There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.
If you’re reading this article, there’s no doubt these verses (and those that follow) from Robert Service’s “The Spell of the Yukon” will speak to your heart’s desire. It’s true: there’s no place on Earth quite like the Yukon. With vast mountain scapes, icy rivers, and colossal wildlife, the Yukon has more to offer than most travelers can imagine. Don’t let the midnight zone dazzle your fancy too much, though. Much like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower, a trip to the Yukon is not complete without experiencing the menace that is winter. I’m here to guide you through every step of your winter Yukon excursion, from planning to eating. So fear not and get ready for life north of 60°!
When to go
The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb,
The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I’ve bade ‘em good-by – but I can’t
The good thing about visiting the Yukon in winter, is that you have plenty of season to choose from! Winter month’s in the Yukon typically run from November until at least the end of March. If it’s the Northern Lights that pull you North, they are visible anytime between August and April; as long as the skies are dark, the night is cold, and the clouds are nil you have excellent chances of looking skyward and seeing purples, greens, and blues dancing among the stars.
Your Yukon adventure will be heavily symbiotic with weather conditions, so it’s important to note how winter changes through the months. If you choose to come earlier in the season, say October or November, you may not see the snow you expect. The Yukon is not immune to the changing climate, and snow is falling later and later each season. This can be great if you plan to spend your time hiking through the forests while taking in the rugged evergreens and barren deciduous trees. Early on in winter you can expect to see frozen ponds, and ice crystallizing on the rivers. You’ll also likely be able to spend longer bouts of time outside with more bare skin, so you won’t have to invest in so much heavy-duty winter gear. On the other hand, if you plan on activities like dog-sledding, ice-fishing, or snowmobiling, you’ll want to wait for the colder months.
January and February are historically Yukon’s coldest months. In fact, on February 3rd, 1979 Snag, Yukon recorded the coldest temperature in Canada’s history at a frigid -63°C! With frozen rivers and snow covered trails you’ll be able to partake in all the Yukon activities. These low temperatures mean that you’ll definitely have to invest in good winter gear, so be prepared. But if you’re feeling brave enough, do as the Yukoners do – bundle up and get out there!
Finally, if you’re not feeling up to the facing the winter beast in all its glory, you can visit the north in March to see the final drags of the season. This is a magical time of year in that you can feel the warmth of the sun melting the snow before your eyes; buds begin to sprout from the seemingly dead branches, and Yukon’s Colorful Five Percent begin to creep from their cabins. Be warned though, with melting snow comes…. mud. And a lot of it. Though the Yukon never loses its majesty, it can get a bit hard to see through all that muck.
If you haven’t decided which winter season suits you best, take note of the festival dates listed below, and plan your trip according to your itinerary.
View this post on Instagram
Whitehorse 🇨🇦 #canonphotography #photographie #photographer #photography #6d #northernlights #auroreboreale #stars #etoile #minus20 #calm #calme #detente #feelgood #snow #whitehorse #tourcanada #travelphotography #keepexploring #travelyukon #yukon #travel #canada #explorecanada #exploreyukon #sky #color #landscape @tourcanada @travelyukon
How to get there
No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
For no land on earth—and I’m one.
Now that you know which winter you are going to visit the Yukon, you only have to decide how you will travel.
With only two options in the winter, your travel choice is really a matter of preference and time constraint.
If time is no object for your vacation, you can take the route less travelled and drive your way up to Canada’s true north. From Vancouver, you will face approximately 24 full hours of driving. With two drivers you can easily make this a weekend’s worth of travel. And not to worry, this surely will be a trip for the memory bank! From the road’s eye view you will get a close look at Canada’s majesty as you travel up and over the Rocky Mountains. Some even say winter is the safest time to drive the historic Alaska Highway, as there is no threat of animals. But be prepared – you will absolutely need good winter tires. And, taking the road less travelled also means it is the road less travelled if you do encounter car trouble. If you decide to drive to the Yukon, you must pack warm clothes, a first aid kit, flares, blankets, shovels, and anything else you may need in case of emergency – this is one time you cannot count on passersby to help you out – there may not be any passersby!
View this post on Instagram
Kaskawulsh Glacier | Kluane National Park | Yukon, Canada 🇨🇦 #YT #yukon #parkscanada #canada #canada150 #travel #travelgram #landscape #explorecanada #exploreyukon #nature #picoftheday #naturelovers #nikon #landscapephotography #roadtrip #roadtrippin #ig_naturelovers #ig_landscape #planetearth #travelcanada #imagesofcanada #kluanenationalpark #kluane #ice #patterns #glacier
On the other hand, you can fly to the Yukon. There are four airlines which service the Erik Nielsen airport in Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse. In winter, however, this drops down to two: Air Canada and Air North. Ask any Yukoner, or any passenger having flown on Yukon’s airline, and everyone will agree – Air North is the best airline in the world. In fact, Forbes Magazine voted Air North as the second-most loved airline in the world, surpassed only by Korean Air. Is it the friendly staff, the complementary meals, or the warm chocolate cookie that makes you say, Fly Air North? That’s for you to decide, but by supporting local you will no doubt be rewarded with good ol’ Yukon hospitality.
View this post on Instagram
Overflying the #HomathkoIcefield in the #CoastMountains north of #Vancouver during a flight to #Whitehorse #Yukon onboard @flyairnorth #737-500 on 12 June 2017 #Canada #BritishColumbia #exploreBC #CoastRange #PacificCoastRanges #snow #ice #glacier #icefield #mountains #airnorth #flyairnorth #Boeing #Boeing737 #winglet #instaviation #avgeek #geography #geomorphology #glaciology #planescapes #viewfromabove #windowseat #viewfromseat7a
What to pack
There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land—oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back—and I will.
Whether you fly or drive up to Canada’s forgotten lands, your packing list will be about the same, barring road-side emergency supplies mentioned earlier. Unlike the days of the Klondike, Yukon is pretty well connected to the rest of the world. With big-box stores like Walmart, Canadian Tire, and The Great Canadian Superstore, you can get most anything you need locally. That being said, the Yukon is still somewhat restricted – if there is some food, medicine, or other commodity that you absolutely cannot live without, pack it! If you can’t already find the product in the Yukon, it will be very difficult (read: expensive!) to ship up.
Depending on what your trip looks like, there will be different supplies you’ll need to pack. Detailed information on these packing lists should be available on the individual excursion website, but here are a few essentials to remember:
- Warm Parka
– The Yukon is cold! A small insulated coat be enough in the South, but in the North you have to be prepared. You’ll want a hooded parka that sits below the waist and is very well insulated, with a wind-resistant outer layer. It’s a good idea to find a coat with ventilation zippers (usually under the armpit or along the sides). If you’re doing a lot of hiking or exploring, you’ll get hot and want to air out, so these ventilation zippers allow you to cool off without fully undressing. Finally, you’ll thank me later if you also find a parka with insulated pockets. While waiting in line, or digging in your pocket for change, your hands will be exposed to the elements. With that in mind, the not-so-soft outer layer of your parka will get extra crispy in the cold weather. If you’re hands are in unlined pockets that outer-layer will feel like ice cold sandpaper against your fingers. Do yourself a favor and splurge for the insulated pockets!
2. Gloves – Speaking of freezing phalanges, you will have to invest in warm gloves if you spend anytime outside. You can pick up an adequate pair of winter gloves at your local mountaineering shop, but if you’re looking to invest in something that will be both functional and fabulous, wait until you get to north! On your first trip to downtown Whitehorse you can stop in one of the many local souvenir shops and buy locally handcrafted arctic mittens made from northern-acquired leather and fur; these are sure to surpass anything you’d find elsewhere, both in function and fashion!
3. Other Warm Clothes – If you plan to spend the majority of your trip outdoors, say snowmobiling or ice fishing, you’ll have to up your warmth level a few more notches. Some of the clothes you may want to invest are as follows:
- Winter Boots – Most boots come with a weather range – look for those that can handle between -20 to -40 Celsius
- Snow pants – Though the Yukon is dry, always invest in waterproof outerwear – you never know how long you’ll be trudging through the snow. And, just as with your winter parka, you will be grateful for ventilation zippers and insulated pockets. As well, you may want to find pants with an interior zippered pocket to keep important belongings while you’re flying through the arctic on the back of a dogsled!
- Toque – Hopefully you’ve already purchased a hooded winter parka to protect your head and neck, but for a little extra comfort and ease you’ll also want to fit your head snug in a toque. This one is really your preference, but I’d always recommend something you can fold up easily and keep in your pocket when not needed.
- Balaclava – If you’re walking around downtown with a balaclava, you’ll get the same skeptical looks in the Yukon as you would anywhere else. But, if you’re spending any significant time outside you’ll want this arctic staple. The secret to withstanding the great outdoors when you’re north of 60 is to expose as little skin as possible!
4. Medical Supplies – This is especially poignant if you are leaving the Whitehorse or Dawson City Limits (which you most likely will be!). It doesn’t take long after leaving city limits to be out of the cell-service zone and inaccessible by convenient standards. So, if you have a medical condition that requires supplies, be sure to pack more than you need for each excursion.
5. Activity Specific Gear – Most activities that you take part in, if organized through an official company, will have gear available for rent: snowboards, skis, augers, ice-fishing equipment, etc. That being said, it’s worth contacting the organizer to confirm the rental arrangements they have in place.
6. Camera – Now, this should be obvious, but just in case – don’t forget your camera! With endless mountains, frozen rivers, unique public artwork, and the Colorful Five Percent, you’ll be snapping away every turn you make. Again, if you’re spending any significant time outside, you’ll want to invest in and bring an insulated camera case to protect your equipment from the harsh cold. Don’t rely on your cell phone camera for this trip, as the cold weather will often leave it worth little more than a fancy paperweight. Keep your gear in good working condition with the proper case.
Where to stay
I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
With the peace o’ the world piled on top.
The Yukon has plenty of lodging options, but like many things they can be quite seasonal. As well, yourlodging will be dependent on what activities you are taking part in. While you’re out on the land, you’re organizer will likely assist in your lodging arrangements, whether that be an insulated wall-tent or a local lodge. As well, if you plan to stay in the communities there may only be a single option available to you. That being said, I’ve gathered a few local gems below located in both Whitehorse and Dawson to give you an idea of the variety available.
- Hot Springs Campground & Hostel (29.6 Km North of Whitehorse) – With beds starting at $35 and the Takhini Hot Pools only a two minute walk away, this is an excellent option for the budget traveler. However, it is also located 29KM away from downtown Whitehorse, and so not very convenient without access to a reliable vehicle.
- The Beez Kneez Bakpakers (Whitehorse) – Located in the heart of downtown Whitehorse, with rates as low as $35.00 this is an excellent choice for the budget traveler without access to their own wheels.
- The Best Western Gold Rush Inn (Whitehorse) – Stay in the historic Gold Rush Inn, located right on Main Street in downtown Whitehorse. Only one block from popular museums and restaurants, the hotel also features the Gold Pan Saloon – an onsite restaurant and saloon open from breakfast through to live-music in their fully-stocked bar.
- The Coast High Country Inn (Whitehorse) – This local favorite is easily identified by the giant Mounted Police ready to greet every guest before entry. This high end hotel offers Yukon hospitality in a higher end package; with two on-site dining option, a fitness room, and a free airport shuttle, you’ll feel like you’re in the big city!
- Canada’s Best Value Inn – Downtown Hotel Dawson City(Dawson) – Home of the Sourdough Cocktail, the Downtown Hotel is a must-stay location in the heart of Dawson City.
- Yukon Pines Cabins(Whitehorse) – For an even more Yukon adventure, stay in a cozy log cabin with all the amenities of a five-star hotel. Again, as these cabins are not located in the downtown core, you’ll want to have your own transportation.
- Homestays – Yukon hospitality runs deep, and lodging is no exception. To make the most of your visit, rent out one of the available lodgings on Homestays – ranging from bed rentals to isolated cabins in the woods, you’ll find something you love. And with this venue of renting, you also get the chance to meet true-blue Yukoners to give you the ultimate inside-scoop.
What to do
You come to get rich (damned good reason);
You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.
What to do in the Yukon in Winter is an incredibly loaded question! There are activities galore, so I’ve listed some of my favorites below:
- Northern Lights – With a little luck and a lot of patience, you can find the Northern lights on your own! Wait for a clear cold night, check the Aurora Forecast online, and drive away from the glint of the city lights – Fish Lake Road, just off the Alaska Highway north of Whitehorse’s downtown core,or Marsh Lake, approximately 60 km south of Whitehorse along the Alaska Highway, are both good options – and look towards the sky. The tale goes that if your sing, the lights will dance for you….Or you can take an Aurora Borealis Viewing Guided Tour.
- Takhini Hot Pools – There’s nothing better than a hot soak in natural spring water when the air outside is coldest enough to freeze your bones. Head about 20 minutes North of Whitehorse and visit the Takhini Hot Pools outdoor hot springs and take art in their winter-long frozen hair competition! Note, at the time of this writing this establishment is undergoing massive renovations, and though still in operation, their facilities are constantly improving.
- Rendezvous (Whitehorse) – Running the 2nd to last weekend in February – also the coldest time of the year – this festival originated to combat cabin fever. With events like frozen chicken bowling, chainsaw or axe throwing contests, the strongest man/woman pull, the strongest dog pull, the women’s hairiest leg contest and the men’s bushiest beard contest, this is about as Yukon as it gets! Come on up for only the 3-4 day festival sure to beat the cabin fever outta your cold hard bones!
- Dogsledding – How could I talk about the Yukon without this Northern Classic? Choose from three different companies to help you strap on your mukluks and yell ‘Mush!”:
- Muktuk Adventures (Whitehorse)
- Sky High Wilderness Ranch (Whitehorse)
- Into the Wild Adventures (Whitehorse)
- Boreal Kennels – Yukon Wilderness Adventures (Carcross)
- Fat Biking – Try out this spin on the old classic and tread down the trails on a Fat-tire bike. Available for rent at two Whitehorse locations, talk to the experts for great advice on which slopes to hit, depending on your skill level.
- Skiing & Snowboarding – Hit up Mount Sima, a mere 15 km outside of Whitehorse or, for the more experience, pack up a trailer and go up to Soldier’s Summit, an approximate 1.5hr drive from Whitehorse, to get a first-hand experience of the majestic Yukon Mountain ranges.
- Snowmobiling – Try out Seadoo’s cooler cousin, the Skidoo! Cruise through the powder for hours on a sunny winter’s day. With both forest trails and frozen river crusades, you best be sure you’re up to the challenge! For more information, visit one of three snowmobile rental companies both located in Whitehorse:
Snowshoeing – For an upgraded winter’s hike, rent a pair of snowshoes from one of the multiple Yukon retailers and head out into the woods. There’s nothing quite like the crunch of icy snow crystals to break winter’s deafening silence. There are a number of places from which you can rent snowshoes and head out on your adventure, but I’ve listed a few here for your convenience:
- Yukon Wildlife Preserve – Though it’s open year-round, the Yukon Wildlife preserve closes at -40 degrees Celsius, and their guided bus tour cancels at -30. Here, you’ll find 11 species of northern mammals in distinct and varied boreal habitats. With your choice of a 2.5 or 5km walking loop, a 5km cross country ski trail, or the 5km guided bus tour, you’ll get a first-hand look at Yukon wildlife as it’s meant to be seen.
- Live Music – If nothing else, the long cold winters force the locals to break out their talent and entertain themselves! Any day of the week you’ll find live music in at least one of Yukon’s watering holes:
- Yukon Inn (Whitehorse)
- Epic Pizza (Whitehorse)
- Gold Rush Inn (Whitehorse)
- Westminster Hotel (Dawson)
- Town & Mountain Hotel (Whitehorse)
- Woodcutter’s Blanket (Whitehorse)
- The Dirty (Whitehorse)
- Ice Fishing – Now, this is not for the faint of heart. But if you want to call yourself the ultimate fisherman, you can go on ice fishing for Canada’s best lake trout with any of Yukon’s adventure companies. Pack warm and bring your patience – this isn’t going to be a quick trip!
- Guild Hall – Garter your girdle and head on down the Guild Hall for an evening of local theatre in Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital. Filled with the warmth of community, this local gem is sure to warm your cold, city-slicken heart.
- Yukon Quest – The Yukon Quest is a truly Northern endeavor: a 1000 mile international sled dog race that runs between Alaska and Yukon in the coldest month of the year. Check to see this year’s dates, mushers, and starting line! Whether you see them at the start or at the finish, it’s sure to be an experience wroth freezing for.
- Festivals – There are tons of winter festivals in the Yukon: Frostbite Music Festival, Available Light Film Festival, and Dawson City International Short Film Festival, just to name a few! Pick your art and pick your month to see what festivals the Yukon will be brewing up while you’re home for a visit.
- Thaw Di Gras – Never one to miss a chance to celebrate, Dawson City created their very own Carnival to celebrate the spring thaw! With a variety of community games ranging from a Lip-Sync Competition to the Chainsaw Toss, there will be no man left behind!
- Winter Solstice Run – If you’re coming to the Yukon without seeing the midnight sun, you may as well make the most of the darkness. On the shortest day of the year take part in the Winter Solstice Run – a 12 km run along Grey Mountain. Rather than pay an admission fee, participants are asked to donate non-perishable food items for the Whitehorse Food Bank.
Museums – Last but not least, a trip to the Klondike would not be complete without a little history. Visit a few of Yukon’s 22 museums to learn about not only its gold mining history, but also the history of Yukon’s first people, its transportation, its wildlife, and its archaeological history.
Where to Eat
Arguably the most important part of planning a trip anywhere is to think of all the food you’ll indulge in! Before I go any further, I must say, the best meal you will eat in the Yukon is one with the friend’s you meet, sitting around a warm dinner table with a crackling fire at your back and frosted windows near the door. At this meal steam will come off wild-caught meat, while summer’s vegetable harvest sizzles in the pan. Your shoes will sit by the door, the snow melting into little puddles around your shoe laces, and your heart will be filled with the love and joy of Yukon hospitality. But if that doesn’t work out, here are some other recommendations!
- Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters (Whitehorse) – You’ll find this Yukon stable tucked inside the Icycle sport along Range Road. But follow your nose, as you’ll surely smell the fresh roasting coffee before you find the little hideaway. With eclectic artwork, friendly staff, cheeky souvenirs, and damn good coffee, you’ll want to make sure you bring some back home for the family.
View this post on Instagram
커피와 바이크가 함께 하는 공간.캐나다 툰드라의 커피 로스터리는 이런 모습.애정하는 Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters in Whitehorse,Yukon,Canada.여름에 백야현상이 있는 화이트호스와 너무 잘 어울리는 이름.#midnightsuncoffee#midnightsuncoffeeroasters#coffee#whitehorse#yukon#canada#aurora#midnightsun#tundra#tundracoffee#travel#travelphoto#미드나잇썬커피#미드나잇썬커피로스터스#커피#화이트호스#유콘#캐나다#오로라#캐나다오로라여행#캐나다유콘오로라여행#캐나다여행#캐나다오로라윈터드림#여행스타그램
- Burnt Toast (Whitehorse) – For a great start to your day, head over to Burnt Toast, Yukon’s premier breakfast café. With unique pairings, a warm atmosphere, and a great location, this is the perfect way to start your Yukon day.
- Yukon Meat & Sausage (Whitehorse) – Lunch is one of those meals where quantity and quality battle not with each other, but with quickness! Yukon Meat & Sausage is the best place to stop for a hearty sandwich and a warm cup of homemade soup before you head back out on the trail.
- The Wheelhouse (Whitehorse) – The Wheelhouse Restaurant offers big-city fine dining with the décor of a Chilkoot-era steam boat. So have a little history with your chardonnay and experience some of the best Yukon dining has to offer.
- The Dirty Northern Public House – The Yukon is known world-wide for its whiskey drinking pioneers, and its tourists should be no different. Stop by the Dirty Northern at the end of Main Street for a night cap and a true glimpse of Yukon wildlife.
To the Yukon!
They’re making my money diminish;
I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fight—and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
It’s hell!—but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite—
So me for the Yukon once more.
Well, there you have it; the Yukon winter guide from a Yukon perspective. If you’ve gotten this far, you’re already well on your way to being a Sourdough- what Yukoners call someone who has seen the Yukon River Freeze 20 times – for now you’re just a Cheechako. But keep that pioneer spirit rumbling and book your Yukon adventure today! (Winter Itinerary to Yukon) With so much to do, and so many bragging rights to be won, it’s a wonder you haven’t packed your bags already. So heed my advice to Fly Air north, bring warm clothes, schedule in Rendezvous, and taste your way across the territory! Here’s to a trip you’ll never forget!