“They wanted the gold and they sought it,” famed Yukon poet Robert W. Service once wrote about the thousands of fortune-seekers who descended upon the westernmost of Canada’s three northern territories during the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush. Today, visitors to Yukon Territory are far more likely to seek either peaceful relaxation or unbridled adventure in one of North America’s most sparsely populated regions.
About two-thirds of the 33,000 people scattered across this vast area live in its capital, Whitehorse. Yukon Territory’s second largest settlement, Dawson City, has less than 2,000 permanent residents, a far cry from their peak years as not only the largest Klondike Gold Rush boom town, but also Canada’s most populous community west of Winnipeg. Dawson City’s proud past, however, remains very much evident in the gold nuggets displayed at many of its shops, buildings which have remained unchanged in over a century, and panning expeditions still take place at the Bonanza Creek where it all began.
Most other Yukon Territory attractions stand far from any major communities. No Canadian mountain is taller than Mount Logan, which towers 19,550 feet over Kluane National Park. This wilderness retreat is best explored on horseback or bike in summer, cross-country skiing or snowmobiling in winter or aboard a spectacular aerial tour throughout the year. The rugged 33-mile long Chilkoot Trail, once the only way to travel through Yukon Territory during the Klondike Gold Rush, is merely the most famous of the region’s numerous hiking trails.
Most hotels are located in Whitehorse or Dawson City, except for isolated hunting or fishing lodges which can only be reached by bush or float planes. Advance reservations are strongly recommended during the busy summer season. Although some are closed altogether in winter, many lodges offer special Northern Lights packages during the territory’s darkest and coldest season. Camping is permitted only on officially sanctioned private or government campgrounds, and not recommended during colder weather. Temperatures in the darkest parts of winter can reach -22-degrees F, so pack warm if you plan on getting there anytime between
The climate of this region is harsh. It is famous for its sub-arctic conditions, but there are surprising temperature and weather variations throughout the year - in fact, the Yukon is listed as one of Canada's hottest summer spots, reaching temperatures as high as 86-degrees F. But, during winter, prepare for some pretty savage colds. The upside to these frigid conditions is that Ski season lasts well into May and starts very early and the Northern lights are only visible in winter. Many visitors try to come to the Yukon Territory in early fall and late spring to avoid the bitter cold of winter and summer mosquitos, but most of the attractions are open in summer (especially those in Dawson City).
Getting to the Yukon Territory is far easier today than during the Gold Rush days. Flights from across western Canada, the United States, and as far away as Frankfurt regularly land at Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport. Yukon’s largest air hub also handles several smaller float and bush planes serving the region’s most isolated northern communities. A frequent stop on Alaskan cruises and the breathtaking White Pass and Yukon Route, if you have the time, the trip between Whitehorse and Skagway, Alaska is an unforgettable rail journey.
Although road travel across the Yukon Territory has been much easier since the 1942 completion of the Alaska Highway, driving on this vast territory’s isolated streets may appear daunting to motorists. However, those brave enough and prepared to traverse the Alaska and Dempster highways will be rewarded with some of the most breathtaking landscapes surrounding any North American roads. Visitors can also travel many of these same rugged routes aboard Greyhound buses.
- Take the road trip of a lifetime across the Dempster or Alaska highways
- Add another permanent souvenir to Watson Lake’s Signpost Forest
- Gaze up at Mount Logan, Canada’s tallest peak
- Follow the footsteps of countless Klondike Gold Era fortune-seekers along the Chilkoot Trail
- Pan for gold at the original Bonanza Creek Klondike Gold Rush claim
- Admire the Northern Lights from the warm comfort of a luxurious log cabin
- Soak in the centuries-old Takhini Hot Springs
- Dog sled through Yukon Territory’s most unspoiled backcountry
- Tour the former boom town and present-day National Historic Site of Dawson City