5 Must-Do Activities In The Yukon

There are only a few places on Earth as wild and magnificent as Canada’s Yukon.

The vast territory is about the size of California, and home to fewer than 40,000 people, nearly 30,000 of who live in the historic town of Whitehorse. That means there you are pretty much guaranteed an adventure without crowd—just you and thousands of square miles of forests, lakes, rivers, mountains and plateaus to be explored.

There are plenty of local outfitters who can set you up for a day, week or even month of skiing, hiking, dog sledding, biking, or fishing. Or you can do a bit of research on your own and chart your own adventure. Most people fly into the Yukon by plane, drive, or take the train. The weather is warmest in July through September, but don’t let winter weather deter you—there’s plenty to do both outdoors and inside year round.

A short history of a big place:

Scientists think that more than 20,000 years ago, a land bridge joined Asia and North America. Big, woolly mammoths and sabertooth cats roamed the region; while most of the North American continent was covered in ice, what is now the Yukon was warmer, creating a refuge for people, animals and plants. It’s thought that the earliest inhabitants of the Yukon traveled to the area nearly 40,000 years ago. These ancestors of Canada’s First Nations hunted and fished in this game-rich region.

It wasn’t until the 1700s that Russian traders began trolling the Pacific coastline for future settlements and fur outposts. Russian, French and, eventually American fur trappers soon established trade routes and outposts, but it wasn’t until the discovery of gold just outside of Dawson City in the late 1800s that the area (a.k.a. The Klondike) became nearly a household word.

To reach the Yukon, you can drive up (or down) the Alaska Highway or fly into the capital, Whitehorse.  The motto for the Yukon is “larger than life,” and once you see the massive peaks and vast plateaus, you know exactly what it means. It’s the place of dreams, where dreams of adventure really do come true.

There’s bountiful hunting and fishing, horseback riding, biking, paddling, skiing and even dogsledding. But don’t worry—it is not like you need to go big or go home. There’s plenty to do in the Yukon for people of any age and physical fitness—whether it’s a jeep ride to see animals, an afternoon of fishing, or attempting a new climbing route on Mt. Logan.

1. Explore Kluane National Park

No visit to the Yukon is complete without a seeing Kluane National Park. Saint Elias Mountain Range cuts through the park, with seven of the 10 highest peaks in Canada, including Mt Logan, Canada’s highest mountain. At 19,551 feet, it’s the second highest mountain in North America, after Denali (20,310 feet). There are huge ice fields and glaciers in the park—the ice is nearly one mile deep around Mt. Logan’s base.

2. Visit Yukon Wildlife Preserve 

About a half hour’s drive from Whitehorse is the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. The 700-plus acre property is home to more than 13 species of northern Canadian mammals At the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, you’ll see woodland caribou, Canada lynx, Rocky Mountain elk, mountain goats, Alaska Yukon moose, mule deer, muskoxen (expect love at first sight), wood bison, two types of thinhorn sheep (Dall’s sheep and stone sheep), and both red and arctic foxes.  Plus there are more than 90 bird species, making the Yukon a birder’s paradise.

3. Soak in Takhini Hot Pools

Just 28km out of Whitehorse, Takhini Hot Pools is, in one word, awesome. The hot springs have been in operation for more than a century—that’s 100-plus years of soaking in luxuriously hot water. One pool is a relaxing 97 degrees, while the other about 10 degrees warmer (which is nice when winter temps outside can easily drop to well below freezing). The water is rich in minerals with legendary recuperative benefits. We love the hot springs for end of the day soaks after a long hike or cross country ski.

Plus there’s a new hostel just seconds away from the Hot Springs with kitchens, inexpensive bunks and family rooms. The proprietors of the Takhini Hot Springs and Hostel also own the Yukon Escape Games—the only Klondike themed Escape Room we’ve ever heard about. Participants are challenged with the task of breaking into an old log cabin and stealing the miner’s gold.  It’s a great way for families and friends to spend a rest day while exercising wit and cunning.

4. See the Northern Lights

Those same mesmerizing skies arrive each fall as darkness returns to Yukon nights. You might first see a hint of neon color, then a jagged burst of green, and soon you’re transfixed by shimmering aurora borealis. Dependent on auroral activity and clear skies, every appearance of the northern lights is special and unique.

5. Pan for Gold in Dawson City

In the 1896, prospectors discovered gold in a creek near Dawson City. News traveled fast, and the rush was on. More than 100,000 prospectors traveled to Dawson City. The town quickly took shape, with saloons, eccentric characters, and of course women. You can still pan for gold in the creeks (either on your own or on a tour), and then head back to the saloon for a cold pint and hot meal, just like the miners did more than a 100 years ago. There are guided tours of the town, or spend a few days poking around, visiting the heritage sites, and learning about the town’s glory days.

Tip: Before you go, grab a copy of Jack London’s Call of the Wild and Robert Service’s The Spell of the Yukon. John McPhee’s Coming into the Country is also a great introduction into the life, culture and history of the region.