For those seeking an escape from the bustle of urban living, the most coveted vacation includes total immersion in the peace and quiet of the outdoors. A wilderness experience that’s both untouched by mass tourism and within budget can be difficult to find — but that’s where Canada’s Yukon Territory comes in. By Kimberly Lyn
The Yukon is a northwestern territory in Canada that shares a border with Alaska and is as big as Spain, measuring 4,83,450 km² (or 186,272 square miles). It’s also one of the most underrated and best-kept secret wilderness destinations in the world. The territory offers beautiful forest and mountain views, a plethora of outdoor activities and adventures, and a great culinary scene, all at affordable prices compared to more well-known and commercialised spots.
Make Whitehorse (Yukon’s capital) a jumping-off point to start your trip, and as you travel throughout the territory, you’ll be struck by the incredible beauty and vastness of the land, as well as the hospitality of locals.
In the winter, there are numerous activities to partake in, such as cross-country skiing, dog sledging, and snowshoeing. In the warmer months, camping and hiking are favourite pastimes, as well as wildlife viewing. You can also check off a bucket-list item by catching the beautiful Northern Lights in Canada — or simply “The Lights,” as Yukoners call them — during the peak months of late August to mid-April.
Below, find our recommendations for accommodations, activities, food, and drink spots while visiting Canada’s self-proclaimed “Wilderness City.”
There are many ways to get to the Yukon, but the easiest is by air. Air North (the territory’s airline), has regular departures from major Canadian cities such as Calgary, Ottawa, and Vancouver. International flights can be booked on other major carriers such as Air Canada, WestJet, and Condor — all flights land in Whitehorse.
What to pack
Pack your suitcase with practicality and the weather in mind. Whether you visit the Yukon in winter, spring, summer, or fall, wearing layers makes it easy to add or remove clothing depending on the conditions. If you need more guidance, check out this packing list, and don’t forget to leave your dress shoes at home.
If you need additional items for outdoor excursions that will not fit in your suitcase or are too bothersome to carry, there are several outfitters in Whitehorse providing rental clothing and gear. Check out THE BASE and Men’s World.
The Wilderness City isn’t the type of place where a person should walk out into the great outdoors for a casual stroll unless they’re prepared and informed about their surroundings. It’s recommended to book excursions and activities with local tour companies while visiting — your accommodations can also connect you. Tours led by Yukoners come with a wealth of knowledge, deep community connections, and enthusiasm for their home. Recommended local operators include Terra Riders, Who What Where Tours, and Epic North Tours.
An array of locally owned accommodations can be found within and beyond the city limits of Whitehorse. Here are several recommendations, from hotels and eco-lodges to luxe resorts, to booking during your stay.
Edgewater Hotel, Whitehorse
Located in the heart of downtown Whitehorse, the origins of the historic Edgewater Hotel date back to the Klondike Gold Rush. Thirty-three modern guest bedrooms overlook the iconic Yukon River. Complimentary Wi-Fi and concierge services are available, as well as onsite dining in its gastro pub, Belly of the Bison — a favourite foodie spot for Yukoners.
Raven Inn, Whitehorse
Family-owned and locally operated, the Raven Inn opened in 2020 as the newest hotel in decades to be built in Whitehorse. Deluxe rooms, king suites, and luxury apartments are designed in cabin-chic décor, using wood panelling and checkered plaid accents. Rooms are furnished with a minimalist touch and are equipped with comfortable beds, and large bathrooms, and the Wi-Fi is free.
Southern Lakes Resort, Tagish
It is worth every effort to drive down a 10-mile (16.09 km) road to reach the stunning Southern Lakes Resort, where upon arrival picture-perfect views of Tagish Lake and the Yukon mountains greet you. Here, disconnect and stay in spacious deluxe villas or lakefront cabins that offer modern amenities. Chef Bruno runs the resort’s kitchen and serves a range of mouth-watering meals from schnitzel to prawn curry. Guests can book a variety of seasonal activities through the resort; in the winter you can go dog sledging and snowmobiling, and during the warmer months hiking or fishing.
Mount Logan EcoLodge, Haines Junction
Eco-conscious travellers can get close to Mother Nature at the remote and all-inclusive B&B-style Mount Logan EcoLodge. Located near Mount Logan (Canada’s highest peak), guests can stay in the main lodge or its standalone accommodations such as a rustic yurt, a futuristic pod, or a Gold Rush–style cabin while taking in views of the mountains.
Food and Drink
The Yukon has a dynamic and eclectic dining scene with deep historical roots. Most establishments are locally owned and operated, and many proudly source their ingredients and produce in and around the territory.
Belly of the Bison, Whitehorse
Found inside the Edgewater Hotel, upscale gastropub Belly of the Bison is a happening spot during the evenings and weekends. A dedicated culinary team serves delicious small- and large-plate menu items such as escargot, crispy lobster salad, elk roulade, and bison Bolognese. They also boast a large wine selection and a cocktail menu inspired by the territory.
Craft beer breweries, Whitehorse
Yukoners have discerning palettes, especially when it comes to beer. The territory boasts a lively and proud craft beer scene that offers unique flavours inspired by the wilderness spirit. Found in and around Whitehorse, many breweries have tasting rooms open to the public where you can sip a pint. Breweries to visit include Deep Dark Wood Brewing, Polarity Brewing, Winterlong Brewing, Woodcutter’s Blanket, and Yukon Brewing.
Gather Café and Taphouse, Whitehorse
Tacos in northern Canada may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but once you try Chef Daniela Sibaja’s food at Gather Café and Taphouse, your stomach will be delighted. Attached to Lumel Studios, Gather offers a range of artfully made cocktails served in a handblown glass made from the studio. Taking influence from her Latin roots and using food that is sourced close to the Yukon, chef Sibja’s pork carnitas, arctic char, and avocado creations will fulfil your taco dreams and then some.
Kind Café, Whitehorse
As you step through Kind Café‘s front door, you’re greeted by a modern space with chic, cosmopolitan vibes. This whole-food and plant-based café offer an array of vegan, gluten, and dairy-free options on its menu such as healthy smoothies, acai bowls, and a selection of sinfully delicious desserts.
Wayfarer Oyster House, Whitehorse
Tucked inside a warehouse, Wayfarer Oyster House serves food that is locally sourced from the territory and the surrounding area. Dim lighting, an oyster shell chandelier, and gilded mirrors adorn the interior of this casual-hip spot. A well-curated menu offers items such as expertly shucked oysters, mouth-watering duck fat potatoes, and a sublime dish of tuna capellini.
The ’98, Whitehorse
A red, wood panel exterior and saloon-style front make The ’98 impossible to miss as you walk through downtown Whitehorse. This isn’t a fancy place, but a down-to-earth one that has roots dating back to the 1940s, offering affordable drinks and an authentic Yukon experience. What makes The ’98 special though is its hospitality and the live performances held in its lounge. Fiddle music transports listeners back in time to the Gold Rush era, and Sunday open-mic nights are an entertaining experience.
Community of Carcross
Experience the history of the Gold Rush era and First Nations culture in this small and picturesque community. Visit the Carcross Learning Centre, to see modern and traditional art from the Carcross Tagish First Nation. Explore the Carcross Desert — the smallest desert in the world — and walk around the SS Tutshi, a riverboat turned memorial site. During the warmer months of the year, Carcross Commons comes alive, and visitors can explore artisan shops, the Matthew Watson General Store, and the supposedly haunted Caribou Hotel.
Horwoods Mall, Whitehorse
Don’t leave the Yukon without picking up a few souvenirs for your loved ones back home. Constructed in 1905, the Horwoods Mall started as a general goods store and is now home to an eclectic mix of retailers and food shops. Inside, check out The Collective Good, a home design store offering local and international wares; Unorthodox, a small curated shop specialising in fashions made by local artisans; and North End Gallery, where you can purchase Yukon art as well as First Nations arts and crafts.
Make flightseeing a mandatory part of your Yukon itinerary. It’s a memorable experience to see the vastness of the territory and its many spectacular natural wonders from up above. Notable landmarks to see on your flight are the Kaskawulsh Glacier and Kluane Icefields, both within Kluane National Park and Reserve; the beautiful waterways of Southern Lakes; and Tombstone Territorial Park, known as Canada’s Patagonia. Make sure to book flights ahead with local operators, such as Alpine Aviation, Rocking Star Adventures, Icefield Discovery, and Kluane Air.
Kluane National Park and Reserve
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to 17 of Canada’s highest peaks, the highest being Mount Logan. People from around the world come to Kluane National Park and Reserve to enjoy its breathtaking landscape and outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, and wildlife viewing. Visitors are strongly reminded to always exercise safety when in the park.
Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, Whitehorse
This beautifully designed and modern cultural centre celebrates the heritage and contemporary way of life of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation. Inside, you can take a self-guided tour of its permanent collection of artefacts and artworks that showcase beautiful, intricate creations by their people from beading to sculptural or carved pieces.
Long Ago People’s Place, Champagne
Make sure to spend time at Long Ago People’s Place, a living museum that gives you a look into the life of a traditional First Nations village. The charming hosts, Harold Johnson and Meta Williams, lovingly share their knowledge and pride for Southern Tutchone culture and heritage with visitors. Tour the grounds and step inside recreated structures, such as a log cabin and snow tent, or stay overnight to camp. You can also partake in their many educational programs such as foraging for herbs and wild mushrooms.
Lumel Studios, Whitehorse
Lumel Studios is a glass-blowing facility attached to Gather Café and Taphouse. It provides a safe, creative, and inclusive space for people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. Here, they host group workshops and one-on-one sessions teaching people how to work with and blow glass. It’s recommended to book your session in advance due to the studio’s popularity.
These are the best places to witness the Northern Lights in Canada
Northern Lights Viewing
Seeing the legendary Northern Lights in Canada is a combination of luck, patience, timing, weather, and strategic planning. Combining all of those factors makes the best time to see the lights from late August to mid-April — at night, of course. The best place to view the northern lights in Canada is in the open, such as standing on a frozen lake or in the forest. You can download various apps to track the chances of viewing the lights. Apps to download are My Aurora Forecast & Alerts (iOS, Android); Aurora Forecast (iOS); Aurora Borealis Forecast & Alerts; and Northern Lights Alerts.
Tagish Lake Kennel, Tagish
Michelle Phillips and her partner Ed Hopkins own and operate Tagish Lake Kennel. These veteran Yukon Quest and Iditarod long-distance mushers, and local heroes, own some of the most loving and friendly sledge dogs you’ll ever meet. In the summer, go on a cart tour with the dogs; an adventurous hike with the pack; or cuddle with the heart-melting newborn puppies. During the colder months, visitors can bundle up and dog sledge throughout the beautiful Southern Lakes region for an unforgettable winter experience.
Well Bread, Whitehorse
Feed your mind and stomach by taking a cooking class at Well Bread, Yukon’s only private, licensed cooking school. Chef Cat McInroy and her knowledgeable team will show you how to bake all sorts of delicious treats, make drinks with a Yukon twist, or teach you about the unique and storied history of sourdough in the territory, which dates back to the Klondike Gold Rush.
(This story first appeared on www.travelandleisure.com)
(Hero and Feature image credits: Pete O’hara and Jenna Dixon)