I’m happy to feature a guest writer on I Backpack Canada this week. I was recently approached by a fellow writer who wanted to share some of her stories and photos. Gemma Taylor of Off Track Travel has been hiking, paddling, driving and writing her way around Western Canada with her boyfriend Jean Robert since 2011. Together, they’ve managed to cover a massive part of western Canada, including BC, The Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. I love seeing other writers’ and travellers’ stories and advice on Canada, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity! Be sure to check out her site for more posts like these! With that said, I’m going to shut it and let Gemma take over from here.
Canada’s Yukon is truly a place like no other. The name alone evokes images of wilderness and adventure. But where to start? Here are seven experiences which I believe sum up the Yukon best.
Hiking and camping on tundra in Tombstone Territorial Park
This protected area is a real rarity. Located only an hour from one of Yukon’s main two highways, Tombstone offers remarkably easy access to pure Yukon wilderness. In Tombstone, you can hike and camp anywhere. Seriously, it’s just a matter of choosing which direction you want to go and starting to hike if you have some back country experience. The lack of trees allows for unparalleled views and relatively straightforward navigation, though the squishy tundra can take some effort to cross. With few visitors even despite the road running through it, reaching solitude is not a problem. You can enjoy the magnificent views from a mountain summit all to yourself.
Paddling the mighty Yukon River
Follow in the footsteps of the Klondike gold miners and journey up the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Rustic camp-sites line most of this section of the mighty Yukon, as do relics of the past. Up until the 1950s, the Yukon River was the main highway in these parts. Explore abandoned telegraph stations, stern-wheelers and trappers’ cabins. Slow down and get on river time; there’s no hurry here. Mountain goats and moose can be spotted along the journey as well as grizzly and black bears. With an average river speed of 10km/h, paddling the 700km route is less intimidating and more achievable than you may at first think.
Crossing the Arctic Circle
The Yukon is home to Canada’s only all-season highway passing the Arctic Circle. The Dempster Highway is a 740km dirt road that currently reaches all the way to Inuvik, NWT. The journey is the destination here, as the highway passes over tundra, spectacular wide-open landscapes and incredibly rugged mountains. This is a place that reminds you how small you are. Reaching the Arctic, your expectations are likely to be thrown out of the window. There may not be many people in this area but it is still vibrant with local culture and a variety of wildlife. And it gets hot in the summer, up to 24 hours of the day to match the sunlight. Just remember to take bug spray – the mosquitoes are alive and well throughout those 24 hours too.
Dog-sledding in a winter wonderland
Whipping through the forest on the back of a sled pulled by a team of dogs, mushing in the Yukon offers a winter experience like no other. With the Yukon River freezing over, the humble dog sled was once the main form of winter transport in the Yukon. February’s annual Yukon Quest race continues to keep the spirit of epic dog-sledding journeys alive. Visitors can get in on the action too with various mushing experiences on offer around the Yukon, which can be combined with visits to hot springs. A wonderfully low impact way to explore the wilderness, the dogs are likely to be as excited as you.
Stepping back in time in Dawson City
With a year-round population of 2000, you may expect Dawson City to be a sleepy place. It is in fact anything but! Centre of the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush, Dawson City is now almost like a living and breathing museum. Costumed interpretors wander the streets in summer and tour visitors along the wooden boardwalks and around the preserved Gold Rush-era buildings. Thrice nightly cancan shows continue in Canada’s oldest casino, Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, while brave souls in the Westminster Hotel down a drink with a dead appendage in it to join the ‘Sour Toe Club.’ The half-way point of the annual Yukon Quest, Dawson City knows how to party in winter too.
Experiencing the Midnight Sun / Watching the Northern Lights
“There are strange things done in the midnight sun” wrote Robert Service in 1907 and he was absolutely right. Summer days are long in the Yukon, averaging at 20 hours for much of the territory. With this much daylight, exploring doesn’t have to stop at dinnertime. The Yukon offers an entirely different perspective to what is summer; one that is seemingly never-ending and full of possibilities. On the other side of things, winter days may be short but in exchange they provide the opportunity of seeing the famed Northern Lights. Who needs long days when there is a dancing light show happening in the skies? Yukon skies shimmer with green throughout fall and spring too, but the dark nights of winter provide the best time to see the show.
Driving the Alaska Highway
The longest stretch (958km) of the famed Alaska Highway actually runs through Yukon Territory. Considered one of the best drives in the world, the ‘Alcan’ was originally built to connect Alaska with the continental USA during WWII. It may be a modern road today but it still evokes adventure, even if you don’t drive it all the way to Alaska! Lined by mountains and one-of-a-kind views, the road travels past some of Yukon’s most iconic sights, such as Watson Lake’s Signpost Forest (started by the road builders in 1942), the Yukon River, Kluane National Park and the stunning Kluane Lake. Short detours from the main highway lead to anomalies like the Carcross Desert and intensely coloured Emerald Lake. If you have time, take the ultimate road trip and drive the entire highway from Dawson Creek, BC, to Fairbanks, Alaska.
About the Guest Author of this Post
Gemma has been hiking, paddling, driving and writing her way around Western Canada with her boyfriend Jean Robert since 2011. Their most recent five month road trip stretched all the way to Inuvik, NWT. Sharing their outdoor adventures and travel tips on offtracktravel.ca, Gemma has also recently released an eBook ‘the Ultimate Guide to a Working Holiday in Canada’ to help enable others to go on their own Canadian adventure. Connect with JR and Gemma on Twitter and Facebook.