The time is now to gift yourself a getaway to the Yukon, Canada’s epic, true north wilderness treasure. A nugget of gold north of the BC border, the Yukon is the ultimate snowshoe and adventure destination that should be at the very top of your winter travel bucket list.
One of Canada’s best-kept secrets, it is a gold mine of wilderness thrills. Like a vault waiting to be opened, I am about to give you the combination.
A short, direct flight out of Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa or Yellowknife will get you to Whitehorse, the Yukon’s capital city and basecamp for all of the Yukon snow play escapades. Whitehorse is a small town oozing with big time northern charm. No matter where you stay, access to the trails, mountains, lakes and rivers are right outside your door. In the middle of what can feel like no man’s land, time seems to stand still when you truly surrender to the beauty of Canada’s wildest frontier. Big, bold and majestic, the landscape and scenery are jaw-dropping and breathtaking. Throw in the famed Northern Lights and it’s straight up mind-blowing. The scenery and Aurora Borealis are reason enough to visit the Yukon. But there’s more so please be sure to give yourself the time you will need to explore.
If you fear the Yukon’s harsh, cold air and at times 40 below temperatures, it’s time to reconsider. Everything you want is on the other side of fear and that holds true for this vast wonderland that is the Yukon. Perhaps its winter weather has a bad rap but contrary to popular belief, the blue skies, brisk air and wilderness are exactly what make the overall Yukon experience so unique and unforgettable. Besides, the Yukon knows cold better than any adventure travellers so aims to make your trip that much more comfortable and inviting. Local outfitters like Men’s World provide gear rentals to incoming travellers like sub-zero parkas, gloves and boots so you don’t have to invest or over pack. In a nutshell, northern service is nice…very nice. Do however remember to bring plenty of base layers and cold weather items like long underwear, hats (called toques in Canada), gloves, warm socks, thermals, solid winter boots and walking shoes. When packing, keep in mind that the trend up north is fur, fleece, toques, Gortex, and even Muk Muk’s. This needed not just when on the trail but on the town circuit of après pubs, bars and restaurants. Outdoor style is a go any time of the day or night.
You’re geared up and good to go, now think like an explorer. Make a bucket list and put snowshoeing at the top. Snowshoeing is free and the Yukon offers acres of land to explore. To put the land mass into perspective, the Yukon represents 4.8% of Canada’s total land area and has a population of 38,000 people compared to California, which is topping 39 million. The big decisions for most will be the simple things such as which guide to go with or which trail to blaze first. After spending days with our knowledgeable, friendly guide ‘Yukon Dave’ from Up North Adventures, I can say that he will surpass your expectations. From Yukon storytelling to packing in fresh baked goods and hot chocolate, Dave is the inside source on anything and everything you want to know about Whitehorse, snowshoeing, outdoor adventure and life in the Yukon.
Up North Adventures offers a variety of packages tailored to suit every level. For those looking for a physical challenge, an extraordinary viewpoint and scenery worth sweating for, Bonneville Ridge is the one for you. As you are huffing and puffing up the 800 meter incline to the ridge, the fresh Yukon air combined with your warm exhale quickly coats your locks in frost making for a perfect Yukon snowshoe selfie worth posting on social media. The spectacular Bonneville Ridge Trail overlooks the pristine Fish Lake Valley, a popular ice-fishing locale. The workout getting to the viewpoint will have your blood pumping. Be sure not to layer too heavily on this trek because the cold Yukon air, the steady one hour incline up a well-tracked multi-use trail will have you warm in no time. Bonneville Ridge Trail is popular with both winter hikers and snowshoers and a favourite daily grind for locals and dog owners. The term ‘popular’ in the Yukon translates to basically barren with a friendly face every km or so which makes the trek that much more fun. For anyone wanting to push beyond the ridge line, there is an option to summit the peak which only adds another 30-40 minutes to your total travel time. Blazing snowshoe trails like Bonneville Ridge verifies the Yukon’s claim to the cleanest, purest air in the world.
Miles Canyon and the Chadburn Lake trail system on snowshoes is a must! Surrounded by bodies of water like Schwatka Lake, these interwoven trails are a smorgasbord to a snowshoeing diehard. It is to find the pot of Yukon gold you came to discover. The lack of traffic on the Canyon City Trail is refreshing. Shout out at the top of your lungs when high atop the Rim Trail and hear your echo as you revel in the moment of the perfect snowshoe experience. Being alone in the endless Yukon wilderness gave me a sense of freedom and spiritual connection to nature. In addition to the views, the suspension bridge, old Yukon mining carts and the Bigfoot-like trail mapping signs, there are a few additional surprises in store. Depending on your time limit and energy level, you could spend days exploring this trail system. Chadburn Lake trails are clearly marked and easy to self – guide, although once you’ve had a guide like ‘Yukon Dave’ it may be very difficult to decide to go solo.
A rustic – lux love affair with Inn on the Lake
Spending so much time outdoors breathing in fresh Yukon air can take a lot out of you. Sometimes a little bit of rustic-luxe as Inn on the Lake owner Carson Schiffcorn describes it, is like finding a little piece of Canadian heaven on earth. Rustic but oh so posh. This log cabin inn is nestled 50km from Whitehorse on the shores of Marsh Lake. We give Schiffcorn our stamp of approval for making guests feel pampered in the middle of nowhere. Inn on the Lake is perhaps the most intimate place to experience DIY (do-it-yourself) Aurora Borealis searching and sightings. The best place to view the Yukon’s famed Northern Lights is on the outskirts of town, so staying at the Inn on the Lake is like having private access to the ultimate climax to your Yukon adventure. When you get to curl up in your long johns and toque with a glass of Yukon Gold beer or wine lakeside, you realize that in the Yukon, life is good…really good. Soak in the outdoor hot-tub as you patiently wait for the night sky to begin its light show. Schiffcorn specializes in cheffing up decadent multi-course creations that include delicacies like elk and crab cakes. Carson, the incredibly charismatic owner will even include an Aurora wake up call. He aims to please. Be prepared because when the time arrives and the lights fall over the Inn, there is no time to waste. It could be 11pm or it could be 3am, but that is the thrill of the Northern Lights chase. You have to want to see them or poof! They are gone. The sky, the weather, Mother Nature all has to align but when they do, it’s pure northern bliss. Don’t worry; Carson leaves a self-serve candy bar should you need a surge of sugar to keep you going late into the night. When the Aurora does happen…strap on your snowshoes and head out towards the middle of the frozen Marsh Lake. As you look back on the Inn be prepared to be WOW’d and to fall in love with the Yukon.
It should be illegal to go to the Yukon and leave without trying dog mushing. A Canadian true north tradition, this sport will have you blazing trails only a team of huskies would tackle. The crew at Sky High Wilderness Ranch has a reputation around town as the ultimate outfitter. Congenial staff serve up meals and après snacks in the ranch’s onsite yurt adding to the overall amazing experience of sledding. You are the driver and you control your own pack of hounds. That alone is an adventure everyone should experience at least once in this lifetime, especially in the open wild of the Yukon. Within the embrace of the mountain ranges, with the wind in your face and dog poop flying, you will learn how to use your brakes and to never let go of your sled, two key techniques every novice musher must master. Not cheap, but worth every penny – visit Sky High Wilderness Ranch for pricing and bookings.
Rocking Star Adventures
Another Yukon must-do is a private glacier flight with Rocking Star Adventures. This is truly a once in a lifetime splurge that you will forever regret if you don’t do it. When in the Yukon, play hard and go big. You only live once and big magic happens when you face your fears; even if they include small planes, heights and confined spaces. Know that you are in the best of hands. Pilots know the territory like no one else. They live to share the beauty of this province. Bring all the camera gear you can muster. These epic photo opportunities may never come again. Flying high above the Kluane Region Mountains, the glaciers below are surreal. Do yourself a favor and make the trip out to Haines Junction for this unparalleled Yukon adventure. It is pure Yukon gold.
Aside from epic snowshoeing and mind-blowing outdoor adventures, it is the people who make the Yukon the coolest cold destination in Canada. Whether you are sipping craft beers at the Yukon Brewery or enjoying a hot toddy at the Woodcutters Blanket, there are plenty of northern après hot spots. According to the locals in Whitehorse, don’t miss après at places like The Dirty Northern, The Gold Pan Blues Bar, and of course The Capital Hotel. As for dining I loved the Wheelhouse, Antoinette’s and Georgio’s Cuccina for feel good-vibes and delicious food after a long day playing outdoors.
Whether it’s the Northern Lights, the virgin trails, the charismatic people or the extreme Canadian scenery, the Yukon is a winter snowshoe destination beyond your wildest expectations. Go get yourself some Yukon Gold!