WHITEHORSE: IT’S BIGGER
THAN THE WILDERNESS
They’ve nicknamed Whitehorse the “Wilderness City”—and while it’s surrounded by some of the country’s most pristine backcountry, there is so much more that draws visitors.
As the Yukon’s largest and most vibrant settlement, Whitehorse is a place with deep historic roots and a timeless First Nations heritage, as well as almost unlimited ways to explore and enjoy the outdoors. It is this full menu of authentic experiences that helps Whitehorse and its surrounding communities stand apart. This is a gateway to Canada’s True North—where you can mush a team of sled dogs through a silent forest, pull a champion-sized fish from a sparkling lake, learn the traditional First Nations ways, or dabble in the history of the Klondike Gold Rush.
For much of its history, Whitehorse has been the transportation and commercial
heart of the region, getting its name from the churning white waters of the Yukon River that resemble the flowing manes of horses. It’s a walkable city, easily navigated in summertime aboard the Waterfront Trolley—the bright-yellow restored 1925 vintage trolley that travels along the city’s riverfront. For walkers, the scenic five-km, paved, non-motorized Millennium Trail loops along both sides of the Yukon River.
As the hub of the territory, Whitehorse connected the outpost communities. In summer, when the river was navigable, fortune seekers and daring entrepreneurs of the Gold Rush floated their boats downriver toward the goldfields. Through the long winter months, sled dog teams moved mail and supplies along the frozen river and lakes. The year 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the famed Alaska Highway and there is no better time to use Whitehorse as a base to explore the many noteworthy sights along the historic roadway.
Whitehorse is definitely bigger than its untouched wilderness. It is about people, communication, culture and history too.
AN ACTIVE NATURE GETAWAY
There’s no denying that people are drawn to Whitehorse for the outdoors. The city is a magnet for experienced guides who offer a full slate of activities for every season, whether finding a mountain biking trail under the midnight sun, canoeing a heritage river, dogsledding, snowshoeing or crosscountry skiing through snowy woodlands.
Yukon Wild is a one-stop collective of licenced adventure experts who know how to experience the famed Canadian backcountry in a safe and eco-friendly manner (www.yukonwild.com). Away from the glare of city lights, a stay in a private cabin at Sundog Retreat opens the door to spectacular views of the swirling aurora borealis or spotting some of the Yukon’s famed wildlife (www.sundogretreat.com). Black Feather outfitter caters to both the novice and seasoned outdoors traveller, with hiking, skiing, canoeing and kayaking expeditions that show off the best of the northern wilderness. To celebrate Canada’s 150th, they have designed a menu of 13 True Canada Experiences (www.blackfeather.com). A short drive from downtown, at Muktuk Adventures, dozens of Alaskan huskies love to run, taking guests on guided sled dog outings, year-round (www.muktuk.com). In winter months, the specialists at Up North Adventures arrange dog mushing, snowshoeing, ice fishing and snowmobiling tours and shuttle visitors to prime viewing spots to watch the colours of the aurora borealis unfold across the northern sky (www. upnorthadventures). Visitors can custom design a Yukon Essentials package with Nature Tours of Yukon, including small group photography outings (www.nature toursyukon.com).
In February, Whitehorse is energized by the Yukon Quest sled dog race, when some of the world’s best mushers race their teams along a 1,600-km (1,000-mi.) trail, following the historical winter routes that once connected the Klondike goldfields and the Alaskan interior (www.yukonquest.com).
There is guaranteed wildlife spotting at the 283-ha (700-acre) Yukon Wildlife Preserve by interpretive bus tour, self-guided walking tour or on cross-country skis along groomed trails to see woodland caribou, lynx, Rocky Mountain elk, mountain goats and sheep, moose, mule deer, muskox, wood bison and foxes in their natural environment (www. yukonwildlife.ca).
FIRST NATIONS CELEBRATE AND SHARE THEIR STORIES
The traditions of drumming, singing, dancing and feasting are powerful ways to learn about the rich heritage and culture of the Yukon’s 14 First Nations communities.
Whitehorse lies within the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, whose people incorporate the lifestyles, history and traditions of several different tribes of the Yukon and northern British Columbia. Just south of the city, Miles Canyon (Kwanlin) is the namesake of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation, who traditionally fished and hunted above the canyon. In town, the walls and rooms of the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre enclose a space designed for the celebration of Yukon First Nations culture, its location symbolizing a return to the traditional riverside roots. The centre’s multimedia exhibits, workshops and guided tours explain the history, challenges and arts of the First Nations people in original and authentic ways, educating guests while extending a warm welcome (www.kdcc.ca).
In early July, the centre is the site for the annual Adäka Cultural Festival, featuring a mixture of traditional and contemporary art, music, dance and storytelling to celebrate the Yukon’s diverse and distinctive First Nations (www.adakafestival.ca).
Not far from Whitehorse, traditional art, clan songs and dances can be experienced at the Carcross/Tagish First Nation carving shed located in the small hamlet of Carcross.
STEEPED IN CULTURE AND HISTORY
Nothing shaped the history of Whitehorse like the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s, when an estimated 100,000 prospectors crossed through town before beginning their trek north to Dawson City, braving the wilderness of an unknown land in their quest for riches. They were a quirky, strong bunch who left their stamp on Whitehorse’s history, architecture and frontier mentality.
That natural and cultural history is found at the MacBride Museum of Yukon History, a treasure trove of the Yukon’s largest collection of artefacts. Exhibits highlight the traditions of the First Nations culture, the history and role of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the territory’s mining history and the importance of the momentous Klondike Gold Rush—an event which forever changed the land and the communities. MacBride is home to the original cabin of prospector Sam McGee who was immortalized in Robert Service’s poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee (www. macbridemuseum.com).
Visitors can indulge in a little time travel at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre’s displays and dioramas of the prehistoric subcontinent of Beringia—the dry, unglaciated land bridge that once linked Alaska and Siberia. Beringia was home to animals like the woolly mammoth and steppe bison (www.beringia.com).
In the summer months, the carefully refurbished S.S. Klondike National Historic Site is open in dry dock for public tours (guided and self-guided), a testimony to a time before roads linked the Yukon to the outside world. The craft was the largest sternwheeler to travel the upper Yukon River in an era in which steam-powered riverboats shuttled cargo and passengers between Whitehorse and Dawson City (www.parkscanada.gc.ca/ssklondike).
The world’s biggest weather vane—a restored DC-3 aircraft—marks the entrance to the Yukon Transportation Museum. The exhibits relate tales of bush pilots, Klondike stampeders, dogsledders and their spirited sourdough perseverance and ingenuity (www.goytm.ca).
On the edge of the historic copper mining region, The Copperbelt Railway & Mining Museum shines a spotlight on the northern mining and rail history of the Yukon (www.yukonrails.com).
In the heart of downtown, the Old Log Church Museum is one of the oldest buildings in Whitehorse. Inside, exhibits tell the stories of early missionaries, whalers, explorers and Yukon First Nations (www.oldlogchurchmuseum.ca).
Underwater viewing windows are an up-close way to see the annual salmon migration at the Whitehorse Fish Ladder, the longest wooden fish ladder in the world.
KLUANE NATIONAL PARK AND RESERVE
Canada’s highest mountain—Mount Logan—is found in the dramatic mountain and ice ranges of Kluane National Park and Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just a two-hour drive from Whitehorse. Kluane’s lakes and rivers are ideal for avid paddlers; mountain bikers and hikers can find their perfect challenge from a network of trails; wildlife watching, camping, horseback riding and mountaineering round out the choices for the active adventurer. Seeing Kluane from the air is truly an indescribable experience. Summer or winter, sightseeing flights cross over the world’s largest non-polar icefields—the vista of the glaciers and mountains is breathtaking (www. parkscanada.gc.ca/kluane).
For more information, contact www.travelyukon.com.
WHITEHORSE • CTC/NORTHERN TALES TRAVEL SERVICES
KLUANE NATIONAL PARK AND RESERVE • PARKS CANADA/FRITZ MUELLER
KLUANE NATIONAL PARK AND RESERVE • PARKS CANADA/FRITZ MUELLER