Updated: October 13th, 2020
Known for its dramatic landscapes, vast wilderness, and the famous Klondike Gold Rush, the Yukon has been capturing people’s imaginations for years. With four-legged creatures far outnumbering humans, Canada’s tallest mountain peaks, and the world’s largest non-polar glacier, the Yukon is a true paradise for adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts.
In this Yukon travel guide, we’ll share with you the best things to do in the Yukon, as well as how to get there, where to stay, and more.
But first, some Yukon fun facts!
- Kluane National Park is the most Western point in Canada and is home to the largest non-polar glacier in the world.
- Dawson City was the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush.
- The Yukon is home to Canada’s highest mountain and also Canada’s most westerly point! (nope, it’s not Vancouver Island)
Getting to the Yukon
Deep in Northern Canada, the Yukon is a true paradise for those who love the outdoors. Luckily for you, there are a couple of ways to get there.
Getting to the Yukon by Car
The Yukon makes for a great Canadian road trip. For the most part, you would be entering via British Columbia, although you could arrive from the northern part of Northwest Territories or from Alaska as well. Most people enter via the Alaska Highway, coming from BC or from Alberta.
Getting to the Yukon by Plane
Another popular way to visit the Yukon is by flying. The main airport is located in Whitehorse and is called the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport. There are other smaller regional airports as well, including up in Dawson City, but most people arrive to the Yukon via Whitehorse. You can catch regular flights with Air North, Yukon’s Airline, from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Kelowna, Victoria and Yellowknife. You can also arrive via Air Canada, WestJet, and Condor.
Getting to Yukon by Ship
There are also some cruises that enter the Yukon, typically with the final destination being Skagway, Alaska.
Best Time to Visit the Yukon
Just like much of Canada, the best time to visit the Yukon would be in the summer months, between late June and September. Due to how north the Yukon is, the fall and winter come much faster than the southern parts of Canada. Most of the tourism season is during the summer months. However, if you’re looking specifically to experience winter activities or have a higher chance of seeing the northern lights, then the late fall or winter can be a good time to visit as well. We would not recommend a road trip during the winter months though unless you are very experienced with harsh winter driving.
Road to 150 – Yukon Episode
During our 150-day road trip across Canada, the Yukon was our 10th stop, just after the Northwest Territories. We started off in Whitehorse, the Yukon’s capital city, driving in from BC. From there, we toured the SS Klondike, ate some delicious food in Whitehorse’s oldest buildings, saw heaps of wildlife, and caught a glimpse of the Northern Lights. We then went to Dawson, the worlds most famous gold rush town. We walked around the old boardwalk streets, went gold panning, toured the massive dredge #4, watched a Cancan show at the oldest casino in the country, and took a river cruise on a paddle-wheeler. We then drove up the infamous Dempster Highway all the way to Eagle Plains, past the Arctic Circle and into the Northwest Territories. After coming back and spending another night in Dawson, we drove to Kluane National Park for one of the most epic flightseeing tours we’ve ever experienced. The Yukon really is an epic adventure!
What to Do in the Yukon
Although the Yukon is a big territory, there are only a few towns and cities to explore. Whitehorse is the capital and Dawson is one of the top tourist attractions. Most of the territory, however, is wilderness, which makes it a paradise for those into the great outdoors! Below are some of the top things to do in each location.
Things To Do In Whitehorse
As the Yukon’s only true city, you really can’t miss Whitehorse. Not only is it a beautiful town with some cool history, but it’s also a great base to prepare for any other adventures you might be planning. You’ll find all the services you need as well as a variety of restaurants. From here, you’re only two hours from Kluane National Park and seven hours from Dawson.
SS Klondike National Historic Site
This was the largest sternwheeler to plie the upper Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City. Today, the boat is restored and re-furnished, making it an incredible site to tour and learn about the riverboats that linked the Yukon to the outside world. It’s really fascinating to learn how these boats worked and the people who rode them.
MacBride Museum of Yukon History
We didn’t have a lot of time to explore this museum but it’s filled with cool artifacts from the gold rush days and is a wonderful way to learn about the history of the Yukon. We also took a short historical walking tour with them through Whitehorse, which really gave us new insight into this northern destination. We definitely recommend stopping here.
Yukon Wildlife Preserve
For those interested in wildlife, this is a great place to come. Just 30 minutes outside of Whitehorse, the Yukon Wildlife Preserve makes it much easier to see the animals of the territory. There’s a 5-km loop walk that will take you through a variety of large areas to see animals such as moose, muskox, lynx, caribou and more. For those not so much into the walk, there’s also scheduled bus tours through the park that will give non-walkers the opportunities to see all the animals. For those without transportation, there are a number of tours that include the Preserve and the hot springs mentioned below.
Takhini Hot Springs
One of the most popular attractions is the Takhini Hot Springs, which is located just 28 kilometres from Whitehorse. With the mineral-rich waters and hot temperatures, these hot springs are open year-round and are also a great place to witness the Northern Lights! For those into camping, there’s a campground here as well. If you don’t have transportation, there are a number of tours that will take you here as well.
Once the ice has begun to break up in the spring, Chinook salmon rush upstream from the Pacific Ocean to their Yukon River spawning grounds. Some even go as far as Whitehorse, taking roughly 60 days to swim the 3,000-kilometer trek. The Whitehorse Fishway allows visitors to witness this amazing spectacle as the salmon climb the Whitehorse Fishladder and Hatchery. The hydroelectric dam, which is where the fish ladder is located is the longest such structure in the world and features an interpretation centre for those wanting to learn about the fishery and see them from the underwater window.
Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center
This interesting little museum is located near the Airport. This museum holds the history of the area during the existence of the land bridge known as Beringia and showcases ice age animals and the first known humans in the area. There are also short videos and movies that you can watch in their theatre.
Yukon Transportation Museum
Located right next to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center, you’ll easily spot this museum thanks to the airplane outside. This historic plane is a DC-3 aircraft, CF-CPY, with her original 1950s vintage Canadian Pacific Airlines colours and has been made into a wind vane! The museum itself features the history of how the gold rush miners travelled, the history of the local bush pilots, the building of the highway and its first vehicles, and so much more.
Witness the Northern Lights
Although the Northern Lights can be tricky to see, the Yukon is a great place to try. In fact, it’s one of the best places in Canada to see the natural phenomenon. They are best seen between late August and mid-April, but it’s never guaranteed. There are several companies in Whitehorse that offer tours to places outside the city where the city lights won’t dim your chances of viewing the night colours. During our visit, we went with Northern Tales, which has their office inside the Best Western hotel.
For the best chance at sighting them, you can join an adventurous 4-day Aurora viewing tour.
Explore Miles Canyon
Just minutes from downtown Whitehorse is the beautiful Miles Canyon, a great place to go for a hike or a drive. This beautiful setting showcases the Yukon River with its steep banks and rushing waters, which makes for a great photo opportunity. There’s a lookout point for those looking for a quick view, but there’s also a suspension bridge that allows you to cross the river and enjoy a variety of hikes. Built back in 1922, the bridge itself is worth the stop.
Yukon Government Building
Home to beautiful tapestries and paintings produced in the Yukon, the Territorial Government Building is well worth a visit. Only some of them are visible to the public but the lobby-long mural of stained glass is worth the visit in and of itself. There’s also an on-site cafe if you’re needing a java jolt.
Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre
Built back in 2012, the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre offers visitors an opportunity to learn about the first people to have settled in the area – the Kwanlin Dün. Visitors will find a collection of rare Kwanlin Dün cultural artifacts, along with the opportunity to experience performances of traditional music, dance, and storytelling. Indigenous art is also on display, with rotating exhibits from a variety of local and other artists from across Canada.
Paddle the Yukon River
For those interested in paddling, the Yukon River provides heaps of adventure. Whether you’re looking to go out for a couple of hours or a couple of weeks, there’s an opportunity for everyone. If you need rentals, there are rental shops and tour companies offering a range of experiences.
Check prices and availability for our favourite half-day Yukon River canoeing experience here.
Where to Eat in Whitehorse
Klondike Rib & Salmon
Located in the two oldest buildings in Whitehorse, this is one of those restaurants you really shouldn’t miss. We had delicious BBQ ribs, maple salmon, fish n’ chips, and a salmon burger before finishing it all up with a warm brownie and bumbleberry pie. This was one of our best meals on the trip and being around the historical buildings made it very special. Plus, the owner is a truly awesome person. 🙂
Things To Do Around Kluane National Park
Located at Canada’s furthest Western point, Kluane National Park is one of the most spectacular places in the world. Home to Canada’s tallest mountain and the largest non-polar glacier in the world, this is a place that’s full of mind-blowing vistas and adventure. The Park forms part of the largest internationally protected area on earth and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Haines Junction and the Da Kų Cultural Centre
Just an hour away from Whitehorse and close to Kluane National Park is Haines Junction and the Da Kų Cultural Centre. The community lies within the traditional territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, who have lived in the area for thousands of years. The Da Kų Cultural Centre proudly showcases traditional and modern work by Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.
Icefields Discovery Flight Tour
Flightseeing tours around mountains are always an incredible experience but this tour took it to a whole new level. Not only did we soar around some of Canada’s highest peaks but we even landed on the largest non-polar glacier in the world! The skis came down, the plane landed, and the next thing you know, we’re running around in the snow…in the summertime!
Hiking, Rafting, Camping, and More
Kluane National Park is full of opportunities for adventure, including hiking, rafting, camping, mountaineering, mountain biking, boating, fishing, bird watching, and so much more! For more on what to do here, visit Parks Canada.
Things To Do in Dawson City
Dawson is one of those places that should be on everyone’s bucket list. As the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush from 1896 to 1899, Dawson has retained many of its old Western-style historical buildings, which make it a one-of-a-kind experience you can’t find anywhere else. It truly felt like we had stepped back in time to the late 1800s and early 1900s when people came from all over the world in hopes of striking it rich. Definitely one of the coolest towns in all of Canada!
Five Finger Rapids
If you’re looking for a scenic stop on the way to Dawson from Whitehorse, Five Finger Rapids is an excellent choice. Located just 24 kilometres north of Carmacks, you’ll find a 2-km walking trail that leads to cliffs overlooking the Yukon River’s famous Five Finger Rapids. What makes this site unique is that these “fingers” are composed of conglomerate rock (pebbles and boulders embedded in a sand-to-mud matrix) that is more resistant to erosion than surrounding mudstone layers. It’s hard to believe but this was actually navigable for the big sternwheelers making their way north. Only one channel was navigable, however, and a cable was attached to the rocks so sternwheelers could hook onto it and winch themselves upstream. Whether you’re stopping for the history or just for the views, it’s a great place to stretch the legs.
Dawson City Museum
Open all year round and located right in the town of Dawson City, this wonderful little museum is full of artifacts and information based on the Gold Rush and the lives of those who experienced Dawson City back in its prime, along with the ancient history and First Nations People of the area. We list this first because it’s a great place to stop first and get some background on the area.
Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall
There’s not very many towns that house a casino worthy of a “top things to do” list but Diamond Tooth Gertie’s is a must-visit! Not only is it the first casino in Canada, but it still remains much of its wild-west charm, including can-can shows that make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a classic Western movie. Even better, this casino is a non-profit! Please note that you must be over the age of 19 to enter.
Goldbottom Mine Tours
If you’re looking for the ultimate gold mining tour, this is the one to do. They offer tours of the nearby dredge #4, as well as gold panning tours at an active gold mine. Learn how it’s all done from start to finish. We even found a couple of flakes of gold during our gold panning experience.
Klondike National Historic Site
Since Parks Canada manages a number of historical buildings in Dawson, taking a tour with them is a must. We got to go inside an old tavern, bank, post office, and so much more, all the while learning about the history from a costumed interpreter. Highly recommended!
Try the Infamous Sourtoe Cocktail
Where else can you drink a shot of alcohol with a real human toe inside? That’s right. It’s called the Sourtoe Cocktail and is now a time-honoured tradition in Dawson City, which consists of your choice of alcohol with a mummified human toe inside. Don’t worry. You don’t eat the toe. In fact, if you do swallow the tow, I believe you’ll get a $2,000 fine. The toe is simply there to touch your lip as the alcohol makes its way down your gullet.
If you’re travelling all the way to Dawson City, one of Canada’s most northerly towns and home of the Klondike Gold Rush, it makes sense to visit the historic site of Bonanza Creek. This is where you’ll find the first claim that led to the massive gold rush. The Discovery Claim, about 16km (10 miles) up Bonanza Creek Road, is the spot, now marked by a National Historic Sites cairn, where George Carmack, Skookum Jim, and Tagish Charlie found the gold that unleashed the Klondike stampede in 1896. Please keep in mind that most of this area is private land and therefore, you can’t go panning for gold. However, you can do some free panning yourself at Claim 6, 15km (9 1/4 miles) up Bonanza Road.
Dredge No 4 National Historic Site
This gold dredge, built back in 1912, was an important fixture for the Canadian Klondike Mining Company and continues to play a role in the living history of the Dawson City area. As the biggest of its kind in North America, you can visit to learn more about its inner workings and stories. Tours are run by private operators from the town.
Claim 33 Gold Panning
This Klondike Mining Museum and Goldpanning site is a great place to learn about the gold rush and experience gold panning itself. You’ll receive instruction on panning techniques and then go out to hopefully strike gold. You’ll also find antique mining equipment and vintage vehicles, as well as a gift shop.
Jack London Museum
Tucked in a quiet corner in Dawson City, this tiny museum is dedicated to the life and writing of White Fang author, Jack London. You’ll find historical archives and photographs while learning about London’s adventures before, during and after the Klondike Gold Rush. Explore the museum on your own or visit during one of their interactive and informative presentations. During your visit, you can also look inside the home where London resides during his days as a gold seeker. It’s a replica built from half the logs of London’s original cabin which was located on the North Fork of Henderson Creek.
If you’re looking for an incredible view over Dawson and the surrounding area, this is the place to go. You can either drive here in about 15 minutes or hike here if you’re looking for some exercise and more of an adventure. Either way, you’ll be greeted by panoramic views of the region. If you do happen to hike, you’ll have to find the unmarked trailhead off of the Ninth Avenue Trail and King Street and the hikes can range from easy to hard. You’ll want to talk to locals before making the attempt. The round-trip distance is about 5 miles and has an elevation gain fo 1700 feet
George Black Ferry
If you’re looking for another road trip adventure, consider taking the George Black Ferry across the Yukon River to access the Top of the World Highway from the North Klondike Highway. It’s a free service that runs 24 hours per day except Friday mornings when it is shut down for service between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.
Where to Stay in Dawson
Klondike Kates Cabins and Restaurant
Located right in the centre of Dawson, these cozy cabins are a great place to rest your head. We loved our stay here as well as the restaurant, which is located in a rustic historic building.
Where to Eat in Dawson
The Drunken Goat Taverna
We definitely didn’t expect to be eating at a Greek restaurant during our time in Dawson but we’re so happy we did. As per the recommendation of the server, we ended up ordering a huge variety plate, which included a marvellous greek salad, lamb, ribs, chicken, pastries, and so much more. A true delight in Dawson!
Driving the Dempster Highway
Ahh, the Dempster Highway. The notorious 800-km dirt road that goes past the Arctic Circle and up to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. We were so excited to drive this highway to the North but also nervous from all the horror stories of punctured tires and broken windshields. There’s very little service along the way as well, so you have to be well-prepared. It’s not as bad as people say though, and we made it up and down with only one flat tire, which we had repaired in Eagle Plains. Either way, get prepared, take it slow, and enjoy some of the best scenery on Earth.
Tombstone Territorial Park
The pristine wilderness of Tombstone Territorial Park is located just a short distance up the Dempster Highway, approximately 75 kilometres from Dawson. This can be visited as part of a long day trip or you can go camping as well. There’s plenty of hiking opportunities and the fall colours are quite spectacular in late August. It’s a beautiful park with rugged high mountain peaks, permafrost landforms, and abundant wildlife and is a legacy of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in land claim agreement and lies within their traditional territory. You’ll also find an Interpretive Center with toilets, guided walks, interpretive signs, a library and a gift shop.
Eagle Plains Hotel
This little town (population: 9) is located right in the middle of the Dempster Highway and is the only service you’ll find between Dawson and Fort McPherson. They run a service shop, gas station, restaurant, pub, hotel, and camping site. They also have a pool table, WiFi, and off-sales. We stayed here one night in each direction and it was a great place to rest before continuing the long drives. The breakfast is also great and priced well considering how far they are from anything else. We also saw the best Northern Lights of our entire trip right outside the front door.
If you drive the entire Dempster Highway, you’ll end up in Inuvik, which is home to lots of cool things to do as well. From here, you can continue up to Tuktoyaktuk, driving Canadas only all-season road to the Arctic Ocean!
Things to Do in Carcross and Area
Just an hour south of Whitehorse and close to the BC border, the town of Carcross and the surrounding region is home to even more adventure and history. Here are some things you should do when visiting the area.
The Town of Carcross
Used by the Tagish and Tlingit First Nations for generations, the town of Carcross got its fame from the gold rush as its one of the oldest gold rush towns in the territory. Grab a self-guided walking tour map from the visitor centre and explore the towns historic buildings, First Nations exhibits, totem poles, wood carvings, and more. You can also visit or stay in the historic Caribou Hotel, which is known to be haunted.
Just before the small town of Carcross on the South Klondike Highway is the world’s smallest desert. This incredible spot is actually a series of sand dunes measuring about one square mile. You’ll find some unique plants and have the opportunity to walk over the dunes, a cool experience considering you’re in Northern Canada!
Caribou Crossing Trading Post
Just outside of Carcross is Caribou Crossing, which is home to a wildlife gallery, petting farm, and restaurant. They also offer dog sled rides at certain times and is a popular place for those with kids. If you have your own car, it is recommended that you visit first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the big bus groups throughout the day.
Lake Bennett and Historic Site
If you’re looking to visit an abandoned town, you’ll want to visit Bennett, which is located on the shores of Bennett Lake. However, to get there you must visit by boat, by hiking, or by train. The White Pass & Yukon Railway allows visitors to journey on a historic steam train, which is an incredible way to enjoy and learn about the area. Broken objects are littered everywhere, attesting to the fact that this was once a booming town. For more adventure, you can choose a one-way journey, which allows you to camp at the site, hike the famous Chilkoot Trail, or head all the way down into Skagway, Alaska.
Located just a short distance down the South Klondike Highway from Whitehorse, Emerald Lake is a popular stop for visitors to see the cool green highlights of the lake waters. There’s a lookout point that provides information on what causes the lake to be so vibrantly coloured and there are some opportunities for hiking as well. This is also an excellent place to witness beautiful fall colours in August and September.
Other things to do in the Yukon
Whether you’re entering the Yukon through Watson Lake or looking for other adventures like white water rafting, there’s more to the Yukon than Whitehorse, Dawson, and Carcross. Here are some other things to do during your visit.
Watson Lake Signpost Forest
For those coming from British Columbia along the Alaska Highway, you’ll likely pass right by the Watson Lake Signpost Forest, a quirky outdoor “museum” with 72,000 signs from all over the world. It was actually started by a homesick American soldier who posted his hometown sign of Danville, Illinois but then progressed as other travellers started adding their own signs.
Northern Lights Center
Another place to visit around Watson Lake is the Northern Lights Centre, which features videos of Northern Lights footage captured in the Yukon over a three-year period. If you happen to be here when Aurora Borealis activity is not at its peak, this is a great place to experience it in another way.
For those looking for some excellent rafting opportunities, it makes sense to visit a river that’s been rated as one of the top ten river trips in the world! The Tatshenshini is located in the largest preserve in the world, which consists of Glacier Bay National Park, BC Tatshenshini Provincial Park, Kluane National Park and Yukon Game Preserve. River activities are located both in southern Yukon and northern BC. The scenery is quite overwhelming, with 15,000 foot-high-peaks and glacier-covered valleys surround the snaking river.
For the ultimate Yukon adventure, you can even join a 10-day Tatshenshini River Expedition.
Exploring the Yukon
Whenever we think of the Yukon, we think of adventure. It’s the wild frontier. Everywhere you look it’s beautiful. You can find everything here, including Rich First Nations culture, the highest mountains in Canada, massive glaciers, pristine rivers, world-class road trips, the one-and-only Dawson City, and so much more! During our trip, we saw a lot and yet only scratched the surface. We can’t wait to go back to the Yukon, both in the summer and the winter!
For more things to do in Canada, check out these articles below!
- Things to Do in Northwest Territories
- Things to Do in British Columbia
- Things to Do in Alberta
- Things to Do in Calgary
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