Visiting Dawson City, Whitehorse and Kluane National Park
Canada’s Yukon Territory offers visitors the chance to see historic gold mining towns and take advantage of many outdoor activities.
The Yukon Territory is tucked away in the far northwestern corner of Canada. If you decide to explore this untamed frontier, prepare yourself for a real wilderness experience. The emptiness and isolation will be slightly unnerving, at nearly 500,000 square kilometres the Yukon is larger than California but the population is tiny with just 31,000 people. Despite its remote location, getting there and travelling around is simple. This article looks at some places that are worth visiting in this sparsely populated region.
In August 1896 the history of the Yukon was changed forever when gold was discovered along Rabbit Creek, which has since been renamed Bonanza Creek. Word got around fast and by 1898 Dawson City had a population of thousands of souls eager to strike it rich in the Klondike gold fields. The famed American writer Jack London lived near here in the closing years of the nineteenth century and there’s a replica of his cabin right in the centre of town on 8th Avenue, which contains authentic letters and photos. This journey to the far north inspired him to write his most successful novels, Call of the Wild and White Fang.
Surprisingly, this small community has changed very little since then and you might feel like you’ve travelled back in time more than a century. Strolling along the wooden boardwalks one can feel that Dawson City was and still is a town filled with dreams and high hopes. Gold can still be found up here, all you have to do is join one of the companies in town that offer gold panning tours. More serious prospectors will have to check with the Yukon government and find out where they are allowed to pan.
If you’re heading to Alaska, take the scenic Top of the World Highway which connects West Dawson to the small community of Tok. The highway is 187 miles long (301 kilometres).
During the Second World War, the population of Whitehorse skyrocketed as thousands of men poured into the territory to build the Alaska Highway. It has been the capital since 1953 and has 23,000 people. This is a good base to start any day trips to Dawson City, Watson Lake, Teslin or Skagway, Alaska.
While you’re in town check out the Frantic Follies, vaudeville entertainment with a flavour of the Gold Rush days. There are shows every night throughout the summer with music, dancing and sketches. Music lovers should plan to be in Whitehorse in February, when the Frostbite Music Festival makes its annual visit.
If you’re up for some exercise Miles Canyon and Grey Mountain have miles of trails for hikers and cyclists. You should contact the Conservation Society for maps of the area.
Kluane National Park
At almost 22,000 square kilometres this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the St. Elias Mountains, which contains Canada’s highest peak, Mt. Logan (5,959 metres). Alpinists can also tackle other challenging climbs in this area, including Mt. Lucania, King Peak and Mt. Steele.
Or, explore the park on foot. The best time of year to do this is between June and September when temperatures can get up to 28 degrees Celsius. Hikers coming into the park after this period should prepare for snow and temperatures, which can rapidly fall below zero. It will help to have some wilderness experience, since many of the options for hikers don’t follow any established trails. Bring a compass and some suitable clothing (wool and synthetic fibres are the best choices) and always tell a park official where you’re going. Cell phones will be of no use once inside the reserve.
The Dempster Highway
For a northern adventure like no other, head 40 kilometres east of Dawson City and connect to this highway that goes all the way up to the small village of Inuvik, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The total length of the Dempster Highway is 742 kilometres and it cuts through the Ogilvie and Richardson Mountains. Gas and repair services are available in just three places, Eagle Plains, Fort McPherson and Inuvik.