|Regions: Klondike, Kluane, Whitehorse Region||Communities: Dawson City, Burwash Landing, Haines Junction, Whitehorse|
|Themes: Touring||Categories: Rafting|
Experience the Yukon’s oldest and highest
This week-long loop drive will have you kicking up your heels at Canada’s oldest casino one day and soaring over Canada’s highest mountains the next.
Drive from Whitehorse to Dawson City
Head north from Whitehorse, on the Klondike Highway, bound for that lively gold rush town, Dawson City.
Your first stop should be at Braeburn Lodge. Why? Cinnamon buns. Not just any cinnamon buns. THE cinnamon buns. Massive. Delicious. Legendary.
Carmacks is a good spot to stop for lunch. While you’re here, learn about the Northern Tutchone culture at the Tagé Cho Hudän Interpretive Centre and check out the world’s only mammoth snare diorama. Explore local history on a self-guided walking tour and enjoy views of the Yukon River along the riverfront boardwalk.
At Five Finger Rapids, see the notorious stretch of river that presented a major obstacle not only for the rafts of the stampeders but also the sternwheelers that were to follow. A short hike leads down to the river.
In Pelly Crossing visit the Selkirk First Nation Cultural Centre at Big Jonathan House.
And for lovers of all things quirky, Moose Creek Lodge is a must. For a slower paced journey you may wish to spend the night here in a rustic cabin.
As you roll into Dawson City, remember those who made it here only after hauling supplies over a treacherous mountain pass, building a raft and navigating the Yukon River—and be thankful for roads.
Driving time: 5 to 6 hours (535km/332mi.)
Exploring Dawson City’s History
An official National Historic Site, Dawson City was the scene of the greatest gold rush in history, when tens of thousands from the world over, crazed by gold lust, set off into this unknown northern wilderness to seek their fortunes. The legacies of that time are everywhere you look. First Nations cultural experiences and wilderness adventures are also part of today’s Klondike experience.
This authentic gold rush town is bursting with historic sites and attractions. One of the best ways to explore it is to stroll along the wooden boardwalks and step back into another era. Parks Canada offers a range of walking tours which can be organized at the Visitor Information Centre. From the Commissioner’s Residence to the Palace Grand Theatre, interpretive guides bring to life the characters and stories of Dawson. Listen to poetry readings at the Robert Service Cabin or enjoy a guided hike while learning about the poet and listening to some of his poems. Get to know the cultural history of the local First Nation, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre.
To the Goldfields!
Head out to where it all began at the goldfields. Visit the Dredge No.4 and Discovery Claim National Historic Sites, and try your hand at gold panning at the Free Claim #6. Drive up to Tombstone Territorial Park along the Dempster Highway. One of the Yukon’s premier parks, it’s a place of rugged peaks, brilliant tundra, permafrost landforms, and abundant wildlife. Perhaps spend a night or two camping in the park and enjoy some great hiking.
On the way back into town, take a detour up to the Dome for stunning 360° views—especially good at sunset. If you happen to be here at summer solstice, join the locals in the evening as they celebrate the longest day of the year and watch the sun circle the sky.
At the end of the day, try your luck at a game of blackjack and join dancehall girls for some can-can dancing at Diamond Tooth Gerties—Canada’s oldest gambling hall.
Finally, stop in to the Downtown Hotel for a cocktail. There won’t be a cocktail umbrella in sight but you will have the chance to join the illustrious Sourtoe Cocktail club. Only in Dawson will you find a pickled human toe in your drink. Do you dare?
Drive the Top of the World Highway
A free ferry across the Yukon River connects to the Top of the World Highway, a mostly gravel road that sits atop the ridgeline with views that go forever. It’s particularly beautiful in early September when the landscape is ablaze with fall colours.
Make sure you have your passports out because you’ll be crossing the border into Alaska. Continue on to the hamlet of Chicken, so named because of the abundant Ptarmigan in the region (but “Ptarmigan” was too hard to spell—true story). Chicken is a unique and quirky community, and if you’re in the market for trinkets or decor with a chicken theme, then this is your town.
The Taylor Highway continues on to Tetlin Junction, where it meets the Alaska Highway. From here, you’ll head back towards Canada. Another border crossing and a short drive will bring you to Beaver Creek—Canada’s most westerly community and a good spot to stop for the night.
Driving time: 8 to 9 hours (446km/277mi.)
Alaska Highway to Kluane Country
Today you’ll be following the historic Alaska Highway alongside the spectacular front ranges of the St Elias Mountains.
Once called “the biggest and hardest job since the Panama Canal” the Alaska Highway was built to link the US Mainland with Alaska and improve strategic war efforts during World War II. Today it’s one of the most iconic drives in the world.
In Burwash Landing, be sure to visit the Kluane Museum of Natural History before continuing on to Destruction Bay.
This stretch of highway hugs the shores of Kluane Lake, which offers plenty of opportunities for scenic vistas. At the Thechàl Dhâl Visitor Centre you can pick up information on hiking trails and view Dhal sheep clinging to the mountainside. The ruins of Silver City—a former trading post, roadhouse and Northwest Mounted Police barracks—make for some great photo ops.
You’ll end your day at the picture-postcard village of Haines Junction (or if you want to sound like a local, simply “the Junction”), which boasts one of the world’s greatest adventure playgrounds in its backyard. But more about that tomorrow—for now, rest up because you’ll need your energy!
Driving Time: 4 hours (298km/185mi.)
Kluane National Park and Reserve, along Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park (B.C.), Glacier Bay National Park (Alaska), and Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park (Alaska) collectively form one of the largest internationally protected areas on Earth—covering an area roughly twice the size of Switzerland. It’s also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to Canada’s highest mountain (Mt Logan) and the largest non-polar icefields on the planet. In short, it’s huge.
To help plan your visit to this wonder of nature, make your first stop the Visitor Information Centre. From easy walks to strenuous trails, there’s something for every level of hiking ability. If whitewater rafting is more your thing, the Tatshenshini River (the “Tat”) offers Class lll and lV rapids on one-day and multi-day trips. Nat Geo ranks it #1 on their list of top whitewater rafting adventures.
For those who want to enjoy the scenery without all the effort, load up on picnic supplies at the Village Bakery and head to Kathleen Lake. This area is home to the largest grizzly bear population in North America, so chances of spotting bears along the road are high.
A Bird’s Eye View
Before leaving Haines Junction, be sure to visit Da Kų "Our House", which celebrates the vibrant language, culture and traditions of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations people. You can explore interactive displays, presentations and the work of local artists and artisans. Located in the same building, the Visitor Information Centre can help you plan your Kluane visit.
An absolute must while you’re in Haines Junction is a flightseeing tour over the park. It’s the best way to get a sense of the scale and sheer wonder of the place. Flights can be arranged at the Haines Junction airport, from Silver City or Burwash Landing.
After you come down from the clouds, drive back to Whitehorse. And strangely, when you get there, it will feel like a big city.
Driving Time: 2 hours (154km/96mi.)
Top of the World Highway
Champagne Landing 10