Photograph by Mike Theiss, National Geographic
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Winter offers beautiful snowscapes in Whitehorse.
Photograph by Mike Theiss, National Geographic

Whitehorse and the Yukon Territory

During the 1897-98 Klondike Gold Rush, thousands of wealth-seekers stampeded through the Yukon—over the brutal Chilkoot Trail from Alaska; through treacherous rapids where the capital, Whitehorse, now stands; and down the Yukon River to Dawson City and its goldfields. Today visitors can hike the raw, mountain moonscapes of the Chilkoot; walk Dawson’s dusty, historic streets; and enjoy the charms of Whitehorse, a small city built around a love of the vast outdoors that still surrounds it all these years later.

When to Go: Most visitors aim for the short, glorious summer: June, July, and August, when there are festivals, sports events, and outdoor adventures every weekend. Pedal to Alaska in the Kluane Chilkat International Bike Relay in June, or rock out at the Dawson City Music Festival in July. The mountains bloom with fall color in late August and early September, and the northern lights peak around the fall and spring equinoxes. For those who want to brave the winter, February offers an array of festivals and a thousand-mile dogsled race, the Yukon Quest.

How to Get Around: Public transit is limited; a rental car is the best bet. There are package tour options for visitors arriving off cruise ships via nearby Skagway, Alaska. The Millennium Trail is a scenic, car-free, three-mile riverside loop on the edge of downtown. Local outfit Boréale Explorers offers a cycling tour of the city, and sister company Boréale Mountain Biking can help you navigate a 186-mile network of mountain biking trails.

Where to Stay: In Dawson City, Bombay Peggy’s is a one-time brothel turned cozy Victorian-style inn and pub. For visitors to Kluane National Park, there’s a government campground at Kathleen Lake with bearproof storage lockers. In Whitehorse, the Best Western Gold Rush Inn is on Main Street, right in the heart of things.

Where to Eat or Drink: In Haines Junction, the gateway to glacier-rich Kluane National Park, try the Village Bakery for coffee and goodies; Frosty Freeze has ice cream and burgers. In Whitehorse, born-and-raised Yukoner Marsha Cameron, co-owner of mountain biking tour operator Boréale Biking, recommends the Airport Chalet for a quiet drink. “It’s cozy, it’s unpretentious, they have a fire going in the winter,” she says. “It’s filled with locals, all old-timers.” For visitors equipped to self-cater, Cameron recommends a visit to Staceys Butcher Block for local bison or elk steaks. And for a quick bite? “I love Pickapeppa,” billed as the best Caribbean food in the North. Adds Cameron: “My go-to is the chickpea roti.”

What to Read or Watch Before You Go: Start with the classics: Jack London’s The Call of the Wild or his chilling short story, “To Build a Fire,” and Robert Service’s Yukon ballads: “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” or “The Spell of the Yukon.”

Fun Fact: The Yukon Territory is an area slightly larger than California—but with a thousandth the population. That’s one big, wild playground.

Eva Holland is a freelance writer and editor based in Canada’s Yukon Territory. She is a frequent contributor to Canadian magazines Up Here and Up Here Business.
Staff Tip: If you’re lucky enough to be in Whitehorse in mid-June, check out the Yukon International Storytelling Festival: An event where participants are encouraged to provide their tales in native tongues. –Caroline Hickey, project manager, National Geographic Travel Books