The Yukon first made a name for itself during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-1899, a breathtakingly brief epic that’s been dubbed the last great adventure of the 19th century as thousands of miners, prospectors, and pioneers of all sorts struck out in search of riches in the far north.
The Yukon still retains a sense of remote wildness as the least populated of any Canadian province or territory. Less than 36,000 people dot its vast expanse. In recent years, this perpetual northern frontier has emerged as an incredible place to take an adventure vacation, with its Gold Rush history and strong First Nations culture to wilderness, midnight summer sun and fantastic displays of Northern Lights in the winter.
Here are some of the best ways to adventure around the Yukon.
Go hiking in Whitehorse
The territory’s capital, Whitehorse sits on the banks of the Yukon River. Take a walk along the Yukon River Trail, and then visit the SS Klondike to imagine steaming up its current. Now forever dry-docked, this paddlewheeler was the biggest of the fleet that once navigated the river between the capital and Dawson City to the north.
Those feeling a little more adventurous can head up a dirt road with cliff walls and a sheer drop off to hike the ridge on Grey Mountain above town for views out to distant mountains and the river laid out below. Finish your day with a beer at the Dirty Northern saloon in historic downtown Whitehorse, or dinner at its classier sister establishment, The Miner’s Daughter.
Mountain bike in Carcross
Starting in 2006, Carcross/Tagish First Nations (CTFN) began building trails on Montana Mountain, a spiritual cornerstone that lies in traditional territory of the CTFN. As part of the Singletrack to Success project that employs Carcross/Tagish youth to build trails and reconnect with their ancestral lands, this tiny town has become a fabled mountain biking destination with 25 miles of trail.
Ride Mountain Hero, a stunning epic that includes an eight-mile route to the downhill trail on over alpine passes, past old mining sites, fields of the Yukon’s signature bright purple fireweed, and views down to Nares Lake. Or take advantage of the network of downhill trails on the other side of Montana Mountain, a web of rock gardens, ramps, and berms mixed with flowy routes. Visit Destination Carcross to learn more about the story behind these trails.
Make your mountain biking adventure easy by staying at the luxurious Boreale Lodge just north of Carcross. Staff will shuttle riders to all trails, and guests come home to four-star meals made with local ingredients, with an opportunity to soak tired muscles in the hot tub looking out over the valley or relax in the cozy common rooms.
Take the White Pass & Yukon Route Train
The Chilkoot Trail was first a lifeline between the coast and the interior used by the Tlingit people. As the Gold Rush hit, this 33-mile trail became a route connecting thousands of people from the Inside Passage on the Alaskan Pacific to the headwaters of the Yukon River. Now it’s open to hikers and backpackers on a permit system.
However, you can experience the landscape of this historic route without a grueling hike. Take the White Pass and Yukon Route train, which travels on a railway with origins from 1898 between Whitehorse and Skagway, Alaska. Excursions in these vintage passenger coaches include a round trip, an overnight at Bennett Lake, or a trip retracing the original White Pass route.
Fish and canoe the Southern Yukon
A stay at the rustically luxurious Dalton Trail Lodge on the Alaska Highway between Haines, Alaska, and Haines Junction offers up a host of adventure. The Lodge is located on Dezadeash Lake, and has jet boats, motor boats, and canoes for fishing the surrounding lakes and rivers.
Stay in an oTENTik at Kathleen Lake
Kathleen Lake is a popular campsite at the entrance to Kluane National Park and Reserve, a wild place of jagged mountains, icefields, grizzlies, and jewel lakes. Stay in one of Parks Canada’s new oTENTiks, the latest addition to the campsite. These wall tent-meets-cabin structures come complete with wood stove, wooden decks, firepit, adirondack chairs, cooking tent and picnic table, and comfortable bunks.
Hike the King’s Throne from here, one of Kluane’s most popular day hikes that offers a view out from the park over the lake. Those wanting more of an epic can keep heading up the steep, windy ridgeline route toward King’s Summit for a jaw-dropping view of Kluane’s peaks and valleys hidden behind the mountain.
Take a glacier flightseeing trip over Kluane National Park
Kluane is home to the largest non-polar ice field in the world — but it can’t be seen from the front range. Take a glacier flightseeing tour with Icefield Discovery to get a glimpse of this awesome expanse. A one-hour flight will take adventurers over the massive Kaskawulsh Glacier, spread out like an icy highway on the valley floor.
Those with good timing, likely in June and July, will see towering Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak, and have the opportunity to land at Icefield’s glacier camp.
Live the Gold Rush in Dawson City
Dawson City sprang up almost overnight during the Klondike Gold Rush, boasting 18,000 people by midsummer of 1898. Today only 1,400 people live in this windblown town at the intersection of the Yukon Highway down to Whitehorse, the unpaved Dempster Highway to the far north, and the Top of the World Highway that connects to the vast Canadian territory to Alaska.
The old west feel hits visitors right off the bat, as Dawson is only accessible via ferry from the Yukon Highway. All through the endless light of summer, the town’s colorful rows of old west historic buildings are bustling with people hoping to relive the gritty era of the Gold Rush. You can still pan for gold in many areas, or check out the old dredges that used to chew through the landscape. Be sure to check out Diamond Tooth Gerties for a Klondike-themed experience complete with cancan dancers, table gambling, slots, and convincingly authentic saloon atmosphere.