Yukon, formerly known as the Yukon Territory, is the most western of Canada’s territories and prides itself on the untouched nature visitors will uncover there. Its population is the smallest of any province or territory (just 37,000 people!) but this huge territory lives up to the motto ‘larger than life’. It’s home to the highest mountain in Canada and you can expect stunning landscapes and access to the country’s famed wildlife when you visit. It offers some of the most jaw-dropping scenery you will find on an adventurous holiday to Canada.
Yukon is proud of its First Nations history and is home to some of the earliest evidence of human occupation in North America. Its rich heritage covers fur-trapping and trading, Arctic exploration and Gold Rush era prospecting. Its eclectic history has shaped Yukon and transformed the area and is still alive in its heritage villages today.
Read on to find out our favourite bucket list attractions in Yukon, starting with culture…
Though Yukon is famed for its scenery, the territory has lots to offer those who are looking for a cultural experience. Though it only has one city (that’s Whitehorse – don’t let the name ‘Dawson City’ fool you!), the territory has a rich heritage of both First Nations and European settlements throughout history.
Klondike gold rush
One of the most important discoveries in the Yukon Territory was gold in 1896. An American prospector, George Carmack, along with his wife and brother in law, were travelling south of the Klondike River and came across the Bonanza Creek which is where they made the discovery. After news of this spread, hundreds of thousands of prospectors made their way to Yukon to make their fortune. As such, the Klondike Gold Rush is famous.
There were many routes to the Klondike, whether by the Yukon River, through Alaska (via Skagway and the White Pass Trail or by Dyea and the Chilkoot Trail) or from neighbouring provinces like BC and Alberta. This means that modern-day visitors can follow the trail set by these intrepid fortune hunters. You can still live and breathe the Gold Rush, especially by visiting Dawson City which is full of carefully restored heritage buildings like Diamond Tooth Gertie’s gambling hall. There are even modern gold mining enterprises running today.
You can follow in the footsteps of these adventurers, as a representative from the Trans Canada Trail explains:
“Famously known as the Wilderness City, the provincial capital of Yukon (Whitehorse) boasts a vast network of trails. The Great Trail runs through the town centre and along the majestic Yukon River, leading the way towards many of the city’s main sites and attractions.
“One of these is the SS Klondike, one of the largest 1930s sternwheelers to travel the Yukon River, and now a National Historic Site. The SS Klondike once brought freight between Whitehorse and Dawson City.
“The South Klondike Highway’s spectacular scenery and rich Gold Rush history make it a memorable drive for any visitor to Alaska or Yukon. The road parallels both the route used by 1898 gold-seekers to get to the Klondike and the old White Pass and Yukon Route railway route. You’ll see remnants of old mining structures on mountainsides left behind by mining exploits of decades past. The White Pass mountain summit area coming from Skagway to the Canada-US border more closely resembles a moonscape than any earthly landscape, with twisted trees, small lakes and barren foliage that create truly unique scenery. The South Klondike Highway takes you through the Southern Lakes region of the Yukon, where you can access the communities of Carcross and Tagish.”
Jack London Cabin
Interested in Canada’s literary history? Visiting Jack London’s cabin should be high on your list of things to see in Yukon. The fantastic replica made from the original logs can be found at the interpretive site in Dawson City.
Following the Gold Rush, John Griffith ‘Jack’ London wrote the enduring favourite novel, Call of the Wild in the setting of the Gold Rush and based on his own experience of Dawson City. He entered the Yukon as a 21-year-old prospector in 1897 and turned to writing when he didn’t make it rich. Of course, he struck gold with his stories and the rest, as they say, is history.
Old Log Church Museum
As one of the oldest buildings still standing in Whitehorse, the Old Log Church dates back to the city’s early incarnation as a Frontier Village. Though only a quaint structure, this building is over 100 years old and has served many different purposes throughout that time. Now in its role as a museum, it is hoped to foster an understanding of the work of the church and missionaries in the history of Yukon. It focuses on the Territory’s “spirited” peoples, both First Nation and European.
Summer outdoor activities
To truly behold the breath-taking landscapes Canada offers, you have to see the majestic wilderness of Yukon. Whether you are a keen hiker, biker, walker or road-tripper, there are lots of ways to appreciate the wildlife and countryside of a territory that was, once upon a time, thought of as impassable. Venture into the outdoors and you’ll appreciate how difficult it was for prospectors and explorers to cross the challenging landscape without modern day technology – particularly if you imagine Yukon’s harsh winters!
This lake truly lives up to its name. It is famous for the intense green colour of its water which makes it one of the most photographed lakes in Yukon. Just off the Klondike Highway, the Emerald Lake is really accessible and is a great place to explore. The colour is explained by light reflecting off the layers of marl (a mixture of clay and calcium carbonate) at the bottom of the shallow lake. Described as the gem of Yukon, it is the perfect place to stop for a hike and enjoy the untouched wilderness of Yukon.
Tombstone Territorial Park
For those seeking a real taste of adventure, head into the wilds of Tombstone Territorial Park. Tombstone Mountain is often the goal for those hiking in the area. Beyond its namesake landmark, the park has a lot to offer; Divide Lake and Grizzly Ridge are popular trails that offer a challenge and fantastic scenery.
Though Tombstone Park has a difficult terrain and can feel isolated, it offers an abundance of wildlife, perfect for the keen observer. This may mean you should be aware of black bears and grizzlies in the area. You should also keep your eyes peeled for caribou, Dall’s sheep and moose as well as the 150-odd bird species that reside there.
Winter outdoor activities
The winter in Yukon can be harsh, but instead of bedding down for the season, you should imitate the locals and make the most of the snow. During the winter months, there is still plenty to enjoy in Yukon, from natural phenomenon to sporting events.
What better way to experience the majesty of Yukon than by harnessing the First Nation’s method of transportation? Get yourself hooked up with a husky team for an unbeatable thrill. A harmony between human and dog is exhilarating and the perfect way to experience Yukon’s tundra.
In true Yukon style, the locals have gone one step further and pushed to make it a challenge of endurance and courage. The Yukon Quest is the ultimate dog sled race where up to 50 teams traverse 1,000 miles over a period of up to 16 days. In the true spirit of the North, teams of up to 14 dogs and one musher (driver) must carry their own supplies and are not allowed to accept assistance except at the halfway point.
The Yukon Quest happens in February, often when the terrain is at its most challenging. The race begins at Fairbanks, Alaska and finishes in Whitehorse, Yukon. Stop to watch these human and canine athletes at Dawson City or observe from the finish line and see the completion of this epic test.
View the Northern Lights
In the summer Yukon can experience up to 19 hours of daylight each day, meaning there is not enough darkness to observe the aurora borealis through the summer months. However, with as few as 6 hours of daylight in the winter, the long dark is the perfect time to experience the Northern Lights. Late August to mid-April is the prime time to view this incredible event in Yukon. Whitehorse is often touted as one of the best places in the world to see the aurora borealis.
Attractions for foodies
Though Yukon may appear to be a paradise for wilderness-lovers, it has no shortage of fantastic eateries that will please both the hungry hiker and a discerning foodie. The local population is sparse, with most establishments springing up in Whitehorse as the main city of the territory.
Klondike Rib & Salmon
This restaurant offers both flavour and history, as it is housed in some of the oldest buildings in Yukon’s Capital. Klondike Rib and Salmon offer a taste of the north, with wild game meats, northern ocean fish and homemade desserts. It also focuses on the local element – with a smokehouse onsite, you know their ingredients are of the highest quality and are smoked right at home. Try the house special ribs and salmon that is a combination of maple barbeque salmon skewers and a rack of pork ribs.
Also based in Whitehorse, The Wheelhouse offers favourite dishes with a Northern twist. Try the bison shepherd’s pie for a uniquely Canadian meal. The location on the wharf gives an incredible view from the waterfront patio and is a perfect stop while in Whitehorse.