Whether you want to flight-see above the glaciers in a remote national park, fish for trout on shimmering turquoise lakes or explore the heritage of the Klondike gold rush, Canada’s Yukon Territory is a dramatic and surprisingly accessible escape to the north. The Yukon’s gateway city, Whitehorse, is slightly more than two hours by air from Vancouver, which is closer than Los Angeles.
With long summer days and epic displays of winter northern lights, Canada’s highest mountain and its smallest desert, the Yukon — a vast region between British Columbia and Alaska that is also home to a diverse indigenous population — should be on your travel wish list.
And all that sunlight over the summer means an intense growing season, which has led one Canadian chef to say that the Yukon has one of the world’s unique food cultures.
In planning a trip to this wild western region, consider these highlights:
Ease into your northern adventures with a stay at the 10-room Inn on the Lake, a comfortable, log-walled lodge overlooking Marsh Lake south of the city. Owner Carson Schiffkorn can introduce you to the region, and chef Troy King will feed you well using local products. Removed from the city’s illumination, Inn on the Lake is a great place to see the northern lights, particularly during the winter.
Go for a short hike along Miles Canyon to enjoy views of the rocky cliffs tracing the Yukon River. In town, learn about the region’s heritage at the MacBride Museum of Yukon History, the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre and the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site, a restored sternwheeler that once navigated the river between Whitehorse and Dawson.
Stop for a sandwich or snack at The Claim Café (the maple walnut bars with Yukon cranberries are delicious) or refresh at one of Whitehorse’s craft breweries. Yukon Brewing uses distinctive area ingredients in beers such as the Elderflower Gose and Birch Sap Ale.
At Takhini Hot Pools north of downtown, soak away any travel-related stiffness and nosh on a good meal, too. The unassuming Café Balzam at the hot springs prepares excellent crepes using a variety of Yukon products. Try La Fardoche, a sourdough variety filled with fresh greens, apples, goat cheese and maple-beet jam, sauced with a birch-coffee reduction.
Tip: If you’re keen to learn more about the cuisine of this northern region, book your trip during the Yukon Culinary Festival (held each August in Whitehorse). Local and visiting chefs team up for events that might include cooking demonstrations, a barbecue on an elk ranch or a gala dinner featuring smoked arctic char, grilled bison and local berries.
Kluane National Park
Canada’s tallest mountains dominate Kluane National Park and Reserve, a natural gem outside the town of Haines Junction, less than a two-hour drive from Whitehorse. The most dramatic way to take in these snow-topped peaks and glaciers is on a flight-seeing tour.
Icefield Discovery is one of several companies offering air tours of Kluane’s mountains and glaciers. And if weather conditions permit, you might even land on the icefield. The pilots can also fly you within sight of Mount Logan, which, at 19,551 feet, is the second-highest peak in North America, after Alaska’s Denali.
And if you’d like to try your hand at fishing on the turquoise lakes around Kluane, look at the options available at Dalton Trail Lodge, Yukon’s only road-accessible fishing lodge, which provides a variety of lake and river excursions.
Drive south from Whitehorse toward the tiny community of Carcross, where you can stop for a walk in the sandy hills of the world’s smallest desert. This geographical anomaly — a remnant of the Ice Age — measures less than one square mile and is snow-covered for much of the year.
In Carcross, poke around the art galleries and shops before boarding the White Pass & Yukon Railway. This narrow-gauge rail line, completed during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1900, connects Carcross and Skagway, Alaska, hugging the shores of scenic Lake Bennett and climbing into the mountains over the White Pass summit.
Now head north to Dawson City, a one-hour flight from Whitehorse. Home to fewer than 1,500 people, this Wild West town was the center of the Klondike gold rush in the 1890s, and the restored storefronts along the town’s unpaved streets (now a national historic site) take you back to that era. Parks Canada staffers lead entertaining guided walks through Dawson that bring its history to life.
Stop for a cocktail at Bombay Peggy’s, a hotel and bar housed in a former brothel. Peggy’s has partnered with local BonTon Butcherie & Charcuterie to deliver a treat. When you text an order for a charcuterie plate (a selection of the butcher’s own cured meats alongside cheeses, breads and local berries), you’ll receive it at your table in the pub.
For dinner, make your way to Klondike Kate’s, where, despite the touristy exterior, the kitchen highlights native ingredients in dishes like arctic char tacos, birch-smoked chicken, and elk and bison sausages.
If you dare, visit Downtown Hotel for a Dawson classic: the Sourtoe cocktail. It’s a shot of your favorite alcohol garnished with mummified human toe. You don’t ingest the appendage, of course, but if it touches your lips as you drink, you’re awarded a membership into the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.
The Dempster Highway
From Dawson, you can head north along the Dempster Highway for a day of hiking in Tombstone Territorial Park. The attraction’s southern regions are forested and mountainous, but as you drive north, the terrain becomes more arctic with flat tundra and low-growing plants.
A short hike on the Goldensides Trail takes you up to a viewpoint overlooking the mountains that includes distant views of the park’s namesake Tombstone Peak, a stone monolith that resembles a grave-marker.
The Dempster continues north into the Northwest Territories, eventually reaching the coast of the Arctic Ocean. But that’s an adventure for another trip to add to your Canadian bucket list.