Imagine Canada and what do you think of? Vast wilderness regions. Pristine national parks overlooked by towering mountain peaks, brimming with moose, deer and bears. Empty roads and quiet, scenic towns with more wildlife than people. If this is the Canada you’ve been dreaming of, you might be surprised to learn that the Yukon Territory is the best place to find it.
Towns like Banff enjoy huge popularity thanks to their stunning mountain locations, but visitors may not realise that these resorts can be crowded in the summer. If you really want that true wilderness experience – to be the only person drinking in beautiful river views, or the only car watching a herd of mountain sheep on the highway – then try the Yukon. We love this lesser-known Territory of Canada, and here’s why you will too:
The word “wilderness” gets bandied about at lot. But here, we really mean it. Close to 80% of the Yukon remains pristine wilderness. It’s an area the size of France but with a total population of only 34,000 people. That’s fewer people than live in Eccles! Most of those (28,000) live in the capital city of Whitehorse, which means the rest of the Territory is completely wild, untamed and uncrowded.
You’ve heard of places like Glacier National Park in Montana and the Athabasca Icefields in Alberta, which are home to a huge number of impressive glaciers. But in the Yukon, everything is bigger and better. Here, they have Kluane National Park, which is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also holds the Guinness World Record for the largest non-polar icefield in the world. Some of the glaciers here are 60km long. One of the best ways to take in the sheer majesty is by plane and you’d be hard-pushed to find better flightseeing anywhere.
The Yukon is home to Canada’s highest mountain, Mount Logan, second in North America only to Alaska’s Mount Denali. Impressive stuff in itself, but the Territory boasts many more mountains than that. Within the UNESCO area of Kluane National Park and Reserve are the St. Elias Mountains, which are famed for their glacial lakes, wild rivers and pristine forests.
We think we may already have mentioned it once or twice but we’ll say it again: the Yukon is truly wild. There are only 34,000 people but 160,000 caribou, 70,000 moose, 22,000 mountain sheep, 10,000 black bears, 7,000 grizzlies and 250 species of birds. That’s a lot of wildlife to look out for! You’ve got a chance of spotting Canada’s Big 5 here – bear, wolf, moose, elk, deer – as well as tons of other interesting animals like Arctic foxes, coyotes, wolverines, lynx, muskox, ptarmigan and eagles. There are even polar bears in the Yukon’s Arctic, on the North Slope and Herchel Island.
Forget Scandinavia, the Yukon has one of the longest Northern Lights seasons anywhere. From autumn to spring – which in the Yukon lasts from August to April – you can spot those dancing, shimmering lights in the clear night sky. Much of the Territory is beyond the Arctic Circle and Dawson City lies right under the Auroral Oval, giving you a great chance to spot the lights here. As the Yukon is so far north, the winter days are short (similar to the UK, with daylight lasting from around 9am to 3.30pm in winter) which means more time to spot the aurora.
6. Midnight sun
On the flipside of those long winter nights are those long summer days. Between May and August, the sunlight in this dry region is intense, welcoming in millions of migratory birds and wildflower blooms. On summer solstice (June 21st) the sun doesn’t set at all within the Arctic Circle. So, the further north you venture, the more of the midnight sun you’ll see. The summer is full of festivals and activities and is a great time for driving while the roads are bright and clear of snow.
7. Road trips
The Yukon is a driver’s dream, with iconic drives and scenic roads stretching to all corners of the Territory. The roads are wide open and the traffic almost non-existent, which means it’s easy to drive around and you’ve got a great chance of spotting wildlife along the way. Famous highways include the Top of the World Highway, Klondike Highway and Dempster Highway (which crosses the Arctic Circle). The Top of the World Highway links West Dawson with Alaska – the US State makes a great pairing for driving holidays in the region. The Klondike Highway links Alaska’s port town of Skagway to Dawson City, following in the footsteps of the Gold Rush pioneers.
8. Gold Rush History
Between 1896 and 1899, more than 100,000 prospectors made the arduous journey up the Chilkoot and White Pass mountain trails in search of their fortunes in the Klondike. Many travelled from as far afield as San Francisco, caught up in the fever of the Gold Rush. Most prospectors braved the snowy mountain climbs in vain, but the Gold Rush is well documented through fascinating photographs and stories. Dawson City is filled with Gold Rush history, from the preserved wooden heritage buildings to the saloon doors and cancan dancers of Diamond Tooth Gerties – Canada’s oldest gambling hall.
9. Winter sports
Being so far north, you’d expect the Yukon to have a pretty impressive winter season. And it does. The region has guaranteed snow year-on-year, and while it might not be a ski destination, it offers plenty in the way of winter activities. Dog sledding is part of the history and heritage of the region, and there are plenty of opportunities to mush your own sled-dog team through the boreal forests out of Whitehorse. You can go for a day trip or a prolonged over-land tour, and the same is true of snow-mobiling. For quieter activities you’ll find snow-shoeing and ice fishing in the pristine white landscape.
10. First Nations
The rich heritage of the region spans millennia and there are 14 distinct First Nations peoples in the Yukon. Practically every town boasts an interpretive First Nations centre, so it’s the perfect time to learn more about traditional beliefs and crafts. The artwork here is astounding, from weaving and beadwork to vibrantly-painted totem poles. Festivals like the Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse in the first week of July celebrate First Nations singing, dancing and arts.
See it for yourself
Tempted by this land of rugged, untamed beauty? Thankfully, we offer a host of ways for you to experience the Yukon yourself.
In the footsteps of the Yukon Pioneers
Fly Drive | 10 nights, 11 days
This circular route takes in the culture of the Yukon, from the Gold Rush history of Dawson City to the wilds of Kluane National Park. Explore this rugged and historic region on your own schedule.
Activity Holiday | 6 nights, 7 days
With short winter days and easy access from Vancouver, the Yukon in Northern Canada is the perfect place to sit out under a clear sky and watch the Aurora Borealis. This holiday takes you from Vancouver to Whitehorse to see the Lights.
Yukon and Alaska tours
Fly Drive | 14nights, 15 days
This adventurous driving holiday includes a 1-hour flightseeing tour of Kluane National Park and a full day White Pass and Yukon Route sightseeing tour.
Cruise | 19 nights, 20 days
This magnificent circular tour encompasses Whitehorse and Dawson City in the Yukon before travelling to Fairbanks, the gateway to the interior region of Alaska. With your own tour guide you will enjoy in-depth knowledge into the local area and explore Denali National Park on the McKinley Explorer train. Stay in Denali and before heading to Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. You will depart on your cruise from Seward, stopping at all of Alaska’s most popular port towns before cruising the Inside Passage back to Vancouver.
Cruise | 15 nights, 16 days
Discover the spectacular landscapes, thrilling wildlife habitats, Gold Rush history and expansive national parks of Alaska and the Yukon Territory, on a unique cruising and guided tour experience. Includes a trip to Denali National Park, entrance to Diamond Tooth Gerties and a visit to the Gold Diggers’ Museum in Dawson City.