The Yukon is one of three Canadian Territories that span the vast breadth of the country’s Arctic border. Alaska’s neighbor shares its stunning scenery, unspoiled wilderness and northern pride but visiting provides a distinctly Canadian experience. The Klondike gold rush of 1896 brought a stampeded of 100,000 hopeful prospectors to the area, many migrating north from Seattle and San Francisco. For the next couple of years, boom towns grew all the way to Dawson City and the North West Mounted Police became legendary peace keepers. They only made 150 arrests at the height of the gold rush, and over half of those were for prostitution.
If you’re heading up to the Yukon, you won’t want to miss these wild and wonderful places to see on your journey to the top of the world.
1. Top of the World Highway
This 79-mile stretch of road runs from Dawson City to Chicken, Alaska and much of it is unpaved. What you’ll see along the way, however, will stay with you for a lifetime. Panoramic views, breathtaking mountain scenery, and more wildlife than you’ll ever be able to capture on film.
2. The Dempster Highway
This unpaved road connects the Yukon to the neighboring Northwest Territories and the Arctic Ocean. That’s just over 450 miles of some of the most pristine terrain on earth. The Dempster is unique in that the road floats on a bed of gravel to insulate the permafrost so that it doesn’t melt from the heat transfer of the highway. You’ll be expecting to see dinosaurs in the spectacular valleys but will have to settle for herds of wild caribou, bears and moose.
3. The Chilkoot Trail
Prospectors had to climb the Chilkoot Pass on their way to the gold fields, rising 3,759 feet on its way from Dyea Alaska to Bennett Lake in British Columbia. Canadian officials wouldn’t let stampeders into the Klondike unless they had amassed at least one ton of provisions to survive life on the frontier, which meant multiple trips over the pass in the dead of winter. You can climb the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail and still see hundreds of artifacts left behind by thousands of prospectors along what has been called the world’s longest museum.
4. The Carcross Desert
Near Lake Bennett and the town of Carcross, you’ll find the world’s smallest desert. It’s just one square mile in area and was formerly a glacial lake bed. The surrounding mountains keep the area dry, allowing these unique dunes to form. Locals even enjoy a little sand boarding during the short summer months. You can visit from Skagway by hopping on the White Pass & Yukon Route railway.
5. Takhini Hot Springs
This historic site lies just outside of Whitehorse on the road to Dawson City. The hot springs were used by the Yukon’s First Nations People for centuries and the US Army built pools of wood and canvas when they were building the Alaska Highway in the 1940s. The mineral springs are warm, therapeutic, and definitely worth a visit.
It seems that no matter where you go in the Yukon, you’re greeted by yet another postcard-worthy view and the sense that you are in a truly wild and magical place. Take sensible precautions when you’re in bear country but be sure to take the road less traveled. In the Yukon, that means just about any road to anywhere.