Yukon Gold: Insider Tips for Seeing Canada's Wildest Place
Gold rush history, pristine wilderness, friendly locals and colourful communities with just enough quirkiness to keep things interesting. These are a few of the distinct qualities that have drawn adventurers to the Yukon for years.
Today, four-legged creatures still outnumber people in these parts, but getting there no longer requires an expedition (although that's still an option). With daily, direct flights from points all over Canada, the Yukon tops bucket lists for its natural splendours.
Travelzoo's resident Yukon expert Dana Skogstad spent many years guiding tour groups through Whitehorse, Dawson City and the backwoods in-between. His experiences have put him under flickering Northern Lights, in close range of bears, elk, moose and lynx, and have given him local bragging rights as a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.
We checked in with Dana on why you should go and what to see — plus, where to strip off your heavy winter jacket for a midwinter plunge.
Why should Travelzoo members plan a trip to the Yukon?
Visiting the Yukon is like immersing yourself in the world’s largest watercolour painting. The landscape is expansive, meaning the opportunities to explore are virtually endless. The people are interesting — the colourful one-percent — and the area has a rich gold-rush history.
What’s your No. 1 piece of advice on travelling to these parts?
Be autonomous — rent a car and hit the road. The area is so large and so full of opportunities for unscripted adventure that you will want to have the freedom necessary to explore at your own pace and stop where you want to stop.
What’s your most memorable experience in the region?
Spending a New Year's Eve immersed in the geothermal waters of Takhini Hot Springs in minus-30-degree weather while my beard froze up. I looked like Santa Claus, and the Aurora Borealis danced overheard.
What should people know about going in Northern Lights season?
Viewing the Aurora is unpredictable, so putting yourself in the best possible situation to view them is key. Spend a few days to increase your chances; try to target times of year that are lighter in precipitation so that the skies have a higher likelihood of being clear. In the summer months, it doesn’t get dark enough in the Land of the Midnight Sun to view the lights. The ‘season’ extends from late-August to April, with my favorite months to visit being October, November and February. Make sure you don’t schedule in any early morning activities (you’ll need to catch up on your beauty rest) but give yourself plenty of time to explore the area during daylight (afternoon) hours so you get the most out of your visit.
What are the other must-see landmarks and activities to check off?
In Whitehorse, visit Takhini Hot Springs, like I mentioned. Explore Kluane National Park and visit the Beringia Centre. Take a Northern Lights viewing tour, learn about the gold rush at the SS Klondike. Take a tour of the Yukon Brewing Company, and be sure to try the Midnight Sun Espresso Stout. If you can time your visit for February, you might be able to catch the start or finish of the Yukon Quest dogsled race. In Dawson City, join the Sourtoe Cocktail Club, visit the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre and the Robert Service Cabin.
FOUR DAYS IN THE YUKON
Use our recommended itinerary to help guide your travel in the region
Upon arrival at the Erik Nielsen International Airport, make your way next door to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. There is no better place to begin your exploration of the North than by following in the footsteps of the mammoths from the Ice Age that once roamed the area. Afterwards, make your way to the hotel to check-in before exploring downtown Whitehorse and enjoying an early dinner. Later tonight, visit Takhini Hot Springs and keep your fingers crossed for a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.
Start the day off right with a visit to Midnight Sun Coffee Roaster’s for a locally roasted cup of coffee, before heading towards the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. The animals here are most active in the first few hours of daylight, and this is a great chance to become better acquainted with some of the local fauna.
In the afternoon, make your way through Whitehorse’s uniquely historic downtown towards the SS Klondike. Here you can learn all about the arduous journey that so many prospective miners made from Skagway towards the goldfields of Dawson. Afterwards, take an opportunity to rest up and enjoy an early dinner.
For this evening, book a Northern Lights Viewing tour that takes you far from city lights and into the Yukon backcountry. With your experienced local guide, you can learn all about the magnetic fields that cause these incredible displays of light from the comfort of a heated viewing cabin. Book a tour that includes photographic assistance and the use of a tripod so that you can come away with great shots of your own.
Today, hit the road and head north in the footsteps of the old Klondike Gold Rushers. Departing Whitehorse, stop in at Muktuk Kennels to experience first-hand the thrill of competitive Dog Racing. Muktuk has helped train several Yukon Quest finalists and is a great place to cuddle some friendly pups before continuing north. Another noteworthy stop is at Five Finger rapids, along the mighty Yukon River. For prospectors heading north, this was one of the most perilous parts of the river journey — so much so that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police offered a bounty for all drowning victims recovered here. Dynamite blasts were used tp make paddlewheel passage possible.
Upon arrival in Dawson City, you’ll pass by the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers before checking into your hotel. For a pre-dinner treat, stop by the lobby of the Downtown Hotel and join the famous Sourtoe Cocktail Club. Order up a tumbler of "Yukon Jack" and join the captain for your induction ceremony. Just remember — "you can drink it fast or you can drink it slow but your lips must touch the toe." To celebrate afterwards, head over to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s to take in a show and soak up some Yukon camaraderie.
Be sure to visit the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre to learn about the rich First Nations history of the Klondike region. Afterwards, stop by the Robert Service Cabin to learn a little more about one of Canada’s most celebrated poets. As you begin your journey home, Service’s famous words are the perfect send-off: “there are strange things done in the midnight sun…”
HOW TO GET TO THE YUKON
You can catch daily, direct flights with Air North, Yukon’s Airline, from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Kelowna, Victoria and Yellowknife. Or, if you’re coming from further abroad, there are a variety of convenient flights arriving in the Yukon via other major airlines such as Air Canada and WestJet.