Canada's True North is rugged, beautiful, pristine and larger than life. The Yukon is more than 80 percent wild, compared to a North American average of 40 percent. This means unparalleled outdoor opportunities is at your doorstep in this immense land. Much of the Yukon's most spectacular wilderness is preserved within national and territorial parks and other protected areas. Its one of the few places where you might spot a mother grizzly with two playful cubs by the river's edge or a valley overflowing with caribou. Aside from the wilderness, adventurers can take part in world-class skiing, snowmobiling, camping and fishing, and a multitude of other outdoor activities.
For thousands of years, the First Nations people have inhabited the Yukon and have passed down legends about the creations of the earth and the first human inhabitants. Along with these stories, archaeologists believe that the first people to inhabit the area crossed a land bridge from Asia to northern Canada during the Ice Age 25,000 years ago.
Much more recently, the Alaska Highway 97 completed in 1943 brought tens of thousands of U.S. Army personnel into the Yukon. When the highway was completed, most of the troops left, but the highway remained and changed the landscape forever. People started establishing communities along the highway and locals were increasingly drawn away from their native lakes and rivers.
With over 480,000 square kilometers of land, the Yukon is home to a number of unique communities surrounded by wilderness and wildlife.
Whitehorse, the Capital city, is the administrative, transportation, and communications centre of the region. Located at kilometer 1,489 on the Alaska Highway 97, Whitehorse is known as a quiet retreat from the bustling cities to the south. Spread along the Yukon River, this delightful city enjoys waterfront scenery and an abundance of fishing, kayaking and other water sports. To explore the landscape, try horseback riding, snowmobiling or hiking through the surrounding terrain.
The area around Whitehorse is one that is steeped in history as many of the residential areas dating back to the turn of the century. Even today, Whitehorse retains a frontier feel despite being home to two-thirds of the Yukon's population. There are a variety of places where visitors can discover Whitehorse's amazing history. The Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre focuses on an area of the Yukon that, during the last Ice Age, was untouched by glaciers. The family oriented site has many interactive displays that recreate the unique environment of the time. Another attraction is the meticulously restored SS Klondike, one of the last and largest sternwheelers used in the Yukon. If you've got an eye for art, visit one of the local art galleries where you'll be sure to find something eye-catching for a reasonable price.
Watson Lake is a highway community just 10km (6mi) north of the Yukon border. There's a lot to do at Watson Lake, the surrounding landscape is perfect for everything from jet skiing to golfing. If swimming, fishing and water skiing aren't for you, take a relaxing hike or spend a day cross-country skiing and ice fishing. Here, visitors are keen to visit the signpost forest. A homesick highway worker put down the first signpost in 1942, and now there are over 50,000 and growing.
Dawson City, which used to be the Yukon capital, was born during the Klondike gold rush when prospectors came to the region to find buried wealth. Conveniently located at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, Dawson City quickly became the centre of mining activity. During this time, saloons, theatres and dance halls sprung up to accommodate the many miners who came from all around. But once the gold was gone, so were the crowds that kept the many businesses alive. Nowadays, many of those buildings remain standing and serve as heritage sites. Robert Service's cabin, the Bank of British North America, the Post Office and Winaut's Store were carefully restored in the 70s and 80s and provide visitors with a remarkable glimpse into yesteryear. Nowadays, placer gold mining and tourism are the major economic activities at this well hospitable northern city. Travellers take the time to enjoy one of the many tours offered and to visit Gold Dredge #4 Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall, Canada's first Casino.
Mayo, like many other towns in the Yukon, is a prospecting and placer mining community. But if you take the time to explore the historic buildings you'll be pleasantly surprised to find a handful of interesting buildings dating back to the turn of the century. Another defining characteristic is its proximity to the Silver Trail, which lies just southeast of the city. This town is perfect for the curious explorers who like to discover hidden gems on their own. Serious hikers can take part in a six-hour trek to the summit of Mount Haldane, which with its night-less summers in June and July gives a whole new meaning to the idea of an overnight hike.
Exploring the human history of the Yukon is as intriguing as exploring the history of the land itself. Most of the Yukon's pristine wilderness is protected in numerous territorial and national parks. Hershchel Island, Tombstone, and Fishing Branch Territorial Parks are well worth the effort for those willing to invest the effort to reach them. Herschel Island offers a dry polar climate, which supports a surprising number of plants and vegetation. Tombstone, the newest territorial park, lets visitors experience the amazing scenic beauty of northern mountain tundra with dramatic vies of unusual landforms and craggy peaks. Finally, Fishing Branch protects a northern wilderness full of unique features such as limestone caves, salmon runs, and grizzly bears.
Kluane, the most accessible of the Yukon's National Parks, encompasses countless ice fields and Mount Logan - Canada's highest peak. Vuntut and Ivvavik National Park are much more remote, and are found in northern Yukon, above the Arctic Circle. The sole purpose of these parks is to protect the wild Porcupine caribou herd and northern wetlands, which provide vital habitats for over half a million migratory birds.
Every year, more and more people come to discover the beautiful and majestic landscape of the Yukon. With world-class hiking, mountaineering, kayaking, fishing, and the endless days of summer, it's no wonder people are drawn back year after year. The Yukon is truly a land of wilderness getaways.
Background Photo Credit: Thunder Water Lake near Invermere - Heidi Korven