Yukon itinerary (and a bit of the NW Territories)
We are in the wild and unpopulated north of Canada, which we all fear... For its ruthless wildlife of bears and wolves? No, because of its cold! You have to come in summer to avoid the cold, but winter here has something magical too: the Northern Lights. And also eternal nights, frozen lakes, the tranquility of the towns, etc. But yes, most people prefer to come when there is sun. In summer the sun never leaves the sky. You can have 24 hours of sunshine once you pass the Arctic Circle. In fact, the Yukon is called the Land of the Midnight Sun.
Who comes to the Yukon is by its nature: green mountains, glacial rivers, forests that become more and more low as you climb on the map, inhospitable tundra, but also amazing fields that are filled with flowers in the summer months. And many native animals in all these ecosystems. But the Yukon also has some historical sites... Here took place the discovery of Gold in several rivers (such as the Klondike or the Yukon river), and the Gold Rush was unleashed in 1898, having even been created cities out of nowhere. Where there were no rules or were invented on the fly.
From south to north, some places to visit:
Alaska Highway: Watson Lake to Whitehorse
Kluane National Park and Reserve
Mayo and Keno City
Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk
Note aside: Canoe trip on the Yukon river (or other rivers of the Yukon)
Of this first population in the Yukon, almost on the border with BC, there is an interesting tourist attraction: the Signpost Forest. Back in 1942, when the Alaska Hwy was being built, a worker put up a sign with the distance pointed to his hometown. Little by little more and more guys did the same. Today everyone is free to do it and there are more than 80,000 sign posts! A kind of extravagant museum.
From Watson Lake you can take the Alaska Hwy (the one that most travelers travel) or the Road 4 (Robert Campbell Hwy). I do not know this last one, but I heard wonders of its landscapes. If you have time, it would be good to visit it, either on the way out or on the way back (you can make a loop by taking this road in the way back from Carmacks).
ALASKA HIGHWAY: WATSON LAKE TO WHITEHORSE
Wildlife on the road, powerful rivers, mountains rising everywhere... A delight to travel this road that is gradually closer to Alaska. In fact, most travelers who step a foot on it continue all the way to Alaska instead of turning to the north of the Yukon. Here we are not going to talk about Alaska, it will be necessary to return to describe the itineraries for those lands!
Photo taken from travelyukon.com
The capital and largest city of the Yukon (about 25,000 inhabitants) sits on a valley on the shores of the mythical Yukon river. Created from the gold boom found in the relatively close Klondike river. The center of the city is laid out with straight, perfectly parallel and perpendicular streets, and it does not offer much apart from a couple of nice buildings. The most remarkable things:
S.s. Klondike. It is a shiploader of the time. Today, this magnificent vessel serves as a floating museum that tells many stories of the gold rush and lifestly of that time.
Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center. Research center and museum that studies the history of Beringia. This landmass of 3200 km that begins in the Mackenzie River in Canada and extends to the Kolyma River in Siberia played a crucial role in the migration of humans and animals between Asia and America during the Pleistocene.
Yukon River. The most beautiful of Whitehorse are the walks that have been built on the banks of the river, taking you to wonderful spots. A 40-minute walk from downtown is a very cute and well-priced campsite where you can base yourself during your stay in Whitehorse.
Photo taken from travelyukon.com
The news of the gold found in the Klondike river in 1898 spread like wildfire and many people wanted to come to these distant lands to try their luck. But of course, back then there were hardly any roads in the area... Most of them came from boats that left the US coast to Alaska. Then it was time to walk. This was one of the mountain passes that more gold seekers took, a route of hundreds of kilometers that was going to leave many dead along the way. Ironically, those who made it found many men there... They had taken so long that even transport routes had been created up to the Klondike river.
A small segment of this route has remained as a legacy to all of them, the brave who, moved by greed or by the spirit of adventure, undertook this journey that today is history. The Chilkoot Trail is a 33-mile (53 km) trail that crosses the Coast Mountains from Dyea, Alaska, to Bennett, BC (very close to the Yukon). Most hikers do it from south to north so they can follow the same route as the prospectors. The trip normally takes three to five days and there are several designated campgrounds. The trail is roughly divided into three climatic zones: coastal rain forest, high alpine forest and boreal forest.
It is an extremely popular route, and to prevent the degradation of the ecosystem the US and Canadian Parks Services have created a permit system so that only a maximum of 50 backpackers can start the journey each day.
By the way, Skagway is a nice town to see in Alaska, located on the edge of a sea arm.
KLUANE NATIONAL PARK AND RESERVE
My favorite Park in Canada! Its remote location, extension, low popularity and stratospheric beauty make it possible to enjoy a walk through the wildest nature during days in solitude. In four days I only crossed paths with a couple.
If you are going to make a route with overnight stay, it is mandatory to go first to the Visitor Center, in Haines Junction. There they will give you a Wilderness Permit, a bear canister (to store the food from bears) and a map of your route. It is also recommended to bring a bear spray. If you are not really into hiking there are short routes and even other things to do by car, stopping at viewpoints, lakes and so on. But if you like hiking do not hesitate to make a long route, because this park is a wonder. I recommend the longest one, the Cottonwood Trail, an 85-kilometer loop that starts south of Haines Junction (you can start either at Kathleen Lake or at Mush Lake Road). It is a long one, but quite flat. It goes through mountain passes, dense forests, fields and valleys filled with flowers, sparkling lakes and raging rivers. Most of the route is well signposted, but there are some "conflictive" areas. Another element that adds difficulty is that there are no bridges and you will have to cross two or three rivers that could cover you up to your waist. Dogs are welcome!
But be aware of bears. It is one of the areas with the highest density of bears in all of Canada (there is Grizzly and Black Bear). There are also moose, Dall sheep, mountain goats, different species of birds (including ptarmigan)... You can read all the details about this trekking on the Parks of Canada website: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/yt/kluane/activ/randonee-hiking/iv
Photo taken from travelyukon.com
This town of less than 500 inhabitants does not have much, but it enjoys very cool surroundings, with many beaches on the Yukon river. It is a good stop to get to know a quiet town of the Yukon and enjoy nature.
MAYO AND KENO CITY
These two less traveled populations are quite apart. You have to take a road called Silver Trail that deviates from Stewart Crossing, halfway between Carmacks and Dawson City. They are two pleasant towns with a series of surrounding lakes. Come and explore them.
The adventure on this dirt road is unmatched. This route that starts a few kilometers east of Dawson City takes you to Inuvik, at the foot of the Arctic Ocean. All through pine forests that progressively dwarf, to the point that one is taller than them... And many bare areas of tundra, where only the strongest (and bravest) plants grow at ground level, forming a species of fluffy carpet. The road is stunning kilometer after kilometer. All the 740 km. Apart from hours and hours through a Martian landscape, the milestone of crossing the Arctic Circle is reached, a point from which the sun hardly sets (or appears, in winter). The adventure also includes the passage of two giant rivers (Peel and Mackenzie) in a free ferry service and, in winter, by driving through natural ice bridges. Not to mention the high chances of seeing Grizzlies and other wildlife. There are several viewpoints and lakes to stop, but the mandatory stops are (from south to north):
Tombstone Territorial Park. A giant park of mountains and hills through which rivers meander and beautiful lakes rest. There are several campsites where you can make base for excursions, but you can also make a long route and make wild camping. There are a lot of routes, so here is a link if you want to take a look: http://www.yukonhiking.ca/regions/TombstoneTerritorialPark
Dogs are welcome throughout the Park, always carefully because there are bears lurking!
Crossing the Arctic Circle. Just past Eagle Plains, a kind of service station where many stay overnight, you get to the exact point where the Arctic Circle starts, marked by a sign. Ole! It sounds like a joke, but you get to feel extreme joy! Seldom can you say that you have been so far north... It is the only place where you can get to the Arctic by land in Canada, because there are no more roads that go all the way up in the country. In Alaska there is another route that leads north. Also, this part is especially beautiful on the Dempster Hwy, with some mountains breaking the monotony of the tundra meadows.
Hello Northwest Territories. This "highway" does not only belong to the Yukon, but also to this Territory of Canada. Welcome to the Northwest Territories!
Villages. In the whole journey there are only two small populations, obviously native: Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic. It is interesting to stop in them and contemplate the local life. I hope you have supplies because here everything will cost you an arm and a leg!
INUVIK AND TUKTOYAKTUK
We are out in the sticks, literally. With more than 3,200 people, Inuvik is one of the northernmost cities on the planet. The trip along the Dempster Highway has been worthwhile to reach a place that, although not particularly beautiful, breathes adventure. If you have made it in summer, you will have infinite days, with a sun that will always accompany you. If, on the contrary, you have come in winter you will not even see our favorite star. But surely you will see green lights dancing through the sky. The best thing about Inuvik is that feeling of victory to have reached the finish line. But there are more things to do other than celebrate. For example:
Our Lady of Victory Church. Also called "Igloo Church", this church is the most photographed building in the city.
Mosque. Muslims can also come to pray in Inuvik, which has one of the most northern mosques in the world.
Delta del Mackenzie. Inuvik rests on this delta, and a walk along the banks of the river is one of its main attractions. But please, beware of mosquitoes and the fearsome black flies!
Green areas. There are a couple of trails on the outskirts of the city, but those forests are crammed with mosquitoes and the fearsome black flies too. Difficult to enjoy them…
Great Northern Arts Festival. If you are here around mid-July, you are in luck. You can enjoy a unique native art event, with handicrafts, paintings, workshops and music by northern Canada artists, many of them native. In their paintings full of snow, northern lights, dog sledding and animals like caribou, the way of life of these people is reflected.
There are two campsites in Inuvik. One is outside and the other is two steps from the center. I recommend the latter, because it is well priced, in a quiet area and very close to the river and downtown.
Those traveling up here are now in luck, as in November 2017 the road linking Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk was opened. 150 additional kilometers that will take you to the Arctic Ocean! Nobody can go further north on the map... At least by road. Before the road opening to get there you needed to take a very expensive tour in a plane. There are many options to visit beautiful sites from here, including wildlife reserves. But again always paying a lot. Maybe you can make local friends who give you a ride somewhere...
One of my most beloved places in Canada. Trying to separate emotional ties, Dawson is, without a doubt, a special place to which every traveler should come. Many are just passing through, on their adventure to Alaska, others arrive through the waters of the Yukon River in their canoes, and others are looking for a job to settle down for a while. Here there are many things to do. Located at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon rivers, this town born out of nowhere with the "Gold Rush" that once housed 40,000 people in 1898 is the most beautiful and lively population of the Yukon. Only 1500 souls inhabit it, but in the summer months the population doubles and it is quite animated.
Downtown. Composed of a series of dirt streets with colorful buildings from those crazy years of the Gold Rush. If you concentrate you can see the crowd with their hats, the prostitutes and hear the noise.
Dawson City Museum. This museum gives you a deep insight into the social and mining history of Dawson, the native peoples and the colorful era of the Gold Rush. It is well worth the visit.
Going out at night. Dawson City has lively nights in summer. In addition to a few bars there is a casino. As a crazy element we have the Sourtoe Cocktail. The Downtown Hotel (Second Avenue and Queen Street) serves this unusual cocktail, which features a true mummified human finger. I am not kidding!
Midnight Dome Viewpoint. A viewpoint from which you can see the entire village and the Yukon river. You can go up by car or walk through the mountain.
Yukon River. There are several cool little beaches on both sides of the river. On the city side there is a nice walk parallel to Front Street, with several green areas where locals and travelers lie down to read, chat or have ice cream. The Klondike Cream and Candy is a great ice cream shop, by the way. The other side is wilder and there are only a couple of campsites. You can explore the surroundings of these campsites, which are very cool. Highlights an interesting boatyard that is on the river, the Paddlewheel Graveyard (past the Yukon River Campground). This area is very nice also to come and relax in front of the river. Or try to look for gold in the old way... By the way, if your plan is to continue to Alaska you have to continue here.
Ride the ferry across the Yukon River. In fact, if you are staying in one of the two campsites on the other side of the river you will have to cross in this free ferry to get to the city. But even if you do not stay at one of these campsites and do not want to explore this area it's worth crossing by ferry for the views.
Klondike River. Gold prospectors still come to this river, some professionals but most of them doing it just for fun (or to tell their family and friends they have done when back home). But the best plan is to read a book by the river or observe carefully to see if you find bear.
Canoeing down the Yukon or Klondike River. There are several agencies renting canoes. They will take you up the road, then it is your turn to go downstream, being able to enjoy dreamlike places. Attentive to bears, otters and other fauna. Many agencies will let you take your dog ;)
NOTE ASIDE. CANOE TRIP ON THE YUKON RIVER (OR OTHER RIVERS OF THE YUKON)
It is very popular in the Yukon to make a fluvial canoe trip. Some people have their own boats, but most of us will have to rent one. If you make a trip of one or two days it will not be expensive, but if you make one of many days it will be. The most popular trip is the one that connects Whitehorse with Dawson City, passing through Carmacks. An exciting route of more than two weeks on the Yukon river that will provide you with the most incredible nature of the universe. The downside: the price... If you don't have money and you really want to do it, you can always spend a few days building your own boat. I met some crazy Swiss people who did it! I am kidding, there are many other trips, including some of one or two days. The route on the Yukon river continues from Dawson to Alaska…