Bordering Alaska to the west and crossing the Arctic Circle in the north, Yukon Territory is Canada’s wild frontier. In summer, you can bask in 24-hour sunlight and you’ll catch the Northern Lights more than eight months a year. If you haven’t already planned a holiday to the Yukon, here are five experiences that will convince you to book your flights ASAP.
Bask under the midnight sun in summer
From June to July, most parts of the northern Yukon see sun for 24 hours a day. And we’re not talking about a faint glow – these are full-beam rays that illuminate woodland-lined golf courses, rapid rivers and pristine lakes perfect for paddling, as well as back-country hiking and mountain biking trails for 24 magical hours.
National Historic Site Dawson City, a pre-eminent Gold Rush hub known for its colourful frontier-style buildings and a public site where you can pan for your own gold in a creek, head to the Midnight Dome vantage point to watch the sun graze the Klondike Valley around midnight. Continue the evening by enjoying a pint of Yukon Brewing unfiltered wheat ale and a live cancan show at oh-so 1900s Diamond Tooth Gerties.
At Shakat Tun Wilderness Camp, just 220 kilometres west of the capital, Whitehorse, you can sit under the bright summer sky by a campfire with owner James Allen, former Chief and a citizen of the Champagne & Aishihik First Nations.
“Visitors can experience our unique culture and stories of our people, including the spiritual beliefs that have shaped our respected relationship with our land, our water and our animals,” he says.
At the camp, visitors can also hike or bike along old mining roads that wind through the mountainous landscape, or simply relax by the private lake.
Witness the Northern Lights
The Yukon’s long summer days transform into dark winter nights – a perfect canvas for the bold swirls of green and purple that are painted across the sky as electrically charged sun particles collide with the earth’s magnetic field.
Sightings of the Northern Lights here typically happen from mid-August to early April, though peak viewing conditions are in December and January.
Gaze up from inside a luxe glass chalet with floor-to-ceiling windows at Northern Lights Resort and Spa, just 23 kilometres south of Whitehorse. When you aren’t looking for the lights, you can shift into relaxation mode with a hot-stone massage or over a three-course meal heroing local ingredients such as salmon and organic herbs grown in the resort’s garden.
You haven’t really experienced a Yukon winter until you’ve spent some time in the frozen landscape – spruce trees shimmer in the dense boreal forests, the lakes and rivers look like glass and the mountains resemble white castles as everything is blanketed in ice and snow.
At Southern Lakes Resort, just over 100 kilometres south of Whitehorse, you can race over powdery trails and frozen rivers behind a pack of eager sled dogs, follow animal tracks through the forest on snowshoes or skis and rev the engine on your own snowmobile across glistening open plains.
Experience the dreamy autumn landscape
The crisp air, the earth-toned rainbow of vivid red and orange foliage, the migration of wildlife getting ready for winter – autumn here is unlike anywhere else.
One of the best spots to experience it is Kluane National Park – a vast UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak. Hike trails that give way to scenic views of a changing Montane forest filled with aspen and poplar trees. Keep your eyes peeled for Dall sheep, moose, mountain goats and even grizzlies.
Autumn is also a time for berry picking, with blueberries, blackcurrants, cranberries and bearberries all in season. Roam near lakes and rivers and around mossy grounds to find patches – berries are abundant in nature here.
Taste Whitehorse’s wild culinary delights
Whitehorse has the region’s main airport, and it's a great base for wilderness excursions – but it’s also a culinary destination in its own right.
“Menus have a variety of proteins that are a part of our landscape, such as elk and Arctic char,” says chef Klayton McColl of Klondike Rib & Salmon, a charming eatery with a 19th-century pioneer vibe. “Inspirations come from as far back as 1898 sourdough starters and eating fish off your gold pan.”
Given its name, the house special here is no surprise: maple BBQ salmon served on top of a half rack of smoked pork ribs, garlic mash and roasted veg. Leave room for a slice of bumbleberry pie topped with a generous scoop of vanilla ice-cream.
Wayfarer Oyster House brings together fresh seafood (oysters on the half shell, or steamed clams and mussels) and fresh flavours (horseradish, lemongrass, dashi and Thai basil). The Sprucebird cocktail – featuring gin, ginger, lemon, honey and spruce tip bitters – packs a Yukon forest into a cup.
Go on the ultimate road trip
More than 80 per cent of the Yukon is untouched wilderness, meaning driving is the only way to truly get a sense of its beauty and scale.
You can even drive all the way to the Arctic Circle via the Dempster Highway, a 740-kilometre unpaved but well maintained stretch that starts just outside of Dawson City, winging its way past the jagged windswept mountains of Tombstone Territorial Park and beyond the 66th parallel, which marks the official start of the Arctic.
The road is drivable all year (it is maintained during the icy winter months), but one of the prettiest times is early September when the sunlight still lingers and the tundra starts to showcase its fiery fall hues.
The Golden Circle Route showcases turquoise glacial-fed lakes, snow-capped peaks, and charming Klondike towns on an approximately 568-kilometre loop that travels down to Skagway and Haines, Alaska and back up to Whitehorse, passing the outskirts of the mountainous Kluane region.
The Alaska Highway is a road steeped in history and surrounded by beauty – built in 1942 to connect Alaska to the rest of the United States, it took more than 10,000 soldiers working in groups with surveyors to bulldoze the now 2232-kilometre route in 16-kilometre blocks.
Now one of the world’s top bucket list journeys, it takes you from the Rocky Mountains in northern British Columbia, through Whitehorse and along the towering Kluane Front Ranges.