Outdoor adventures, natural wonders, local art, panning for gold, and more; Canada’s Yukon has an abundance of activities to put on your adventure list! Find out what to do and where to go in our Yukon travel guide.
An intro to Yukon Territory
There are currently 40,000 people living in Canada’s Yukon territory, with approximately 30,000 living in the capital city of Whitehorse. Yukon is filled with lakes, rivers, mountains, glaciers, tundra, and boreal forest. This territory is known for its natural wonders of the northern lights and the midnight sun (some of the longest sunny days you will ever experience).
If you’re a nature lover, Yukon might just be the perfect travel destination for you! Keep reading this Yukon travel guide for more information for your trip.
Yukon offers so much to see and do throughout all seasons. In the warm(er) months, you can canoe, camp, hike, attend festivals, enjoy several shows, and pan for gold! In the colder months, you can try dog sledding, ice fishing, and snowmobiling. Year-round, you can enjoy the local delicacies, admire the museums and artwork of the area, learn about the rich history of the land, and be glad you went on a unique Canadian trip.
Yukon’s First Nations
Prior to visiting Yukon, it’s important to read about the history of the First Nations. Archaeological evidence only documents the presence of indigenous ancestors on this land for more than 12,000 years, but the Elders say the First Nations people have always been in this area. 11 of the 14 Yukon First Nations have signed their own self-government agreements, which means they are responsible for their own management, both economic and social.
When visiting Yukon, it is important to learn about and respect Yukon’s First Nations and their land. Always remember that you are a visitor!
Top things to do in Yukon
1. Explore the world’s smallest desert
While in Yukon Territory, you can also visit the world’s smallest desert! Known as the Carcross desert, this patch of land measures only one square mile. Into slightly larger-scale nature? You can follow the long Yukon River or take a flight over Yukon’s enormous glaciers.
2. Discover the history of the Gold Rush in Dawson City
Dawson City played an enormous role in the Klondike Gold Rush, which has continued to be a bit part of the culture of this city. Dawson City became the centre of the gold rush, including briefly being called the “Paris of the North” due to its abundance of electricity. If you want to feel like you’re on a gold rush mission, definitely include Dawson City in your Yukon itinerary, as the store names and signs haven’t changed that much. You can even learn how to pan for gold at the Claim 33 Gold Panning!
Make sure to stop by the Dawson City Museum for more information on the Gold Rush as well as the First Nations people who were there long before the town became famous. You can also get on board the S.S. Keno National Historic Site.
3. Experience Yukon’s midnight sun
Of course, in the summer months, you can stay up super later with the Midnight Sun! The rest of the time, you have an excellent chance of witnessing the northern lights in Yukon. Just like the weather, the number of daylight hours also change the farther north you go. Whitehorse gets less than six hours of sunlight during January and around 19 hours of sunlight during July.
Dawson City gets around four hours of sunlight during January and over 21 hours of sunlight during July. Above the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set for weeks – meaning there is still a bright shining sun at midnight in Yukon! The reverse is also true with darkness during the winter.
4. See the northern lights
Yukon is one of the best places to experience this natural phenomenon! The northern lights start happening as soon as the sky starts getting really dark at night in Yukon, which means you have a chance of seeing them from mid-August to mid-April. There are online resources that indicate when the best chances are, but you don’t necessarily have to wait until the middle of winter. While it is possible to see them in August, you’ll have better chances from October to April.
Whatever your travel style, there is a way for you to watch the northern lights. You can rent an outdoor hot tub, you can watch from a lodge window, or you can go on a tour that brings you away from the city to experience the lights surrounded completely by wilderness.
5. Try Yukon Jack Whisky
Want to check off a quirky bucket list item? Enjoy a local Sourtoe Cocktail, which is a shot of Yukon Jack whisky, complete with a mummified human toe as a garnish (not to eat) – yes, a real toe!
6. Explore Whitehorse: Yukon’s capital city
When visiting Yukon, you will most likely spend time in the capital city of Whitehorse. Yukon’s largest city serves as a great home base for day trips and expeditions around the province, as well as a cozy city with comfortable inns and hotels to rest for a few days. Whitehorse has a bunch of museums like MacBride Museum of Yukon and the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. The capital also boasts tons of artwork, including sculptures, paintings, and carvings from First Nations artists. Don’t skip out on walking through the city – it might be small, but it’s definitely charming!
7. Take a tour along the Yukon River
The Yukon River runs for over 3,000 kilometres and was a key component of the Klondike gold rush. There are plenty of tours that can bring you along this route that follows the historic trail while you learn about the land and territory. Most tours go from Whitehorse to Dawson City, allowing you to experience the untouched wilderness and the gorgeous landscapes that Yukon has to offer. It is advised to take a guided tour rather than a DIY option.
8. Go to a hot spring
Looking to really relax? Head to the Takhini Hot Pools, located just outside of Whitehorse, which are the local hot springs. The area is complete with a campground on-site, and there are two natural warm water pools for guests to enjoy.
Hotel recommendations include the Coast High Country Inn (where the Royal Couple stayed during their Canadian tour in 2016!), Westmark Whitehorse, and the Best Western Gold Rush Inn (complete with a spa).
Yukon travel guide: when to visit
There are plenty of activities in Yukon year-round, it just depends on what kind of activities you want to do! If you’re more of a summer person, then head there for the summer to enjoy the midnight sun, or catch the beginning of the season of the northern lights. Whitewater rafting tours and other outdoor adventures are also possible during the summer months in Yukon.
If you’re more of a winter person, then you will enjoy your vacation more if you travel to Yukon in the winter months. You can book your perfect cabin stay and enjoy the incomparable scenery of northern Canada. Just make sure to dress appropriately for the weather, and note that winter weather starts much earlier than you might expect.
Travel tip: Canada’s Yukon is no exception for summer bugs. Mosquitoes appear from June until August, and black flies appear in August and September, just like many other parts of Canada.
What’s the temperature in Yukon?
The farther north you go, the colder it will be! In the summer, the average temperatures are around 20 degrees Celsius, but nighttime can still get pretty chilly. In the winter, you definitely need to dress appropriately as temperatures plummet to -20 degrees Celsius (plus the windchill).
Is it “Yukon” or “the Yukon”?
Many people still refer to Yukon as “the Yukon” but it technically was legally changed in 2003 to just being “Yukon.” Colloquially, you will still find most people saying “the Yukon,” initially short for “the Yukon Territory.” However, province names do not include the word “the,” so the official name of this territory was changed to just be “Yukon.”
Travelling around Yukon
If you are just staying in Whitehorse, it is easy to walk around the city. However, if you want to go on a day trip or head to another city, you can join a tour or rent your own vehicle. Depending on the weather, you can rent a car, a camper, an RV, an ATV, a bike or a snowmobile. Within Yukon, there are flights between the capital Whitehorse and the cities of Mayo, Old Crow and Dawson City.
How to travel to Yukon
There are direct flights to Whitehorse from Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa (seasonal), and Yellowknife. There are even seasonal direct flights from Frankfurt, Germany. The Whitehorse airport is known as the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport, and the local airline is called Air North. Once you arrive at the airport, most downtown hotels offer free shuttles. Alternatively, you can drive to Yukon or get there by cruise, if that’s more your style.
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