Yukon’s capital is a doorway to the wilderness
In Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territories, you can experience a full spectrum of wilderness activities. Think in terms of fishing, mountain biking, hiking, watching wildlife, canoeing and rafting on the blustery Yukon River. Whitehorse is located in the original homeland of two First Nation groups—the Kwanlin Dun (people of the rapids) and the Ta’an Kwach’an (head of the lake people). In Whitehorse, old and new lifestyles merge together. The captivating histories and traditions of First Nation families, Gold Rush pioneers and present-day residents complement each other and help make the city of Whitehorse a very interesting place to visit!
Explore Whitehorse Outdoors
You can see a totally restored steam-powered sternwheeler (circa 1937) at the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site. The Klondike was the largest sternwheeler to float in the British Yukon Navigation Company fleet on the Yukon River. Seasonal self-guided tours of the craft may be taken from May through September.
It’s easy to observe Chinook salmon in the massive aquariums at Whitehorse Fishway. Cameras and monitors are installed there to enhance your underwater views. If you prefer to catch your own fish, Whitehorse has a ready lineup of seasonal angling excursions lead by certified guides. You can cast, troll, sport fish, or fly fish on pristine waters which you reach via float tube, floatplane, or canoe. Many trips are taken on a fly-in only basis due to the remote nature of the area. While you’re fishing in the wilderness, you’re likely to spot a herd of woodland caribou or a moose. Word has it that moose outnumber people two to one in Yukon Territory. Here’s another wildlife watching opportunity. Just 25 minutes north of town, you can walk, ski or board a bus to view and photograph 11 local creatures—caribous, mountain goats, muskoxen, moose, squirrels, bison, lynx, elk, deer, thinhorn sheep and Arctic foxes—at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.
See the Lights
The area around Whitehorse is a great place to see the legendary aurora borealis, the colorful lights that dance in arctic winter skies.
The so-called Northern Lights are collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the Earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.
Auroral displays appear in many colors, although pale green and pink are most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms, from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow. The long periods of darkness and the frequency of clear nights provide many good opportunities to watch the auroral displays. Usually the best time of night to watch for auroral displays is local midnight.
Guided aurora borealis watching tours originate in Whitehorse and proceed to the Arctic during winter months. Alternately, you can stay close to Whitehorse and take in the colorful sky show through the windows of a comfy cabin nestled on nearby Lake Laberge.
On Lake Laberge and on area rivers with lively names like Tatshenshini, Big Salmon, and Beaver, you can take the ride of your life by canoe, kayak, boat, or whitewater raft. Expeditions are directed by professional guides who schedule trips suitable for beginners as well as veteran paddlers. Be sure to follow up your whitewater excursion with a soothing soak in the warm mineral pools at Takhini Hot Springs, where you can also rent an overnight campsite for your RV.
Explore Whitehorse Indoors
Is paleontology your passion? You can gaze upon a life-size model of a woolly mammoth or practice your aim at the spear-throwing range at Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center. Through tours, a video and displays including murals, artwork and fossil remains, the center tells the story of a time when giant short-faced bears, scimitar cats and steppe bison roved with mammoths on the harsh terrain of Beringia—before the last Ice Age ended.
From old-fashioned planes to dog sleds, visitors discover the history of regional travel via boat, plane, train, car or shoe at Yukon Transportation Museum. Don’t miss seeing the replica of the ill-fated 1920s “Queen of the Yukon airplane,” the museum’s classic railway cars and the 100 percent red vintage ambulance.
The MacBride Museum shares stories about pioneer life in the Yukon. The museum emphasizes the impact of “gold rush fever” and displays various gold mining techniques. The area’s architectural leanings are reflected in vintage log cabins used as a home, a police station and telegraph office. In museum exhibits, you can come face-to-snout with a seven-foot-tall stuffed grizzly bear, see traditional First Nations beadwork, and learn about the history of the Quest International Dog Sled Race.
You can view the work of local visual artists at the Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery. At Arts Underground, you can visit the Hougen Heritage and Yukon Art Society Galleries. Exhibits cover photography, sculpture, pottery, painting, glassworks and textiles.
For a glimpse of First Nations heritage, attend the summertime Adaka Cultural Festival at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre in Whitehorse. Performers and artists from the First Nations present traditional music, drumming, dancing and storytelling plus exhibitions of time-honored visual arts.
Tourists who visit Whitehorse tend to work up a healthy appetite. Consider indulging your hunger for smoked salmon or halibut fish & chips at Klondike Ribs and Salmon BBQ. Alpine Bakery is tops for vegetarian (and vegan) fare, savory soups and fresh-baked breads. Sanchez Cantina is best for Mexican dishes, and Wolf’s Den offers Swiss (as in fondue) and western cuisine. Dine at Volare for an upscale meal of baby back ribs.
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