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16 Best Things to Do in Canada’s Yukon Territory

The Yukon may be the smallest of Canada’s three territories, but its landmass covers an area larger than Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands combined. Many people have been lured to this remote part of the world over the years, from amateur prospectors during the Gold Rush era of the late 19th century to dreamers and outdoor adventurers that want to disconnect from the day-to-day chaos of modern life. If you’re one of them, consider taking part in one or more of these amazing things to do in the Yukon.

Camp in Tombstone Territorial Park Tombstone Territorial Park , Yukon
Credit: Tombstone Territorial Park , Yukon by bigstock.com

Camp in Tombstone Territorial Park

What Is It? During the peak of summer, there aren’t many hours of darkness for staring at the stars, but pitching a tent in the pristine wilderness of Tombstone Territorial Park, with its dramatic mountain and lake views, is still an unforgettable experience. 

Why Do It? Enjoy access to a place unlike any other, with awe-inspiring rugged peaks, hidden valleys, permafrost landforms, and a wide range of unique flora and fauna. Just a few of the animals that call the park home include black and grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, moose and Dall sheep, as well as over 130 bird species, including the beautiful arctic bird known as the Gyrfalcon. As the park has always been a part of the cultural and traditional lands of the Inuit and First Nation people of the Yukon, it also contains more than 70 protected First Nation ecological sites, with items like stone tools, house pits, pole caches, hunting blinds, tent frames and cemeteries uncovered and studied.

Good to Know: Bring some eyeshades so that you can get your beauty sleep, grab a permit (needed in all government-approved campgrounds in the Yukon).

Explore Historic Dawson City Heritage Buildings in Dawson City
Credit: Heritage Buildings in Dawson City by bigstock.com

Explore Historic Dawson City

What Is It? Dawson City is one of the best small towns in Canada, offering the chance to get a glimpse at what life was like during the gold rush when more fortunes were won and lost in the gambling halls here than in the goldfields. 

Why Do It? After gold was discovered on Bonanza Creek in the summer of 1896, a marshy swamp near the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers grew into Dawson City. In just two years, it was the largest city in Canada west of Winnepeg and had a population of more than 30,000. Today, the population is just a little over 1,400.

Good to Know: Take a walking tour and wander the dusty streets with a costumed guide, imagining a frontier of saloons, dance halls and theaters, and perhaps even getting your hands dirty by trying out some of the tools of the trade. As you stand in the midnight sun near the crooked buildings and boardwalks, you’ll also hear tales of the few millionaires that were birthed and the thousands of dreams that were shattered.

Paddle a Canoe Canoeing at Teslin River.
Credit: Canoeing at Teslin River. by © Stephan Pietzko | Dreamstime.com

Paddle a Canoe

What Is It? Canoeing through the Yukon’s remote and vast wilderness is a fabulous way to explore this untamed region. 

Why Do It? There are many different options, including trips along the tributaries of the Yukon River, like Big Salmon, Telly and Teslin with fast-flowing, flat water. During August and September on the Teslin, you’ll see thousands of salmon spawning and making their way upstream as you canoe down. The McQuesten River, suitable for ambitious beginners, offers great fishing for Arctic grayling, and good chances of spotting wolves, moose, grizzly and black bears. 

Good to Know: The Alsek and Tatshenshini rivers are two of the most iconic river trips in the Yukon, offering breathtaking views of glaciers like Lowell and Fisher, as well as the chance to view iconic wildlife.

Watch for Wildlife Moose
Credit: Moose by aaranged via Flickr

Watch for Wildlife

What Is It? Yukon’s vast wild regions, varied ecosystems, and relatively sparse human population make this region a haven for some of the continent’s most rare and impressive species. 

Why Do It? Here, moose outnumber people two to one. Opportunities to see animals can be found throughout the Yukon. Even a road trip brings the chance to view bison, elk, moose and bears while driving the network of highways. 

Good to Know: Getting out of the car and out onto a trail in the parks and wilderness areas is ideal for spotting moose and caribou as well as watching red foxes, marmots, porcupines and pikas go about their business.

Check Out the Yukon Wildlife Preserve Arctic Fox
Credit: Arctic Fox by Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Check Out the Yukon Wildlife Preserve

What Is It? If you want a guarantee of seeing lots of wildlife, you can head to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

Why Do It? It is a unique wildlife viewing area with more than 700 acres with various natural habitats that are home to 10 species of northern Canadian mammals. It offers unrivaled wildlife viewing and amazing photo opportunities. Among the diverse landscapes of steep rock cliffs, rolling hills, wetlands and flatlands, you’ll see wood bison, elk, Canada lynx, woodland caribou, Alaska Yukon moose, mule deer, muskoxen, Dall’s sheep and Stone sheep, and arctic fox.

Good to Know: Visitors can take a guided bus tour, or explore it on foot, reading interpretive panels along the way.

Visit the SS Klondike SS Klondike, Whitehorse
Credit: SS Klondike, Whitehorse by bigstock.com

Visit the SS Klondike

What Is It? When you enter the city of Whitehorse, the first thing you’ll see is a sternwheeler. 

Why Do It? Greeting arriving visitors, it represents an age when the City of Whitehorse was considered the transportation hub of the region, taking miners, their families, and anyone else who wanted to take advantage of the Gold Rush to the Klondike. Shipments downstream from Whitehorse to Dawson, which took just a day-and-a-half to make, typically carried cargo of food and fuel, while upstream ships from Dawson to Whitehorse brought silver-lead ore and took four to five days to complete. 

Good to Know: Today, the SS Klondike, which features more than 7,000 artifacts, is a National Historic Site, and the only restored sternwheeler in the Yukon open to the public.

Climb Mount Logan Mount Logan
Credit: Mount Logan by Wikimedia Commons

Climb Mount Logan

What Is It? Mount Logan is Canada’s highest peak and the second highest peak in North America at 19,550 feet. 

Why Do It? Part of the St. Elias Range in Kluane National Park, it’s the most massive mountain in the world, measured by its base circumference which is twenty-five miles long, rising more than two miles above its surroundings. As such, climbing is not something that just anyone can do. Many experienced Himalayan climbers have exclaimed that they always thought they had seen truly gigantic peaks – until, they got their first glimpse of Logan. As it sits within a very remote area of the park, climbers access it via ski-equipped aircraft or helicopter from Haines Junction, Silver City, and Burwash Landing in the Yukon, and at Yakutat and Chitina River in Alaska. 

Good to Know: The normal climbing season is from late April to early July, though storms can blow in at any time. If you’re up for the challenge and hope to make the attempt, you’ll need to get a mountaineering license at least 90 days before you plan to climb.

Go Mountain Biking St. Elias Lake trail through the forest near Haines Junction.
Credit: St. Elias Lake trail through the forest near Haines Junction. by © Davidrh | Dreamstime.com

Go Mountain Biking

What Is It? More than a few have claimed that the Yukon offers one of the best experiences in North America when it comes to mountain biking. 

Why Do It? The territory is a mosaic of historical trails and jaw-dropping scenery, along with arduous climbs and rapid descents. This is a place perfectly designed for outdoor lovers, and in Whitehorse, about three-quarters of city residents use trails on a regular basis for biking, hiking, snowshoeing, skijoring and running. There are over 400 miles of trails in the Whitehorse area – an insane number given the size of the city. And, with 20 hours of sunlight in mid-summer, there is a ton of time for getting out on the trails too.

Good to Know: The Yukon River trail is Whitehorse’s premier mountain bike trail, swooping alongside high cliffs and bluffs, cutting across hillsides, climbing to magnificent viewpoints and then diving back down. But if you’d like an experienced guide with knowledge of the area, you might want to join a tour to discover the territory’s wildest spots.

Pan for Gold Results of gold panning
Credit: Results of gold panning by bigstock.com

Pan for Gold

What Is It? While you’re in the Yukon, you might want to test your skills (and luck) at getting the gold, just like the old-timers did. 

Why Do It? There are a number of places amateur prospectors can pan for gold, including Claim No.6 on Bonanza Creek near Dawson City, the very site of the original claim that sparked off the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. Maintained by the Klondike Visitors Association, visitors can experience the thrill of discovering gold using original hand mining tools, like a pick-ax, hand shovel and gold pan. You can pan for free, and even keep any gold that you find, though only hand tools are allowed. Bring your own gold pan, or rent one from multiple locations in Dawson City.

Good to Know: If you’re looking for a guaranteed find, Claim 33 Goldpanning & Jerry Bryde Klondyke Mining Museum in Dawson City may not be as authentic, but it does offer guaranteed gold along with instruction on the correct panning technique too.

Join a Rafting Excursion Canadian Outback Rafting
Credit: Canadian Outback Rafting by canadianoutbackrafting.com

Join a Rafting Excursion

What Is It? If you’re looking for a heart-pounding activity out on the water, you can enjoy a unique paddling adventure.

Why Do It? You can head out on the Tatshenshini, Firth or Alsek rivers through a variety of Yukon outfitters, like Canadian Outback Rafting, which offers a 10-day excursion on the Tatshenshini that was named the No. 1 River Trip in the World in National Geographic’s “Journeys of a Lifetime.” It features the best of the Yukon, with the chance to see icebergs, some of the largest and most breathtaking glaciers on Earth and wildlife like Dall’s sheep, caribou and grizzly bears, while rafting through thick forest, magnificent canyons and soaring mountains. 

Good to Know: Participants have the chance to experience once-in-lifetime sights, like a calving glacier and caribou crossing the river.

Go Horseback Riding Yukon Wild horseback riding tours.
Credit: Yukon Wild horseback riding tours. by yukonwild.com

Go Horseback Riding

What Is It? Taking in the impressive scenery and pristine wilderness on the back of a horse recalls the pioneering spirit of a bygone era. 

Why Do It? Outfitters offer guided day and multi-day horseback riding excursion all across the territory. Yukon Wild’s menu includes day and multi-day trips from Whitehorse.

Good to Know: Experienced backcountry guides will take care of everything from tacking up to preparing unforgettable gourmet meals, so that you can enjoy the adventure without all of the work that goes with it, sleeping at night under the stars, in a wall tent, or a working trapper’s cabin – it’s up to you. 

Visit Carcross Carcross

Visit Carcross

What Is It? An hour’s drive south of Whitehorse, between Nares and Bennett Lakes at the foot of Nares Mountain, Carcross is a historic village and top attraction near Canada’s border

Why Do It? It’s home to the world’s smallest desert, measuring just one square mile – the desert is technically just a series of sand dunes as the area is too humid to be considered an actual desert, but heading here is a must, just to see this bizarrely out of place patch of sand in the Yukon. The village itself was once a major stopover and supply center during the Gold Rush, and visitors can explore its heritage buildings on a self=guided walking tour as well as take advantage of outdoor adventures in the area, including hiking and ATV trips. 

Good to Know: You can visit one of the Yukon’s oldest hotels, Caribou, which first opened back in 1898. As a historic hotel with quite the interesting past, it’s said to be haunted, and it’s also been home to quite a few famous characters, like Polly the Parrot—who resided here from 1918 until his death in 1972 and was known for singing opera, drinking whiskey and cursing.

Cast a Line Fishing Lake Laberge
Credit: Fishing Lake Laberge by bigstock.com

Cast a Line

What Is It? The Yukon offers some of the nation’s best fishing.

Why Do It? You can reel in lake trout, northern pike, Arctic grayling, rainbow trout, inconnu, whitefish and salmon, with hundreds of pristine lakes, rivers and secluded fishing holes, most accessible by road. You can also simply cast from the shores of a roadside lake to catch your dinner or take a guided fishing trip where experts will bring you to the best local fishing holes that sit among some of the most impressive scenery. 

Good to Know: The Yukon fishing season runs the last weekend in May through September, and if you opt for a fly-in fishing charter, you can look forward to some amazing angling in waters where you’ll have the fish all to yourself.

Hit the Trails Emerald Lake
Credit: Emerald Lake by bigstock.com

Hit the Trails

What Is It? The Yukon is a hiker’s paradise, with practically an endless number of trails to choose from, no matter what your skill or fitness level. 

Why Do It? The city of Whitehorse alone boasts roughly 435 miles of trails connecting neighborhoods, mountains with riversides and valleys to lakes. Guided access is available via the Yukon Conservation Society in Whitehorse, which offers free themed hikes close to town as well as a daily hike to Canyon City, which allows hikers to follow in the footsteps of 1898 gold-seekers, checking out fishing camps, abandoned buildings and old mining equipment along the way.

Good to Know: If you’re looking for an easy hike to do all on your own, Fish Lake is a 4.3-mile round-trip trek that leaves just outside of Whitehorse, offering gorgeous alpine scenery. Mount White offers a little bit more of a challenge, with a nearly 2,300-foot elevation gain during the 4-mile route, with the reward being a spectacular view of Atlin Lakes and the chance to see mountain goats right off the trail.

Catch an 1898 Vaudeville Show Palace Grand Theatre
Credit: Palace Grand Theatre by Adam Jones, PhD via Flickr

Catch an 1898 Vaudeville Show

What Is It? Dawson City’s Palace Grand, a lavish theater in the wilderness known as the “prettiest little theater north of San Francisco,” played host to a variety of live entertainment, to a variety of entertainment, from wild west shows to opera. 

Why Do It? Opened in 1899, it was a combination of a luxurious European opera house and a boomtown dance hall. Today, visitors can enjoy vaudeville and Victorian melodramas that will take them back to Yukon’s Gold Rush era.

Good to Know: Daily tours recount the dramas and dreams of stars, dancers and miners who were determined to spend their gold dust at all costs. 

Watch the Northern Lights From Inn on the Lake Inn on the Lake
Credit: Inn on the Lake by Inn on the Lake

Watch the Northern Lights From Inn on the Lake

What Is It? If you’re thinking about heading to the Yukon anytime between late August and early April, you might get the opportunity to watch the northern lights. 

Why Do It? By staying at the Inn on the Lake, just a 35-minute drive from Whitehorse, you’ll have the rare chance to view the spectacular display from the comfort of your room, thanks to its far-flung locale. In the winter, you can take advantage of a free set of snowshoes and head out into the wilds, as well as take part in fun activities like tobogganing, ice fishing and snowmobiling.

Good to Know: The inn also offers summertime activities if experiencing Yukon’s winter wonderland is not what you had in mind. A stay here includes kayaks, canoes and mountain bikes. And, all year round, the hot tub and sauna offer a perfect place to relax and soothe sore muscles after a day at play.

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