For a truly classic Yukon journey, join a canoe or kayak trip on the Yukon River. You’ll spend the long, relaxed days of summer paddling, camping in tents and eating by the campfire under the midnight sun. Combine all that with wildlife viewing, beautiful mountain vistas and gold rush history, and you have a wilderness experience you won’t soon forget.
The excitement will be palpable this morning as you meet your guide and fellow travellers. After gear inspections and provisioning, this epic adventure starts right from downtown Whitehorse. Paddle past eagle nests, cliff swallows, shore birds, and ducks. And be sure to keep your camera ready in case larger wildlife, like a bear or moose, appears on shore.
It’s hard to escape the fact that you’re paddling through history. From prehistoric times until the late 1950s when all-weather roads arrived, the Yukon River was the region’s highway for settlement and development. At its peak during the Klondike gold rush, nearly 30,000 gold seekers in 7,000 boats travelled the river on their way to the goldfields in Dawson City.
The first night of your trip will be spent at Lake Laberge, made famous by the poet Robert Service in "The Cremation of Sam McGee". Camping on the lake shore under the Yukon’s glorious midnight sun, you’ll get to make new friends around the campfire, perhaps catch fresh fish for supper or take a short hike.
Leaving Lake Laberge, you’ll spend the next seven days paddling north to the community of Carmacks.
As you travel along the shoreline of Lake Laberge, there are plenty of excellent day hiking opportunities before reaching the section of river known as the Thirty Mile. A little further on is Hootalinqua, from the Northern Tutchone word meaning “running against the mountain”. It was a popular gathering site for trade and visiting between the Tlingit, Southern Tutchone and Northern Tutchone people. When gold was discovered in the region, it became a supply point for the miners. A Northwest Mounted Police post was also built here. The roadhouse and telegraph office are still standing along with the remnants of other buildings.
Nearby Hootalinqua Island is the final resting place of the steamship “Evelyn”. This stretch of the river is also a great location for fishing for Arctic grayling or northern pike.
At the confluence with the Big Salmon River, you’ll pass by the abandoned First Nations village of Big Salmon before reaching the derelict Cyr’s gold dredge. A product of true Yukon ingenuity, it was made from a stripped-down caterpillar tractor, a car motor and various other homemade parts.
Carmacks marks the halfway point on the journey where you can resupply before leaving for Dawson City.
Back onto the river for the second half of your journey. Over the next nine days, the mighty Yukon will carry you on to Dawson City.
Just out of Carmacks, Five Finger Rapids is one of two rapids on the route (Rink Rapids is the other). It’s a stretch of water that presented real danger to river boats. But by now, you’re an experienced paddler and your guide will navigate your way safely through this area.
Spend some time in Ft. Selkirk exploring the old school house, homes and churches. Some say you can feel the presence of settlers in some of the buildings—sightings of spirits are a common conversation here.
Sadly, like all great expeditions, yours must come to an end. Before the final leg into Dawson City, spend your last night enjoying the endless twilight and sharing tales of an unforgettable journey.
Distance: 415km/260 miles
Spend the day exploring this gold rush town. After following in the footsteps of gold seekers on the river, this is the culmination of the journey. It’s where thousands arrived with dreams of gold. The town still evokes the heartbeat of gold rush times and you can feel the ghosts of those long gone adventurers as you stroll along the wooden boardwalks.
Note: There are three basic itinerary options:
Whitehorse to Dawson City: approximately 17 days
Whitehorse to Carmacks: approximately 8 days
Carmacks to Dawson City: approximately 9 days
Whitehorse to start of Lake Laberge: 35km/22mi.
Whitehorse to end of Lake Laberge: 85km/53mi.
Whitehorse to Carmacks: 320km/200mi.
Carmacks to Dawson City: 415km/260 mi.
Option: If you’re interested in retracing the entire journey of the stampeders from Skagway to Dawson City then check out this itinerary.