Yukon’s capital city, Whitehorse, sits proudly between river and mountain and is a great base for your adventure into the wilderness. The city was founded by gold-rush stampeders in 1898 as they made their way up the Yukon River in search of their fortunes, and it was named after the White Horse Rapids nearby. Now it’s a busy city with a friendly, small-town feel, boasting several museums and attractions, a good range of shops and restaurants, and stunning scenery on its doorstep.
With excellent connections, Whitehorse can be easily reached by plane, road or even cruise ship. Its downtown sits on the edge of the Yukon River and is an interesting mix of heritage and modern buildings, housing a good selection of shops, restaurants and services. You can take a walking tour around the city to see some of the more distinctive buildings, such as the marvellous three-storey “sky-scraper” made of logs, the restored White Pass & Yukon Route railway building and the Old Log Church. The city has a strong arts community and there are many galleries and open studios in town as well as regular live music events, festivals and performances
There are several downtown museums and attractions, from the fascinating MacBride Museum - with exhibits on the gold rush, natural history and geology - to the Transportation Museum and the Beringia Centre, which takes you on a journey back to the Ice Age. The historic ship SS Klondike was once a main point of transport between Whitehorse and Dawson, carrying both people and cargo, and is now permanently berthed to the south of the downtown area. A beautiful sternwheeler boat, it has been painstakingly restored and is now open as a museum during the summer months, providing a real insight into the gold rush era.
Of course, one of the prime reasons to visit Whitehorse is for its beautiful, untouched wilderness and you don’t need to go far from the city to see this. A stroll along the paved Millennium Trail which winds its way through the city beside the Yukon River is a pleasant place to begin, while a short drive south of town along Miles Canyon Road beside Schwatka Lake makes for a scenic trip. A viewing area at the top of the canyon provides some a fantastic lookout across the turquoise waters flowing through the contrasting stone walls, while a suspension bridge allows you to cross the river. There are many hiking trails in this area, including one to the long-abandoned settlement of Canyon City.
The city’s surrounding mountains provide some more excellent hiking and biking, from strenuous hikes to the summits and thrilling downhill bike trails to gentler walks on the lower slopes peppered with pretty wildflowers. Kluane National Park is just two and a half hours’ drive from Whitehorse and is also a fantastic place to explore. There are trails of different difficulties to choose from, while the serene landscape varies from snow-capped mountains to dense forest and crystal-clear glacial lakes. The wide range of wildlife to spot includes grizzly bears, and the Yukon Wildlife Preserve to the north of the city also has Canadian animals such as moose, bison, arctic foxes and mountain goats to spot on foot or by car.
During the winter months the days are short and cold but there is still plenty to do, from both downhill and cross country skiing to bathing in the delightful steaming waters of the Takhini Hot Springs. It is also the perfect time to watch out for the mesmerising light shows of the Aurora Borealis.
Whitehorse has a little of everything in the vein of arts and culture, shops and restaurants, history, tours and activities; and it promises a whole lot of something amazing when it comes to vast unspoilt landscapes just waiting to be explored.
Things to do
Top tips for visiting Whitehorse
Top Tip 1
• Downtown Whitehorse is pretty compact and a great way to get to know the city is to take a walking tour. Pick up a map from the Visitor Information Centre and visit some of the city’s most interesting buildings and attractions including the SS Klondike sternwheeler. Look out for the murals painted on the sides of many downtown buildings.
Top Tip 2
• There are a good selection of shops and services in town - head to the weekly farmers’ market for delicious fresh produce, local crafts and live music, or stop by the Sundog Carving Studio and watch the artists at work.
Top Tip 3
• If you are visiting during the winter months, make sure you spend a night or two in a remote cabin or yurt and watch the stunning Northern Lights dance across the dark night skies. Enjoy the lively winter festivals featuring amazing snow-sculptures and fun sports contests, watch the finish of the Yukon Quest international dog sled race in February, or for a little treat, visit Takhini Hot Springs and bathe in the delightfully warm outdoor pools.
Top Tip 4
• Summer brings long, light evenings, perfect for the free concerts in LePage Park, the Storytelling Festival in June and the lively Gold Rush-style vaudeville shows.
Top Tip 5
• For a pleasant trip out of town visit the village of Carcross, just an hours’ drive away. Once called Caribou Crossing, it is a nice place to wander and has a historic general store and railway station. Here you can also explore ‘the world’s smallest desert’ which is an area of sand dunes – once a glacial lake – perched in the middle of the Yukon.
Top Tip 6
• An interesting sight is the Whitehorse Fishway, where you can learn about the fascinating life of a salmon and watch the fish swim the ladder through the dam on their way to their spawning grounds through the observation window.
Top Tip 7
• Stop by Yukon Brewing, which supplies beer to restaurants and pubs all over the city, to take a tour around the brewery and sample some of their seasonal flavours.
Top Tip 8
• If you fancy a short drive out of town or you are heading back from the hot springs, pop into Bean North. A charming little café nestled in the woods with a lovely patio, it serves a wide range of delicious Fairtrade coffees with tasty homemade snacks and meals.