From bear watching in wildlife preserves and canoeing along the Yukon River, to riding historic railroads, there’s every reason to escape to the wilderness of northwest Canada
The stats are staggering. Around 80% of the Yukon is Wi-Fi free wilderness. Roughly the size of France, it has a population barely matching Monaco's: just 36,000 people. There are, however, more than 160,000 caribou, 70,000 moose, 10,000 black bears, 7,000 grizzly bears and some 250 species of birds. It is the number-one place to escape - and here are the best nine things to do...
They call Yukon’s capital the ‘Wilderness City’. Straddling the Yukon River in far-north Canada, blessed with some of the planet’s cleanest air and surrounded by wilderness mountains, that about sums it up. Whitehorse has an easy frontier-feel, lively bars and a good regional primer in the MacBride Museum of Yukon History, where you can learn about wildlife, First Nations culture and the gold rush days. Explore the wilds on the doorstep – perhaps a hike or bike through Miles Canyon – then soothe your muscles in the mineral-rich pools at Takhini Hot Springs.
Near Whitehorse, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve offers a unique chance to see some of the country’s most charismatic creatures up close. The large preserve cares for injured wild animals in their natural habitats, with the aim of releasing healthy individuals back into the wild. Follow the loop trail by bus, skis, snowshoes or on foot to encounter the 13 species of Arctic and boreal animals, including caribou, elk, bison and lynx.
In 1896, after some shiny yellow stuff was found in Bonanza Creek, a nearby patch of moose pasture turned into a metropolis virtually overnight. The Klondike Gold Rush brought some 30,000 fortune-seekers to what became Dawson City. And today, as you walk Dawson’s boardwalks, browse the wood-fronted stores, pootle along the river by paddlesteamer and play a hand at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s gambling hall, it seems little has changed since. If you’re feeling real lucky, head to Goldbottom Mine, part of a once-thriving prospecting community, to learn about mining life and try panning for your own fortune – you get to keep any gold you find!
Is there a more classic Canadian experience than paddling this mighty waterway in your own canoe? The Yukon River, which runs for over 3,000km from British Columbia to the Bering Sea, is both natural marvel and historic artery – it was integral to transporting supplies and stampeders during the Klondike Gold Rush. In around two weeks you could make the epic stampeder-style voyage all the way from Whitehorse to Dawson City, via lakes, spruce forest, former trading outposts and excellent fishing spots. Even in a day you can get a sense of life on the water: try paddling from Whitehorse to the confluence of the Takhini River or through rugged Miles Canyon.
It’s hard to grasp the scale of Kluane National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed wilderness is one of North America's most awe-inspiring preserves, encompassing enormous icefields, glacial lakes, wild rivers, untouched forests and the country’s highest mountains, topping out at 5,959m Mount Logan. Driving the Alaska Highway will get you close, and there are spectacular day hikes that inch into the park, with trails running alongside streams, up hillsides and amid mountain goat, moose and bears. However, for a jaw-dropping overview, soar above in a tiny plane to look down on the swirling tongues of ice, crystal-clear rivers and the snow-cloaked peaks of this human-untouched land.
Only a 90-minute drive from Dawson City, and a few clicks south of the Arctic Circle, Tombstone Territorial Park is both relatively accessible and utterly wild. The terrain is distinctive: a mix of permafrost landforms and rugged peaks said to look like giant gravestones. There’s plenty of life to spot here though, including caribou, moose, sheep, bears and wolves. There’s also a rich seam of First Nations culture. The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in peoples have roamed this landscape for thousands of years and there are more than 70 protected archaeological sites within the park, from their old hunting blinds to their cemeteries. Follow trails, with or without a guide, to look for wildlife and First Nations history.
Following the 1896 gold rush, the narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Railroad was quickly constructed through the seemingly impenetrable Coastal Mountains. It necessitated tunnels, trestles, grades of up to 3.9% and sharp cliff-edge bends; it climbs almost 1,000m in its first 20 miles. The railroad still runs today, between the Alaskan port of Skagway and the Yukon town of Carcross, passing waterfalls, glaciers and the glittering waters of Lake Bennett, once the site of a bustling village of hopeful prospectors. It’s both a scenic and atmospheric journey, just don’t forget your passport – the line’s highest point, 873m White Pass, is also the United States/Canada border.
The Yukon is a driver’s dream. Well maintained, largely empty and hugely dramatic highways penetrate the province, linking historic communities and expanses of wilderness. Take the Dempster Highway, which runs between Dawson City and Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. It’s Canada’s only all-weather road to cross the Arctic Circle, passing hills and mountains, bogs and streams, vast numbers of migrating caribou, and tundra that blooms with wildflowers in summer and blazes red in the fall.
Mother Nature smiles on the skies of the Yukon. In summer, especially May to August, the light doesn’t really quit. This is the land of the midnight sun, where you can trek, bike, paddle and explore into the small hours. That’s more usable daytime for your dollar. Then, from autumn to spring, the skies start to darken, providing an ideal black canvas for the northern lights to come out to play. With so little settlement and light pollution, the whole province provides good aurora viewing – simply leave the ‘big city’ of Whitehorse and look up.