Compact, easy-going Whitehorse offers cafés, museums, dining and lodging, making for a great start to exploring this vast territory. It’s the southernmost and major hub when entering The Yukon and serves as the gateway city with Air North, Yukon’s airline service.
Holland America-owned Hotel Westmark was a familiar sight. I stayed here a couple of years back on my northern lights expedition. The Westmark offers a comfortable stay with all the creature comforts plus an on-site restaurant.
It’s also the home of the Frantic Follies, a spirited Yukon-themed vaudeville show with comedy skits and music (nightly, June 1 to August 31).
The Best Western Gold Rush Hotel is also handy for shopping, dining and downtown sightseeing. The rooms are of good size with wifi; other amenities include an onsite restaurant, Gold Pan Saloon, gym and massage services.
One of my favourite Whitehorse dining discoveries is The Wheelhouse Restaurant, located at the Waterfront Station on the south end of town. Toronto born and raised Executive Chef Robert Luxemburger was introduced to cooking by way of his Hungarian parents and honed his culinary skills in Lake Louise, Kamloops, and Revelstoke prior to relocating to Whitehorse.
He creates a menu using locally sourced products alongside a good selection of wine, spirits and craft beer. The historic and fun interior makes this spot worthy of seeking out when in town.
Flight-seeing over glaciers
Kluane Glacier Air Tours whisks passengers high above Kluane National Park, where many of Canada’s highest peaks can be appreciated aboard a Cessna 206 or 207.
The company only takes up to five passengers per tour (from 45 minutes to two hours). Cruise between 5,500 and 7,000 feet (up to 10,000 feet on longer tours) and be awed by the spectacular icebergs, mountains and that ahhhh moment – when your eyes find the first brilliant blue water between the masses of icebergs breaking up from what resembles the edge of civilization from these heights.
Spectacular views of Kaskawulsh and South Arm glaciers, Pinnacle Peak and Mount Kennedy are breathtaking. Longer tours take in Mount Logan (19,545 feet/5,959 meters), surrounded by the world’s largest non-polar ice fields.
Speaking of size, at 22,000 square kilometers, Kluane is large enough to fit three Switzerlands into! It’s also the largest protected area in the world.
All tours depart from the Haines Junction Airport.
Fishing on Kathleen Lake
You can’t beat a late summer morning on the water, especially with this gorgeous scenery! We spent the night at Dalton Trail Lodge, Yukon’s only road-accessible fishing lodge. Their hearty dinner and cozy rooms set the mood for a day on Kathleen Lake, outside Haines Junction.
What might you catch? Arctic Grayling, Rainbow trout, Lake trout and Kokanee salmon, a unique species in that these salmon no longer return to the ocean to complete their life cycle, instead spending their entire lives landlocked in freshwater. This is due to an ice dam that disappeared 150 years ago, breaking the link to their ancestral home.
Former Whitehorse by-law officer-turned fishing guide, Dan decided he needed a change of pace and couldn’t be happier getting folks onto the water and into the fishing spirit.
Gear can be supplied and all levels – from first-timers to pros – are welcome on the trips.
Dawson City/Discovery Days
Channel your inner Gold Rush/Wild West beast in Dawson City, a five to six hour drive north of Whitehorse along the Klondike Highway, loosely following the original winter overland route to the goldfields. Back during the Gold Rush era, the trip took five days via horse-drawn carriages; passengers payed a steep $125 fee to complete the journey.
We spent a few days taking in Discovery Days, an annual week-long celebration in August offering art, music and events — the summer social highlight of a tiny town that’s preserved much of its architecture from those two big years, when people arrived from all corners hoping to strike it rich.
Many buildings in the compact downtown resemble a film studio: get customers in the door with a fancy facade. Once through the door, much of the interior was bland by comparison.
The entire community (pop. fluctuates between 1,800 and 2,000) gathers on Front Street for the Saturday Discovery Days parade.
Klondike Valley Mud Bog racing is held the following day further down the road, under Moosehide Slide. Spectators gather up the hill to watch souped-up monster trucks go for it in a long trench of mud (the rainy afternoon got the dual-track “course” in perfect condition).
Tombstone Territorial Park – Along the Dempster Highway
About an hour outside of Dawson, Tombstone Territorial Park is filled with gorgeous scenery along the Dempster Highway, famous for taking passengers above the Arctic Circle and into Northwest Territories.
The ever-changing light and weather make for a serene and photogenic experience. Check out the Tombstone Interpretive Centre to get a glimpse into some of the flora, fauna and history of the area. Bird lovers take note: there’s over 154 species documented here with 42 confirmed for breeding!
Another few hours on this desolate road and you’ll cross the Arctic Circle, eventually entering the Northwest Territories. I found the scenery here in sharp contrast to busy, built-up Vancouver and now that I’m home, it’s easy to see how a quintessential road trip of this kind makes it onto many travel bucket lists.
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I was a guest of Travel Yukon on this trip. Opinions, as always, are my own.