Located next-door to Alaska, Canada’s Yukon Territory is raw nature with the most breathtaking views. If you’re expecting strip malls and amusement parks, look elsewhere. The sparsely populated Yukon has made its name as an outdoors destination par excellence. Vast patches of wilderness, small frontier towns, indigenous First Nations culture and an exciting gold rush history have attracted visitors to this exotic locale for decades. Allegedly, moose outnumber people 2 to 1 in Yukon, and grizzly bears on the highway are also a common occurrence. From river rafting on the Yukon River to climbing Canada’s tallest mountains to exploring glaciers and waterfalls, Yukon is synonymous with freedom, exploration and unspoiled natural beauty. If you’ve been yearning for an epic adventure into the unknown and a chance to get away from it all, there are few destinations that can match the grandeur of Yukon.
Yukon is one of North America’s oldest continuously inhabited places. It’s thought that the original inhabitants crossed over from Siberia via the Bering Strait. First Nations groups in Yukon are diverse and have historically thrived on salmon fishing and caribou hunting.
Russian explorers first reached Yukon in the 1740’s, followed by their British counterparts in the 1770’s. The British built extensive trading networks, but it wasn’t until the Hudson Bay Company arrived in 1840 that a lasting colonial presence was established.
The late 19th century marked Yukon’s most celebrated era: the Klondike Gold Rush. After the 1896 discovery of gold in Bonanza Creek – one of the Klondike River’s tributaries – hordes of gold prospectors filtered into Yukon from British Columbia, Alberta and Alaska. The newly built town of Dawson became the Gold Rush’s nerve center and the largest Canadian locale west of Winnipeg. Not surprisingly, Yukon was declared an official territory just two years later, with Dawson as its capital. However, by 1906, all the easily accessible gold dried up and with it, Yukon’s economy.
Shortly thereafter, Yukon rebounded as it switched its focus to other minerals including silver and lead. The fur trade helped to develop the region’s nascent tourism industry in attracting big game hunters. The economy received another boost during WWII with the construction of the Alaska Highway, which brought in mining companies as well as tourists, industries and goods. Yukon’s capital was switched from Dawson to Whitehorse in 1953. Since the economic collapse of the mining industry in the 1980’s, Yukon’s main industries are tourism and renewable resource development.
As Yukon’s capital and its most populated city, Whitehorse is the perfect place to start your Yukon adventure. One of the city’s most popular attractions is the S.S. Klondike, one of the largest and last sternwheeler boats built for the Yukon Navigation Company in the early 20th century. The boat currently sits on the bank of the Yukon River, and its interior has over 7,000 original artifacts on display.
Another must-see is the MacBride Museum. This museum outlines the history of Yukon from early First Nations settlement to the present day, with special emphasis on the Gold Rush era and the birth of Whitehorse. Kids will especially enjoy panning for gold and watching historical skits.
The Yukon Transportation Museum covers Yukon’s little-known history as a transportation innovator. Exhibits include Gold Rush-era trains, vintage cars and vintage planes.
If you’re looking to match nature with relaxation, then look no further than Takhini Hot Springs, located about 18 miles north of Whitehorse. Take a soothing bath in the outdoor mineral pools and, if you wish, spend the night at the nearby campgrounds. Right next door to the Hot Springs is the Yukon Wildlife Reserve, which features 10 animal species unique to the Far North. These include moose, muskox, lynx and more.
For one of Yukon’s most impressive natural wonders, take the scenic Klondike Highway and stop off at Emerald Lake. As the name suggests, this lake shimmers with an intense green hue that matches the surrounding forest.
For serious hiking in the Whitehorse area, one of the best options is the Grey Canyon mountain trail. An approximately 3 mile route takes hikers to sweeping views of Whitehorse and the surrounding area. For a more easygoing hike, consider Miles Canyon for scenery, a picnic or to just watch the sunset.
Dawson: Once inhabited by thousands of gold prospectors, Dawson is now a sleepy community with unpaved roads and a welcoming atmosphere. You can see the original wood cabin of author Jack London, whose stay in Yukon inspired him to write, “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang.” The Klondike National Historic Site shows life as it was in 1896 at the height of the Gold Rush. Costumed guides guide visitors through the restored saloon, post office and more.
Scarred valleys around Dawson speak to the once massive gold mining operations that took place. Dredge No. 4 is perhaps the most important relic of the Klondike Gold Rush. Situated on the Bonanza Creek, the dredge is a massive machine that once tore up the landscape. Also located on the creek is the Discovery Claim site, which is where the Gold Rush began. Even though tens of thousands of prospectors once flocked to this site, there’s still actual gold left so it might be worth investing in gold panning. Also be sure to check out the Goldbottom Mine, where guides explain everything from the mining process to staking a claim and selling gold.
Last, but certainly not least, be sure to visit Dawson’s tiny Bet Chaim Jewish cemetery, lovingly restored by volunteers. This tiny plot of land attests to the little-known history of Jewish prospectors in the Klondike Gold Rush.
The Great Outdoors: Tombstone Territorial Park is Yukon at its most primal and majestic. Snow-capped mountains, vast plains, crystal clear alpine lakes, diverse wildlife, breathtaking hiking trails and incredible autumn colors which give this park an almost surreal quality. The park is also a fantastic choice for winter sports such as snowboarding, snowmobiling and skiing.
Kluane National Park, located near Alaska and British Columbia, is home to Canada’s highest mountain – Mt. Logan. Reaching a height of almost 20,000 feet and a bitter low of -49 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s certainly no easy feat to climb. More popular activities in the park include boating on Kathleen Lake, rafting on the Alsek River, horseback riding, mountain biking, fishing, helicopter tours and more. Be on the lookout for (and keep a distance from) the park’s rare animals including grizzly bears, bald eagles and wolves.
If you want to go way off the beaten path, check out Herschel Island Territorial Park. Located just a few miles off Yukon’s northern shore in the Beaufort Sea, this island was once home to native hunters and American whalers. It was also home to traders and headquarters to the famous Mounted Police dogsled patrols. Though the island is currently uninhabited, remnants of its past are strewn throughout. The island is perfect for bird watching, hiking, photos and camping. Note that the park is only open in the summer, where visitors are provided interpretive tours by park rangers.
Finally, no trip to Yukon would be complete without a glimpse of the spectacular aurora borealis (aka the Northern Lights). Located in Watson Lake near the British Columbia border, the Northern Lights Centre uses an IMAX-like theater setting to explain both the science and folklore behind this amazing natural phenomenon. Of course, there’s nothing like seeing the aurora in wintertime with your own eyes, but even if you’re here any other time of the year, you can still watch the fantastic aurora movie.
Daven and Eat: Unfortunately, Yukon has no shuls or kosher restaurants. Reportedly kosher food can be obtained in Whitehorse from any of several supermarkets.
Getting There: Yukon’s largest airport is Whitehorse (serviced directly by Air Canada and Air North), but the most common way to get in is by road. Most people drive from Alaska or British Columbia. Another option is the highly scenic White Pass & Yukon Railroad which departs from Skagway, Alaska and ends up in Whitehorse. Travelling within Yukon (i.e. from Whitehorse to Dawson) is quite a feat as towns are extremely spread out, but if you’re not bothered by the distances then rent a car and enjoy the scenery. Otherwise, Air North is the main regional carrier in Yukon, flying to Dawson and the tiny First Nations settlement of Old Crow.