Mountains in Yukon territory
Food has to travel a long way to get to the Yukon, so you will not find quite the variety of fruits and vegetables you would in the south, and the prices are significantly higher.
Historically hunting is a way of life in the North and Yukoners still tend to eat a lot more meat, especially wild game, than Southerners.
Whitehorse is a major supply center and therefore despite the small size you will find several chain restaurants and many very nice local restaurants that have diverse menus.
How To Get Here
The only “significant” airport in the Yukon is in Whitehorse (YXY). Air Canada offers daily direct flights from Vancouver. Air North offers flights from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, Kelowna, and, seasonally, Ottawa and Yellowknife.
Additionally, Air North connects Vancouver, Nanaimo, Kelowna, and Prince George, with both Whitehorse and Watson Lake in the Yukon.
In summer, Condor offers nonstop flights from Frankfurt Airport (FRA), Germany.
There are also seasonal flights between Juneau in Alaska and Whitehorse offered by Alaska Seaplanes.
Most goods arrive in the Yukon by road. However, distances in Yukon are bigger than almost anywhere else in the world. It is not uncommon to go over 200 km between very small towns.
The majority of the people traveling through Yukon are driving on their way to Alaska. There are 2 highways into the Yukon from Southern Canada. The Alaska Highway or BC Highway 97 comes from Dawson Creek in the Northeast of British Columbia.
The Cassiar Highway (BC Highway 37) connects with the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16) near Terrace between Prince George and Prince Rupert in Central British Columbia.
In any case, the distance from Vancouver to Whitehorse is about 2417 km. That is approximately the same distance as driving from Vancouver to San Diego.
In winter, the Alaska highway is far more traveled than the Cassiar Highway. There are not enough charging stations along either highway for most electric vehicles to reach the Yukon by road.
Many also come to the Yukon as part of a tour with an Alaska Cruise. Generally, as part of the package, it is possible to include a bus tour of parts of the Yukon. In some cases, it may be possible to stay over in the Yukon for one or two weeks and return on the next cruise.
Others may arrive in Yukon through the Alaska Marine Highway system which operates a ferry from Bellingham, Washington to Skagway in Alaska.
The White Pass and Yukon Route a 3 ft (0.91 m) narrow gauge railroad run tourist trains from Skagway (Alaska) to Carcross. While the original route went all the way to Whitehorse, it no longer does.
There is no scheduled coach service from the South to the Yukon. In summer, some bus tours from Alaska may be available.
A float plane can be handy
If you are not bothered by driving long distances, exploring the Yukon by road can be a great way to see this territory’s natural beauty.
The distances between service stations can be vast; make sure your vehicle is in good condition, and prepare for the worst.
Drive for the conditions and expect to see large animals in the middle of the highway.
Obtain a good highway map of the territory as soon as possible. A free map titled “Canada’s Yukon Highway Map”, found at visitor centers and some service stations, classifies roads into primary (90-100 km/h), secondary (70-90 km/h), and local (50-80 km/h), as well as paved, dust treated, and untreated.
Three times a week, a shuttle bus runs from Watson Lake via Teslin to Whitehorse in the morning and back in the afternoon.
In summer months, a bus runs from Dawson City to Whitehorse and back two to three times a week. Travel time is 7 hours one way.
Charter flights on Alkan Air take you to more than 20 aerodromes in the Yukon. Additionally, a number of seaplane and helicopter companies provide services across the territory.
Yukon Grey Wolf
From the Yukon, you can get to Alaska at either the Beaver Creek border crossing on the Alaska Highway or the Little Gold border crossing on the Top Of The World Highway west of Dawson City.
You can also travel to Skagway, Alaska by heading south from Whitehorse and through the north-western tip of British Columbia.
The community of Atlin in the northwest corner of British Columbia is a very interesting little community that can only be accessed from the Yukon.
The Dempster Highway is the northernmost highway in the world. It begins near Dawson City, goes to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, and ends in Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean. The Dempster is famous for causing tire failures, so come prepared.
November 15, 2020 5:49 pm
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