And the rivers all run God knows where;
There’s a land where the mountains are nameless
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land—oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back—and I will.
~Robert William Service, Spell of the Yukon
It may have been gold that brought Canada’s Yukon Territory to the world’s attention during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-1898, but it’s the rich history, vast wilderness and beautiful scenery that keeps intrepid travelers heading into Canada’s North.
As someone who is always cold, driving through the Yukon may not seem like the best vacation for me, but after looking at photos of the beautiful landscape found in the Canadian North, I bundled up, grabbed my camera and set off on a fantastic road trip.
From Skagway, Alaska, we took theWhite Pass & Yukon Route train to Fraser, B.C and then continued by bus into the Yukon Territory.
I’ve always been curious about the Canadian North, and its vastness and beauty had me captivated immediately. Our first stop was in the small village of Carcross, Yukon, where the Klondike waterways, scenic drives and the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad all converge.
Carcross was originally named Caribou Crossing, after the herds of caribou that swam the narrows between Bennett Lake and Nares Lake, but was later shortened to simply “Carcross.”
This historic town is perhaps the most photographed town in the Yukon.
Buildings dating back as far as 1898 can still be found in use here, like Mathew’s General Store, where you can find everything from moccasins and furs to ice cream and postcards.
Just outside of town lie the barren sand dunes of the world’s smallest desert, the Carcross Desert.
Continuing north along the South Klondike Highway, are the turquoise-green waters of Emerald Lake. The striking rare green colour of this water is created from the sunlight reflecting off of the Mari, a white calcium carbonate that settles on the bottom of the lake. Beyond Emerald Lake stands the Gray Ridge Mountain at an elevation of 6085 ft, making this stop a gorgeous photo opportunity.
In between each settlement, you find yourself with miles and miles of nature and open road. There’s definitely no rush hour or traffic congestion on the Yukon’s highways!
It’s not until you reach Whitehorse, the territory’s capital, that you actually find yourself around other vehicles and meeting pedestrians on the street. Whitehorse was originally named by the gold miners who thought the rapids at Miles Canyon looked like the manes of white horses running by. The city began as an encampment in the late 1890s as a logical layover for the gold rushers heading north along the Chilkoot Trail to Dawson. The city’s next big population boom came during World War II, as soldiers entered the region to build the Alaska-Canada -“Alcan” Highway.
Today, Whitehorse has around 26, 000 people and is the Yukon’s centre for communication, transportation and commerce, and is the home of the territorial government. It’s also here that you will find Walmart, McDonald’s and a truly Canadian landmark; Tim Hortons!
Continuing along the Alcan Highway, we came to the village of Haines Junction. Known to Yukoners as “the Junction,” Haines Junction sits at the corner of Haines Road and the Alaska Highway, nestled at the edge of Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada. Kluane National Park is part of the largest internationally protected area in the world, made up of four interconnected wilderness parks in Alaska, B.C. and the Yukon, covering 21, 980 sq km of protected wilderness. The park, which hosts the Northcoast Mountain range, ice fields, valleys and lots of plant and animal life, has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kluane National Park sprawls along the side of the Alcan for miles and miles as we continued our drive through the Yukon’s rugged beauty. Not too far from Haines Junction is Sheep Mountain, located on the shores of Kluane Lake. This area is home to several backpacking adventures and day hikes around the park as well as almost guaranteed sightings of the Dall sheep that call the mountain home. Back on the road, we came across our first Grizzly bear of the trip – such an amazing sight!
After another day on the road, we arrived in Beaver Creek, Yukon, the most western settlement in Canada near the Alaskan border. Depending on who you ask and the time of year, the population here is between 99 and 140 people; a pretty small community, but we were warned that they know how to party!
The Beaver Creek Westmark Inn is a cozy, single-bed, no – tv – or- phonekind of lodge reminiscent of childhood days spent at camp. The Inn’s best known for its dinner theatre, “The Beaver Creek Rendezvous,” which is performed nightly during the summer in the dining hall.
While waiting for your dinner of “Beaver Stew” you can make yourself a s’more over the indoor fire pit or enjoy a pint of Yukon beer, whose slogan is “Beer worth Freezin’ For!” (And it is pretty tasty!) After dinner, the Rendezvous begins as guests are entertained by hilarious songs about the Canadian North and the Klondike Gold Rush days. Somehow I ended up being part of the show! (I need to stop smiling at strangers!)
As another day broke, we headed out into the crisp Yukon air to continue our drive to the Alaska border. The signs here all say “Yukon – Larger than Life” and after spending a few days driving through this vast, ruggedly beautiful landscape, it’s definitely been a larger than life experience!