People from all around the world come to the Yukon for very different reasons, but a common thread that calls people north is always a love of pristine, untouched wilderness. From the star-filled skies to the spectacular wildlife, here are six things every nature lover should embrace when they hear the call of the north.
Bask in the glow of the Aurora Borealis
Each year, as the long summer days recede into the fall, the Yukon skies boast one of the most spectacular light shows nature has to offer. Caused by electrically charged particles from the sun entering our atmosphere, spiralling ribbons and rippling curtains of vibrant green and purple light dance and undulate across the Yukon sky, creating an eerie glow that draws people from all over the globe.
Because of Yukon’s long summer days, your best chances of seeing the Northern Lights begin in late August and can extend until mid-April, though there’s never any guarantee that they’ll appear on a particular date. If you’re staying in Whitehorse during the peak season, you’ll have a good chance of seeing the Aurora, but the city’s lights may dampen the effect. To see them in their full glory, you can chart one of several tours to areas just outside of the city, where you’ll enjoy bonfires and cozy wall tents for warming up while you take in the show.
Visit the Miles Canyon basaltic cliffs
Named after General Nelson Miles in 1883, Miles Canyon was once a narrow chute of ferocious rapids that swallowed both the boats and the dreams of intrepid miners during the Klondike Gold Rush. Whitehorse’s hydroelectric dam later tamed the rapids, but they’re still one of the most picturesque stretches of the Yukon River, just 10 minutes from downtown Whitehorse.
The canyon’s beauty lies in its 50-foot basaltic walls, formed by the rapid cooling of lava in pre-glacial Yukon. For those who prefer to walk the water in the canyon, Miles Canyon is accessible via hiking trails that you can check out yourself or join a guided walking tour for a day trip, and there’s even a suspension bridge so you can take it all in. While admiring the basalts, you might also come across otters, beavers, bald eagles, and even bears, depending on the time of year you visit.
Hike Kluane National Park
At the top of every nature lover’s list should be Kluane National Park, a glaciated mountain range enveloped by a greenbelt that’s teeming with diverse wildlife, including Canada’s densest grizzly population and Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan, which stands at 5,959 metres.
Declared a World Heritage Site, the park combines with its pristine neighbours, Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Glacier Bay National Park, and British Columbia’s Tatshenshini Provincial Park, to serve as the largest land preserve on the planet. The park’s glaciers, peaks, and grasslands provide undisturbed habitats for wolves, lynx, grizzlies, and countless other species. Pack your camping gear and book a guided tour, or experience the true vastness of Kluane National Park’s spectacular beauty from the air with a scenic flight-seeing adventure.
Mountain bike down Mount Sima
Whitehorse’s Mount Sima is no slouch when it comes to offering adventure activities for the nature enthusiast. For winter adventure, Mount Sima offers skiing and snowboarding on a variety of trails whether you’re a beginner, looking for something more intense, or if you are just looking to experience the day freestyle.
But there’s more to the mountain than just skiing and snowboarding. During the summer months, you can ride the chairlift and rip downhill on your mountain bike or take in Sima’s scenic descents by foot on any number of hiking trails on the mountain.
Visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve
With 80 percent of Yukon’s land still in a state of pristine wilderness (compared to only 40 percent of North America as a whole) most of Yukon is already an untouched wildlife reserve. But for a condensed view of Yukon’s spectacular habitats and the animals that call them home, visiting the Yukon Wildlife Preserve is a must. Spanning 700 acres of varied landscape, the preserve ranges from rolling hills and rocky cliffs to wetlands, and is home to a host of diverse wildlife. Visitors can see wood bison, arctic foxes, moose, mountain goats, and thinhorn sheep, to name just a few, and all are in their untouched natural habitats.
Paddle the Yukon River
The Yukon River runs for 3,190 kilometres, from its source in B.C. to where it empties into the Bering Sea at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Passing through the Yukon’s capital city, Whitehorse, and other Yukon communities of Carmacks, and Dawson City, it offers paddlers plenty of untouched spots to escape the city and enter the wild.
A number of guided river trips will take you along the routes forged by First Nations peoples and later used by Gold Rush prospectors, on single- or multi-day paddles. In addition to the spectacular scenery, while you’re out paddling you can expect to see plenty of Yukon wildlife, from the moose and grizzlies who frequent the river’s banks to the Canada lynx, who’ve even been known to go for the occasional swim!
Meet wildlife photographer Peter Mather as he journeys along the Alaska Highway to Kluane National Park.