Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, is a small city with many things to do throughout the year. Once a major stop along the Klondike Gold Rush route, Whitehorse has some interesting historical sites along with spectacular scenery and outdoor activities. You can choose to fly in or drive up the Alaska Highway from Alberta/BC or the Cassiar Highway from British Colombia. With a variety of places to stay in and around town, such as cabins, hotels and campgrounds, along with unique restaurants and local brews, there is plenty to keep you busy for days on end while you explore the area.
The McBride Museum is located right along the edge of the Yukon River in the downtown area of Whitehorse. This recently expanded and updated museum contains an amazing amount of Yukon historic items and information about the First Nations of the area, along with wildlife exhibits. This museum has been voted the Yukon’s favourite museum! You should allow yourself up to two hours to really enjoy all the exhibits available. There is meter parking available along most of the streets surrounding the museum but watch for the free tourist parking that is available in front of the building, if you are lucky you can snag a spot there. Be careful though, this parking is only for those vehicles who do not have a Yukon license plate.
Yukon Transportation Museum
Right on the highway, next to the Whitehorse Airport, you will notice a unique weathervane that has been made from a historic DC-3 aircraft. This vintage 1950’s Canadian Pacific Airlines plane has been built so it turns as the wind blows. This, of course, sits right outside the Transportation Museum, and is the first exhibit that you will enjoy at this site. The museum itself has a lot of information on the local bush pilots and their history in the area, the building of the Alaska highway and the first vehicles to travel it, and of course, history of how the gold rush miners travelled through this area.
Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center
Right next door to the Transportation Museum you will find the impressive Beringia Interpretive Center. This museum takes you through the history of the Beringia land bridge and showcases ice age animals and the first known human history in the area. There are plenty of interpretive displays, replicas of many extinct animals and short videos to keep you occupied for a couple of hours. The staff are friendly and are always around to answer questions. You may be able to catch a demonstration on hunting or traditional living methods as well.
Viewing the Northern Lights
One of the biggest draws for tourists to Whitehorse is to witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis. The Northern Lights are usually best seen between late August and mid-April but it is hard to predict when they are best seen, so there are never guarantees. Booking a tour with an experienced company may help your chances. There are several companies in Whitehorse that offer tours to places outside the city where the city lights won’t dim your chances of viewing the night colors. For a list of the reliable companies in the area offering these services, contact the Whitehorse Visitors Center or drop in for more information.
Takhini Hot Springs
Soak in the atmosphere of these 100-year-old pools as you enjoy the mineral rich waters with their comfortable temperatures. The hot springs are open year-round, which gives visitors a unique option to reserve a pool for a nighttime viewing of the northern lights! The site is about 28 kms from Whitehorse though, so you require your own transport or book with one of the local tour companies that offer services there. If you want to stay, there is also a campground and hostel on site.
Yukon Wildlife Preserve
This is a guaranteed way of seeing some wildlife while you are in the area. Just 30 minutes outside of Whitehorse, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve provides an opportunity for visitors to see the animals of the territory without having to search for them in the wild. There are several tour companies in the city that offer transportation out to the preserve, so you don’t need your own vehicle in order to visit. Enjoy the a 5-km loop walk that will take you through a variety of large areas to see animals such as moose, muskox, lynx, caribou and more, or choose to take a scheduled bus tour through the park that will give non-walkers the opportunities to see all the animals.
Old Log Church Museum
This unique church is an integral part of Whitehorse history and is well worth a visit. Located right downtown, it is an easy walk from hotels in the city. The exhibits available take visitors through the history of the building, the people and mission behind the original church, along with exhibits about the surrounding small communities and First Nations of the area. This site is open daily during the summer, but only by appointment in the winter. You can join a guided tour at specific times of the day, check their website for information on entrance fees and tour times.
S.S. Klondike National Historic Site
Located right along the banks of the Yukon River you will find the historic S.S. Klondike. Start your visit with the 20-minute informative video before joining a tour group or grabbing your self guide to take you through this historical vessel. This sternwheeler was the largest of a fleet in a time when the river was the main highway of the region. It has been restored to its former splendor for visitor’s enjoyment. Allow at least an hour to experience this site.
The Millennium Trail
The downtown area of Whitehorse sports a lovely walking trail that will take you along the railroad track and past some historical buildings with a few interpretive signs. If you want to take the full walk, the Millennium Trail takes you along the waterfront of the Yukon River, over a pedestrian bridge and through the area of Riverdale before looping back to where you started. The total length is approximately 5 kms along a level paved path. You pass by the S.S. Klondike and through some lovely wooded areas along the way. You may even see some wildlife along the way.
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Whitehorse Fish Ladder and Hatchery
If you would like the opportunity to see the famous chinook salmon, this is a great little spot to visit. If you don’t have a vehicle, it is an easy walk from downtown to the fish ladder. This is a small interpretive center that allows visitors to learn more about the salmon and other fish species, as well as gives visitors a chance to view them through the underwater windows or outdoor viewing platforms. There is a suggested donation amount of $3.00 per person for the visit.
Even if you do not have time for a hike, Miles Canyon is a beautiful place to just soak up nature and get a perfect view of the canyon and rushing waters of the Yukon River. The steep banks have allowed a suspension bridge to be built and this in itself is a thrill. You require a vehicle to get to the suspension bridge and the main area, otherwise you are facing a long walk from the downtown area. If you are into hiking, there are several paths that lead off in both directions down the canyon.
Copperbelt Railway and Mining Museum
Part of the MacBride Museum group, this site is located just outside of Whitehorse on the edge of a historic copper mining region. Mining has played a large role in the history of the area, so at this site visitors can experience an interpretive train ride along a 2.5 km track through the boreal forests or enjoy the interpretive displays to learn about the mining history.
Yukon Arts Center
Since 1995, the Yukon Arts Center has been acquiring works of art by the First Nations peoples of the North. The center portrays a permanent collection with a range in style and mediums including paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, mixed media, photography and textiles, along with special exhibits and events.
Culinary and Beverage Experiences
During the summer months there are seasonal food experiences that can be enjoyed in the city. Check out LuLus’s – the little food truck that is parked by the downtown train tracks at lunchtimes for some unique food experiences – the chef changes her menu daily so you never know what you might find. A popular restaurant in town in Klondike Rib and Salmon, a unique dining experience with fresh salmon and other goodies. They are only open during summer months and generally have a lineup, so be prepared to wait for a table. For coffee lovers and those who would like a light meal in a unique place, check out Bean North, located outside of Whitehorse on the same road that leads to the Wildlife Reserve and the Hot Springs. They roast their own fair-trade beans and serve sweet goodies, paninis, soups and other light dishes for lunch. Check their website for open days, directions and the current menu. Beer drinkers can check out the Yukon Brewery for some fine Yukon beer, or head to the Woodcutter’s Blanket to enjoy their on-site brews and cocktails in a historic building.
Whitehorse hosts a variety of festivals throughout the year which can draw visitors from all over the world. The famous Yukon Quest International Dog Sled Race happens every February and takes place over 1000 miles of rough wilderness along the historic gold rush and mail route and covers the distance between Whitehorse and Fairbanks, AK. February also hosts the fun Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival, which spans a week and has entertaining events such as axe throwing, pancake breakfasts, dog sledding, chainsaw chucking, and more. Evenings are packed with performances and more fun. For the month of April, visitors can experience the amazing Celebration of Swans, where they can view thousands of Trumpeter Swans in their natural habitat. The Swan Haven Interpretive Centre on Marsh Lake hosts special events throughout the month. In July you will enjoy the Adäka Cultural Festival, which highlights the creative spirit of Yukon First Nations people. During this festival you can participate in more than 40 hands on workshops, a professional gallery, live performances and cultural presentations.