Bears, gold & deserts

An unforgettable road trip through the Yukon Territory

July 7, 2017, by Katja Bauer/KiANA Switzerland (European Representation of GoNorth)

Following an invitation of Tourism Yukon, I got the chance to join a road trip through the Yukon together with 5 other travel- and media specialists from Europe. Amazing scenic drives, diverse wildlife, fantastic food & blue skies included! After spending the first night in “the wilderness capital” Whitehorse and taking in some of the attractions in the area, our first driving leg took us on the Alaska Highway to Haines Junction.

Bird's Eye View

Get a glimpse of Kluane National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias and Glacier Bay National Parks on a scenic flight from Haines Junction.

Haines Junction is the base for scenic flights over Kluane National Park. Of course, we had to check this out. Just after take-off we spotted a grizzly bear mum with her two cups calmly sitting in the grass almost next to the runway. What a start! The next hour on the small plane took us over an amazing scenery featuring vast flat lands as well as an abundance of snowcapped mountain peaks and impressive glaciers.

Hard to believe that what you see is only a very small glimpse of a massive protected wilderness area, encompassing not only Kluane National Park but also the Wrangell-St. Elias and Glacier Bay National Parks in Alaska. There is a little downside though… It often gets quite bumpy on those small planes. But this is all part of the experience and when you are back on the ground it for sure serves for a good story.

Hey bear!

Haines Road starting just south of Haines Junction is a great spot for viewing wildlife like bears, moose and lynx.

Beautiful Reflections

Kluane Lake is the largest lake in the Yukon and driving along its shores rewards you with impressive scenery.

Wildlife viewing is also always good for an impressive story. Since we were travelling in two cars and didn’t always go at the same pace, we ended up in a little competition. While we ended up with an equal amount of bears (4 grizzlies and 1 black bear!), one group clearly won the moose count whereas my group was ahead with porcupines and lynx. A good place for wildlife viewing is the Haines Road starting just south of Haines Junction and leading through a very diverse and scenic landscape all the way to Haines, Alaska.

One of my favorite scenic drives is the drive along the shores of Kluane Lake. This is the largest lake in the Yukon and it usually shows an impressive reflection of the surrounding mountains in the water. The fact that there was still some smaller chunks of ice left on the lake made it even better.

On Top of the World

The famous Top of the World Highway winds its way into the mountains and offers spectacular views around every corner.

Talking about scenic drives: After an overnight near Beaver Creek we crossed the border into Alaska. Even though there was not much traffic it took a while for all formalities to be completed. With a nice bear stamp in our passports we hit the road again for a loop on the Alaska-, Taylor- and Top of the World Highway back into the Yukon. While the scenery along the Taylor Highway shows many signs of former forest fires, the Top of the World Highway – in most parts a gravel road – winds its way into the mountains and offers spectacular views around every corner. There’s no sign of civilization, just the incredible vastness of the countryside. A big, spiky porcupine came to say hello as well.

After a long drive and a short ferry ride we arrived in Dawson City and followed the tracks of the gold miners. The first gold was found near Dawson in 1896 and soon after made the surrounding goldfields the dream of many young men looking for wealth. A lot of them failed on the tough hike over the Chilkoot Pass further south or got into Dawson way too late to get a claim. 

Gold rush atmosphere

The first gold was found near Dawson City in 1896 and today you can still travel back in time while visiting a restored bank, saloon and post office.

The town still reflects and conserves the gold rush atmosphere with unpaved roads and historic house fronts. A great place to stroll around. We joined two costumed Parks Canada Rangers for an entertaining walking tour and travelled back in time while visiting a restored bank, saloon and post office. For another scenic delight we drove up the Midnight Dome and enjoyed the amazing views across the whole area.

When in Dawson there is almost no way around the sour toe cocktail. Imagine a whiskey or martini with a real toe inside…  while sipping the drink your lips have to touch the toe. You may want to have some (pure) drinks beforehand…

After our stay in Dawson, the Klondike Highway brought us back into Whitehorse and we spent a bit more time discovering the southern part of the Yukon as well. This area hosts several beautiful lodges in a remote natural setting – some even with lake access – that make their guests experience what the Yukon is all about. Extremely tempting to just leave everything behind and stay for a while...

Emerald Lake

The intense green color derives from light reflecting off white deposits of marl, a mixture of clay and calcium carbonate at the bottom of the shallow waters.

Carcross Desert

While not actually a real desert, the sand dunes of the Carcross Desert are a great and unexpected sight.

But there was still more for us to explore. After a drive past the impressive mountain scenery along the South Klondike Highway and stops at the beautiful colored Emerald Lake as well as the sand dunes of the Carcross Desert (which is actually not a real desert but a great place to check out anyways), we arrived in Carcross and boarded the White Pass and Yukon Railroad for a train ride along the shores of Bennett Lake into Bennett. On this particular tour, the train stops in Bennett for about 45 minutes before continuing to Fraser, BC. Enough time to walk up the hill and enjoy a fantastic view across the lake into the mountains.

After a fantastic week in the Yukon filled with heaps of impressions we had to say good bye and boarded our plane back home – of course all eager to create a special Yukon experience for our clients. A special thanks to Tourism Yukon and everybody involved for making this FAM Tour a success!

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