The Yukon is the westernmost of Canada's three northern territories. It is an area larger than Sweden, but with a population smaller than that of Sweden's 55th largest municipality. It is a wildly beautiful region, with extremely long, warm summer days and extremely short, extremely cold winter days. Exploring this region can be expensive, but very rewarding. Many of the visitors in the Yukon are travelling to Alaska on the Alaska Highway.
As this area is sparsely populated, populations that barely register as a "spot on the map" elsewhere are "major towns" in Yukon terminology.
- 2 Dawson City — historic Klondike gold rush town, now a National Historic Site
- 3 Watson Lake — the Yukon's most southern community, and home of the famous Signpost Forest
- 4 Haines Junction — gateway to the Kluane National Park and Reserve
- 5 Teslin — home to the Teslin Inland Tlingit First Nations, it has one of the largest native populations in Yukon
- 6 Carcross — world-class mountain biking on the near-by Montana Mountain, and access to Carcross Desert, often referred to as the "world's smallest desert"
- 7 Old Crow — a small village in the north, and the only community in the territory without road access
- 8 Beaver Creek — Canada's westernmost community
- 9 Faro — a place to see Dall's sheep and Stone's sheep, a species of mountain sheep almost unique to the surrounding area, and it has a golf course running through the main part of town
- 10 Mayo — home of the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun
- 11 Carmacks — a traditional stopover for travellers between Whitehorse and Dawson City
- 12 Tagish — at the northern end of Tagish Lake
- 13 Ross River — a former mining town, home of the Ross River Dena First Nation
- 1 Herschel Island — Yukon's only offshore island, and a possible future UNESCO World Heritage Site because of evidence of settlement by the Thule culture a thousand years ago. Roald Amundsen wintered here in 1905.
- 2 Ivvavik National Park — hiking, and rafting on the Firth River, which drains into the Beaufort Sea, and is considered one of the great rafting rivers of the world
- 3 Kluane National Park — generally accessible only via a flightseeing tour or on a serious mountaineering or ski touring expedition
- 4 Tombstone Territorial Park — rugged peaks, permafrost landforms and wildlife, including sections of the Blackstone Uplands and the Ogilvie Mountains
- 5 Vuntut National Park — very undeveloped, no roads or developed trails, fewer than 25 human visitors a year, but more than 200,000 Caribou pass through annually
The Yukon is very sparsely populated, as the whole territory has a population of about 41,000 people. This is less than many small cities in southern Canada. Its population is about 68% European Canadian, 19% First Nations (Indigenous), 8.5% visible minority, 3% Métis, and less than 1% Inuit (formerly called "Eskimos", a term that is now offensive to many people).
Long before the arrival of Europeans, central and southern Yukon was populated by First Nations people, and the area escaped glaciation. Sites of archaeological significance in Yukon hold some of the earliest evidence of the presence of human habitation in North America. The sites safeguard the history of the first people and the earliest First Nations of the Yukon.
The volcanic eruption of Mount Churchill in approximately 800 AD in what is now the U.S. state of Alaska blanketed southern Yukon with a layer of ash which can still be seen along the Klondike Highway, and which forms part of the oral tradition of First Nations peoples in Yukon and further south in Canada.
Coastal and inland First Nations had extensive trading networks. European incursions into the area began early in the 19th century with the fur trade, followed by missionaries. By the 1870s and 1880s, gold miners began to arrive. This drove a population increase that justified the establishment of a police force, just in time for the start of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. The increased population coming with the Gold Rush led to the separation of the Yukon district from the Northwest Territories and the formation of the separate Yukon Territory in 1898.
While the average winter temperature in Yukon is mild by Canadian arctic standards, no other place in North America gets as cold as Yukon during extreme cold snaps. The temperature has dropped down to −60 °C (−76 °F) three times, 1947, 1952, and 1968. The most extreme cold snap occurred in February 1947 when the abandoned town of Snag dropped down to −63.0 °C (−81.4 °F).
Unlike most of Canada where the most extreme heat waves occur in July, August, and even September, Yukon's extreme heat tends to occur in June and even May.
A number of terms are commonly used in the North:
- cheechako — someone who has spent less than a full year in the North.
- ice bridge — a road that crosses a river on ice.
- outside — anywhere below the 60th parallel, which is the southern border of Yukon
- parka — a very bulky jacket, a necessity in the winter.
- sourdough — someone who has lived in the North for a number of years.
- The Yukon — don't omit the article unless you want to alienate the locals. From 2003 to 2021, the territorial government tried to get people to call it "Yukon", but eventually gave up trying.
- tree line — the northernmost extent of trees, north of which trees do not grow. The exact extent depends on elevation.
- winter road — a road that can only be used in the winter. Usually too wet and muddy in the summer to be passable.
The only "significant" airport in the Yukon is in Whitehorse (YXY IATA). Air Canada offers daily direct flights from Vancouver. Air North offers flights from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, Kelowna, and, seasonally, Ottawa and Yellowknife.
Most goods arrive in the Yukon by road. However, distances in Yukon are bigger than almost anywhere else in the world. It is not uncommon to go over 200 km between very small towns.
The majority of the people travelling through Yukon are driving on their way to Alaska. There are 2 highways into the Yukon from Southern Canada:
- Highway 97 (in British Columbia) / Highway 1 (in Yukon), known as the Alaska Highway, comes from Dawson Creek in the northeast of British Columbia.
- Highway 37 (Stewart-Cassiar Highway) connects with the Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) in Kitwanga between Prince George and Prince Rupert in Central British Columbia. Highway 37 terminates at Highway 1 (Alaska Highway) near Watson Lake.
In winter, the Alaska Highway is far more travelled than the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. There are not enough charging stations along either highway for most electric vehicles to reach the Yukon by road.
Many also come to the Yukon as part of a tour with an Alaska Cruise. Generally as part of the package it is possible to include a bus tour of parts of the Yukon. In some cases it may be possible to stay over in the Yukon for one or two weeks and return on the next cruise.
There is no scheduled coach service from the South to the Yukon. In summer, some bus tours from Alaska may be available.
If you are not bothered by driving long distances, exploring the Yukon by road can be a great way to see this territory's natural beauty. The distances between service stations can be vast; make sure your vehicle is in good condition, and prepare for the worst. Drive for the conditions and expect to see large animals in the middle of the highway. Obtain a good highway map of the territory as soon as possible. A free map titled "Canada's Yukon Highway Map", found at visitor centres and some service stations, classifies roads into primary (90-100 km/h), secondary (70-90 km/h), and local (50-80 km/h), as well as paved, dust treated, and untreated. This information will be of great use when selecting a route suitable for you and your vehicle. Be sure to check road conditions at 511 Yukon as seasonal flooding and road construction may delay or disrupt your travel.
Gasoline is expensive. Use can save a but by using "cardlocj" gas stations. While elsewhere in Canada they are usually reserved for truckers ("commercial cardlock"), many in Yukon are open to anyone ("public cardlock"). Pay in the kiosk, and follow the posted instructions carefully.
If the thought of driving such long distances doesn't thrill you, consider crossing some distances in the sky (but this can be quite expensive). Air North is the major regional carrier in the Yukon. It serves Dawson City, Old Crow (the Yukon's only community without road access), and Whitehorse in the Yukon, as well as, in the Northwest Territories, Inuvik, and, seasonally, Yellowknife.
Charter flights on Alkan Air take you to more than 20 aerodromes in the Yukon. Additionally, a number of seaplane and helicopter companies provide services across the territory.
Three times a week, a shuttle bus runs from Watson Lake via Teslin to Whitehorse in the morning and back in the afternoon.
In summer months, a bus runs from Dawson City to Whitehorse and back two to three times a week. Travel time is 7 hours one way.
Many of the visitors in the winter come to the North specifically to see the Northern Lights. In the summer, the days are very long (up to 24 hours when north of the Arctic Circle). If you can't see them outside, see them inside at the Northern Lights Centre in Watson Lake, which features a northern lights multimedia presentation in a theatre.
Dawson City is the place to go to get a taste of the history of the Gold Rush. The "Dawson Historical Complex" is a National Historic Site encompassing the historic core of the town. Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall is a touristy relic with can-can shows and gambling. The Paddle Boat Graveyard has a collection of old paddle boats that you can crawl around in and on.
In Whitehorse, you'll find sternwheeler paddleboat, turned into a museum, the MacBride Museum of local history, and the Beringia Interpretive Centre about the land bridge from Asia to North America. The Tage Cho Hudan Interpretive Centre in Carmacks and the Da Kų Culture Centre in Haibes Junction showcase the past and present culture of the territory's First Nations.
The Signpost Forest, at the intersection of the Alaska and Robert Campbell Highways, in Watson Lake has over 80,000 signs to cities and towns around the world.
Seeing the caribou migration near Old Crow is not an easy thing to do, but would be an amazing experience.
Yukon is sparsely populated, and has wide-open spaces under a great big sky, ready for outdoor recreation. You'll be on your own more than in other places as there are fewer tourism businesses, but with some research and planning, Yukon can provide a top-notch adventure experience.
In summer, there is hiking, camping, canoeing on wild rivers, and cycling. There is rafting on the Alsek River in Kluane National Park, and diwn the Firth River through Ivvavik National Park to the Arctic Ocean. You can hike the Yukon sections of the Trans Canada Trail.
In the winter, alpine skiing at Dawson City, Whitehorse or Watson Lake, cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowmobiling, dog sled rides, and ice fishing, and fat bike cycling.
"Flightseeing" over Kluane National Park, or tours by airplane, is expensive, but can be an excellent way to appreciate the vastness of the Yukon wilderness.
Food has to travel a long way to get to the Yukon, so you will not find quite the variety of fruits and vegetables you would in the south, and the prices are significantly higher.
Historically hunting is a way of life in the North and Yukoners still tend to eat a lot more meat, especially wild game, than Southerners.
Whitehorse is a major supply centre and therefore despite the small size you will find several chain restaurants, and many very nice local restaurants that have diverse menus.
The legal drinking age in the Yukon is 19. The Yukon Liquor Corporation operates 6 liquor stores in the territory. These are in Whitehorse, Watson Lake, Dawson, Haines Junction, Faro, and Mayo. Alcohol is also available from "off-sales" of bars. There is a 30% premium for purchasing from off-sales. The liquor stores in the rural communities also operate as government agents and provide services such as driver licences, fishing licences, motor vehicle registrations, property taxes, business licences and court fines. If you require all of these in a single trip you receive a Yukon Yoddeller award.
Some communities in the North are officially "dry" communities. In these communities alcohol is not available and bringing in alcohol may be illegal.
From the Yukon you can get to Alaska at either the Beaver Creek border crossing on the Alaska Highway, or the Little Gold border crossing on the Top Of The World Highway west of Dawson City. You can also travel to Skagway, Alaska by heading south from Whitehorse and through the north-western tip of British Columbia.
The community of Atlin in the northwest corner of British Columbia is a very interesting little community that can only be accessed from the Yukon.
The Dempster Highway is the northern-most highway in the world. It begins near Dawson City, goes to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories and ends in Tuktoyaktuk on the Arctic Ocean. The Dempster is famous for causing tire failures, so come prepared.