4 Days of Whitehorse, Yukon

Just a few days ago, I had an opportunity to go to a conference meeting hosted in the beautiful Yukon and its capital city, Whitehorse. This was my first time visiting this territory, which is the traditional land of the people of Kwanlin Dun, Ta’an Kwach’an, Carcross and Tagish, Kluane, Champagne, Aishihik, Little Salmon and Carmacks, White River, Ross River, Vuntut Gwitchin, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, Selkirk, Nacho Nyak Dun, Liard, and Tetlit Gwich’in. I arrived a couple of days prior to the commencement of the conference and thus had some time to explore around the territory and I absolutely loved it! If you are planning a trip there, or if you are already there on a trip and want to know what to do, this guide is for you! I also hope that people who didn’t have plans to visit this beautiful place, would change their minds after reading this post.

Before you go, make sure you have sunscreen, hiking shoes/boots, flip-flops, hoodies/sweaters, bell, and bear spray packed. You can’t take bear sprays on a plane (not even in your checked baggage), so you have to buy it there (it’s ~$50) unless you are not flying there or if you are very confident in your wildlife encountering skills (if that’s a thing, even). This is for the summer time. I believe winters would be really really cold up there (not that I’m not accustomed to 30-40 below, but just saying), so go prepared if you decide to do this in the winter. Also, just so you know, some of the roads, hiking trails and places are closed during the winter time. Make sure to go online or call the specific places you want to visit before you go. Parks Canada would be my first go-to in this case.

If you are flying to Whitehorse, Air North (Yukon’s Airline), First Air, Air Canada and Condor Airlines have direct flights from most cities (including non-Canadian cities) to Whitehorse. At the time of this writing, WestJet is in the process of launching routes to Whitehorse as well. Transferring from other international airlines to any of these is also possible through various Canadian or non-Canadian cities. Also, you would need a car to drive around, preferably a 4WD, but if you are staying on the main highways, you should be fine with a sedan too. There are a few rental car places inside the airport and downtown. Budget, Driving Force, Fox, and Norcan are some of them.

Now that you are in Whitehorse and have a car to drive, let’s ‘explore’ around!

  1. A day trip to Haines Junction and Kluane National Park: Get your breakfast at the Baked Cafe and then hit the road along the Alaska Highway to get to Haines Junction. If you feel hungry, there are a few options for food here. I have personally tried Frosty’s Restaurant and Village Bakery and Deli and both are really good. In terms of driving ahead and around the National Park, you have two options: drive north towards Beaver Creek or drive south towards Haines. I did both, but not that far. There are a bunch of small airports north and south of Haines Junction that could fly you over the mountains in the National Park and of course, Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan. You could call them beforehand to make sure the weather is good enough for them to fly over the Park. North of Haines Junction, there are short and long hikes. Soldier’s Summit is about 1 km long and Alsek Valley is about 52 km. Don’t worry, there are hikes with lengths in between! South of Haines Junction, drive to the Kathleen Lake and you could do a short hike along the lake (Kokanee Trail – 1 km) and/or you could do any of the longer hikes that go over the mountains as well: the King’s Throne (10 km) and the Cottonwood (85 km) trails are two of those. There are a few hikes along the Dezadeash Lake as well. There is also a hiking trail called ‘Rock Glacier’ (1.5 km) that goes through a bunch of trees and a small mountain and is at the bottom of a used-to-be-Glacier. You could drive down into British Columbia afterwards and/or go to Haines, Alaska. Once you’re done, on your way back, make sure to pay attention to the horses and elks by the road. The elk there have been introduced from Elk Island National Park in Alberta sometime in the 1950s. If you come back before 9 pm, make sure to check out the G&P Steak and Pizza for a drink and dinner.
  2. A day trip to Carcross and Southern Lakes: Make sure your camera’s memory card or your phone’s storage has enough room, as you will be taking a lot of pictures today! Get some breakfast at the Burnt Toast Cafe and head south through Alaska Highway South and then Klondike Highway South to get to Carcross. Before getting to Carcross, make sure to take a peek at the Emerald and Spirit Lakes and if you are not too early, there is also the Caribou Crossing that’s worth stopping by and checking out. Then you are going to get to “world’s smallest desert,” the Carcross Desert. Make sure to do a little hike in the sand, which means you should be prepared to have some sand in your shoes unless you have flip-flops with you. It is a beautiful scene with the desert being surrounded with trees and of course lakes, especially the Bennet Lake, which is one of the reasons for the formation of this desert in the first place. Apparently, the desert is a great skiing location in the winter, too. Once you get to Carcross, make sure to do a walk inside the town and check out some of the businesses there, especially the Matthew Watson General Store, which is the oldest operating business in Yukon (over 100 years of history is in that store, I believe). There are also a few hiking spots around town that you could probably go on if it’s not May or June, as that time is the lambing season for goats and sheep and you shouldn’t disturb them. (after all, they don’t have socks to hang from their hotel rooms, amiright?) I would suggest driving down to Skagway, Alaska if you have the time. Even if you don’t cross the border, it’s definitely worth it to drive down until the border. Make sure to check out the Bove Island and all the awesome scenery on your way. Once you are happy with your drive south, drive back to Carcross and drive east towards Tagish. You will go through and around a bunch of other lakes on your way back. Once you get to Jakes Corner, drive up on Alaska Highway towards Whitehorse. Make sure to check out Antoinette’s Restaurant for your dinner, if you haven’t already eaten something at Jakes Corner (or if you have, but you are still hungry).
  3. Hiking around the Yukon River: Trust me, you are gonna need more room for photos again! Drive or walk to the SS Klondike National Historic Site. Try to do this on a not-rainy day, so that you could get to see the Sun Deck on the SS Klondike. Walk around and on the ship and get a gist of how people used to travel down and up the Yukon River, especially during the Gold Rush. Start your ~16 km (about 4-5 hours) hike from there and go south on the designated trail (Millennium Trail). There is a point where the Millennium Trail merges with the Miles Canyon Trail. If you are tired and don’t wanna continue, cross the bridge at the Robert Service Campground and walk along the other side of the river until you get back to the SS Klondike site (absolutely not recommended, as you are missing the best part of the hike). If you are not tired or if you are, but you want to see why you are doing that hike, continue on walking after the campground and you should get on the Miles Canyon Trail. Continue this trail and make sure to watch for cars, as a part of this hike will be at the Miles Canyon Road. Just before the Canyon, there is a viewpoint that is looking to Ear Lake. Check that out! Once you reach the Canyon, stop and take a breath, you’ve earned it! It is a great scenery as it is with all the other places in the Yukon. Cross the foot bridge, which apparently used to be a suspension bridge and pay attention to the Canyon once you get to the other side, as this location used to be a very important and difficult passage for a lot of stampeders and ship captains back in the day. Continue on the Miles Canyon Trail on the other side of the river until you come back to the SS Klondike site again. There is a map on the City of Whitehorse’s website that shows the trail. However, the instructions there are based on starting the hike from another location. You could walk around the SS Klondike site in the middle of your hike if you want to go with those directions; they are a bit more detailed compared to what I’ve written. That map/document could be found here. Once you are done your hike, check out the Klondike Rib & Salmon for some great food and desserts. If you still have time, make sure to drive to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve through the Klondike Highway North. Be prepared to walk for about 2 hours to see some of the Yukon’s wildlife, all in one place. There are different animals there: muskox, bison, deer, lynx, and fox, to name a few. Once you are done taking pictures and enjoying your time with the animals, drive a few more kilometres to get to the Takhini Hot Springs. Get into the hot water and the tiredness of your hike earlier in the day is gonna go away pretty soon.
  4. Check out the museums around the city: Put your history caps on and learn about the rich history of the Yukon! Start by visiting the MacBride Museum, which is a diverse museum on the Birds and Mammals of the Yukon, the building of the Alaska Highway, the Gold Rush, Boats of the Yukon and much more. They have a few tours of the museum that are done a few times during the day and its included in your admission fee, so if you want, you can call ahead of time and go when there is a tour going on. Visit the Old Log Church Museum next that has a lot of info about how the Europeans and of course, Christians at the time, interacted with the aboriginal people of Yukon. They have tours throughout the day too. If this is your last day, check out one of the many Sushi places for your lunch and drive to the airport. The Transportation Museum and the Beringia Interpretive Centre are within metres of each other and within a walking distance of the airport. If you want to visit both museums, let the front desk at the first one know as they have a deal for visiting both at the same day. Make sure to check out the means of transportation that are on display at the Transportation Museum. When I was there, a retired pilot was there and he was telling me all about how he was flying some of the airplanes that they have pictures or models of at the museum and also about a plane that he and one of his friends had built down in Calgary back in the day! He gave me quite a lot of information and very interesting facts in that short timeframe. The Beringia Interpretive Centre has great videos running at the theatre and also very great information about the geological formation of the region along with the wildlife and animals of the Yukon. In case you are flying early in the morning and you can’t squeeze the two museums by the airport into your schedule, you could either visit them one of the previous days or you could probably do this when you get to Whitehorse, if you have the time the very first day. Oh, and before I forget, world’s largest weathervane is also sitting right in front of the Transportation Museum. Check that out as well and wait for some breeze to see how it works!

I hope you have a blast in the Yukon. The second largest city/town in the Yukon is Dawson City. Just in case you wanted to visit there as well, you could take a flight from Whitehorse or you could drive for about 6 hours to get there. Let me know if you have any comments, additions or anything of similar nature in the comments section below! In the meantime, Go North, my friend, Go North!