After our adventures out east we flew from Halifax, via Toronto and Vancouver, to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon. To put the size of Canada into perspective, we crossed four time zones! It honestly felt like we were taking a step back in time to the good ol’ days. Basically everyone on the flight was geared up ready to hunt wildlife – it definitely felt like we had diverted off the main tourist route, much to our delight.
The Yukon is largely untouched. It has a landmass of 483,450 square kilometres (to be exact) and a population of less than 40,000. But 75 percent live in Whitehorse! I guess this could have something to do with how remote the Yukon is, (it’s just a casual 2,400 km drive from Vancouver to Whitehorse), and its harsh climate. The Yukon has what’s called a sub-arctic continental climate. In summer temperatures can reach 36 degrees celsius while in winter they can drop to minus 60 degrees celsius! The Yukon’s slogan is ‘larger than life’ and it couldn’t be more apt. We had five days in Yukon and these were our Top 5 highlights.
#1 – Northern Lights
As soon as we found out we were going to the Yukon Kyle was incredibly excited that he would get to see the Northern Lights. If that happened, he would be complete. As we were spending five nights in the Yukon it seemed that the odds were good! However, it rained everyday we were there and when it wasn’t raining it looked like it was about to.
On our last night I think Kyle had basically resigned to the fact he wasn’t going to see the Northern Lights on this trip, when we went to bed listening to the sound of rain on the roof. Around one hour later I was woken by an incredibly excited Kyle shouting, “I know you’re sleeping but you have to come outside right now. You can see the Northern Lights!”
When I walked outside I thought I was looking at cloud. Quickly the ‘cloud’ became a fluorescent green colour and started dancing around the sky. Next minute, Kyle was in the car and off to find a spot to film the Northern Lights. With the naked eye he watched the colours evolving from green to pink and yellow, meanwhile hearing the aurora hissing and crackling. For about three hours he watched the lights dance and explode across the sky before the cloud rolled back in and it started raining again.
#2 – Scenic Glacier Flight
In order to appreciate how large the mountains of the Kluane National Park are you really need to view them from the air. We think we have large mountains in New Zealand but, compared to Canada, we don’t. We did an epic 75 minute flight with Kluane Glacier Air Tours. It was just us two and the pilot in the small six seat plane. Every seat was a window seat that had unobstructed views.
We did the ‘Grande Mountain Tour’. When we took off from Haines Junction Airport the mountains looked massive but they were dwarfed once we got into glacier country. During the flight we saw many of Canada’s highest peaks, including Mount Logan (Canada’s highest mountain at 5959 metres), and the legacy of the last Ice Age. We learned that Kluane National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the significance of its ice field: This area has the world’s largest non-polar ice field and is home to some of the world’s longest and most spectacular glaciers.
In all honesty, this is a must do flight. The sheer scale of the mountains will blow your mind and the colours of the glacier are unreal!
#3 – Hiking in the Kluane National Park
There are plenty of hiking trails in the Kluane National Park, including both day hikes and overnight hikes. The unnerving thing though is at that at the start of every trail there are information boards reminding you you’re in Grizzly Bear country. I’ll be honest, those signs really discouraged me from wanting to hike! All the bear safety knowledge in the world wouldn’t help me if I saw a bear while out hiking…
It was suggested we do the first section of the Sheep Mountain Trail. We set off, armed with bear spray, which I had never heard of before! We’d been told to make lots of noise while hiking because, apparently, if a bear hears you coming it will avoid you. You don’t want to sneak up on a beer and surprise it. We literally got two minutes down the track before we came across a memorial for a lady who was mauled to death by a young male Grizzly bear.
Despite feeling uneasy we continued on. As we approached a viewpoint I noticed Kyle was staring at something on the ground; fresh bear footprints! However, he tried to tell me they were dog footprints to settle my nerves. I’m sorry but dogs don’t have paws that big or claws that long. Once at the viewpoint, I wandered off while Kyle was taking photos. That was until I found another memorial plaque!
Relieved, we made it back to the car unscathed. As beautiful as it was, I just don’t think I’m cut out for hiking in the wild Yukon.
#4 – The Alaska Highway
You’ve probably heard the saying before, ‘it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey itself’. Well that’s entirely true when it comes to driving the scenic highways of the Yukon! When we left Whitehorse, bound for Haines Junction, the scenery unfolded! The further along the Alaska Highway we went the higher the mountain peaks became, simply towering above the road.
As well as spectacular mountains lining the highway was the added bonus of autumn colours. The trees were a variation of bright yellows, oranges and reds, set amongst the evergreen pine trees. We weren’t expecting the change of season as it was only nearing the end of August. But I guess autumn comes early to the Yukon, given that it’s so far north of the equator.
#5 – Wildlife
When it comes to wildlife, you name it – the Yukon has it! We saw black bears, wolves and elk walk across the highway in front of our car, a large herd of elk running amongst bush alongside the highway, lots of deer, dall (giant mountain sheep), squirrels and chipmunks, and a fox.
The fox encounter was so cool. I was standing on a suspension bridge over Miles Canyon, just outside of Whitehorse. I felt someone walking on the bridge so looked to acknowledge them. It was a fox! It retreated back into the woods but Kyle decided to place a GoPro on the bridge in the hope the fox would try to cross the bridge again. And it did! He captured the fox running across the bridge on film. When we told some locals later on they said we were lucky the fox didn’t actually pick up the camera and run off with it!
We’d just like to add that we believe Moose are mythical creatures. Kyle potentially spotted a few during our glacier flight but they just looked like tiny brown dots. I read somewhere that the ratio of Moose to human in the Yukon is 2:1. Given these odds we thought we’d be likely to see a Moose but very few people live in the Yukon, and land mass is quite considerable. Perhaps we will next time.