Whitehorse: city comforts meet untamed wilderness

Grey Mountain, Whitehorse

Looking down on Whitehorse from Grey Mountain

We recently spent a long weekend in Whitehorse visiting a friend. Whitehorse, the tiny territorial capital and only city in the Yukon Province, is a surprise package.

Welcome to the YukonOn one hand it has all the comforts you expect from a modern city – fast food restaurants and superstores, bars, hotels and cafes, schools and churches, a hospital, cinema, museum, theatre and an airport – while on the other hand it’s a remote, historic mining town surrounded by the mighty Yukon River, untamed forests and snow-capped mountains all waiting to be hiked, skied, fished, biked, camped and rafted.

The Yukon is arguably the outdoor adventure capital of North America. Whitehorse is the main gateway and despite its population of just 30,000, it’s also home to an international airport. Every week, Condor (part of the Thomas Cook group) flies 300+ adventure seeking Europeans from Frankfurt (Germany) to this very specific part of the world!

Our weekend in Whitehorse

We flew with Air North from Vancouver to Whitehorse via Kelowna, arriving at midnight in early July. The benefit to arriving so late, the sun was still shining – our first Midnight Sun!

Day one

After a failed sleep in attempt and an awesome pastry breakfast left for us by our friend, we drove down and parked (free) at the SS Klondike to run the five-kilometre paved Yukon River Millennium Trail.

The Yukon River at SS Klondike

Tahlee chilling out at the SS Klondike park along the Yukon River

We ran the circuit anti-clockwise and, minus a minor detour over a bridge and around a not-so-defined bush track on a tiny island at the Robert Service campgrounds, we found our way to the half-way point bridge crossing.

SS-Klondike-2

Mick in front of the SS Klondike

You’ll know when you’re crossing the correct bridge, and when you do, look upstream – the left edge of the dam wall is home to the world’s largest wooden fishway ladder (run by Yukon Energy, the ladder progresses up an impressive 15 metres elevation, allowing salmon to migrate up stream for breeding – check out the Facebook page for the latest fish count and more info).

We kept going and made our way round to the park where the retired SS Klondike sternwheeler sits. Its a beautiful spot on the edge of town, with an onsite visitor information office.

We love trail running as much, if not more, than we do paved running, so when our friend suggested we check out her favourite trail running spot, Long Lake (10 minutes drive), we made that our next destination.Long-Lake-2

Like most of the lakes and rivers around Whitehorse, Long Lake is a stunningly picturesque mirrored lake surrounded by thick pine forests.

Long-LakeBears also apparently frequent the area, so our friend insisted if we do run it, we must yell ‘hey bear’ every few minutes to warn them we’re nearby… Yep, minor freak out, but we did it anyway.

Long Lake is only about 3-4kms in circumference, and we took the lower of the two paths. Sadly (and probably for the best), we didn’t see any bears – cute red tree squirrels, but no bears.

Our good friend also knew how much we loved beer, and told us she’d signed us up for the 2pm Yukon Brewing brewery tour. So we headed back, cleaned up and arrived early to seek out lunch. The Brewery doesn’t serve food, but we checked in with them anyway, and they suggested Tony’s Pizza around the corner.

A Yukon Gold and a (huge) tasty Tony’s Pizza calzone with sides of deep fried mozzarella sticks and yam fries later, we were back to the brewery just in time for the 2pm ($10) tour.

The Yukon Brewing brewery was started by two friends who came up with the idea of making their own beer when they were out camping and drinking beer they were not enjoying. Nearly 20 years later, it’s still owned by the same men and their now adult-aged children are involved, some in the brewing and bottling, and others running the tours and tastings.

Whitehorse - Yukon Brewing

Yukon Brewing offer a great selection of around eight annual with additional seasonal beers. They offer a good variation of beer styles that are all high quality and full flavoured (with some award-winning). Yukon Brewery are also now distilling ultra-smooth vodka and are soon to bottle a seven-year aged single-distillery (single malt) whisky.

After the tour and tasting (a little over an hour) we walked into town. Our first stop was a pint at the 98 Hotel, a historic country/cabin style tavern now known as the local career drinker’s pub.

It was interesting, and despite being obvious outcasts and all the guns and animal pelts hanging on the walls, we felt safe. We had a pint of Yukon Gold, struck up a conversation with one of the regulars, read the local newspaper and then moved on to The Dirty Northern, the town’s current ‘it’ bar.

We had a couple of beers while waiting for our friend to finish work and meet us for dinner. The Dirty Northern has a decent beer menu, and make really good pizzas. We also randomly caught up with someone we’d met earlier at the brewery tasting, and they joined us for dinner.

Miles Canyon

Miles Canyon

That afternoon/night (remember the sun doesn’t go down), our friend took us for a drive to another of her favourite local spots, Miles Canyon. We crossed a suspension bridge over the Yukon River, and hiked along the river walls. Later on we drove to a lookout, where we also came across an ever inquisitive (and really cute) fox.

Miles Canyon

Looking down on Miles Canyon from a nearby lookout

Day two

Carcross

Bennett Lake at Carcross

After a hearty brunch at the Burnt Toast Café, we drove to Skagway in Alaska. The scenic drive alone makes this well worth the trip.

Along the way we stopped off at various parts of the infamous Klondike Gold Rush trail, including the First Nation’s community of Carcross, where the Bennett and Nares lakes meet at the base of the mountain-biking mecca Montana Mountain.

So I should probably finally admit, our friend also happens to be an adventure guide who has spent most of the last three years hiking, dog sledding, guiding, skiing, camping, rafting and mountain biking this spectacular part of the world. She has seen and done it all and loves it, no matter whether it’s a mild sun-never-goes-down summer or extreme sun-never-comes-up winter.

Along our travels we also saw a mother Grizzly bear with her two mature cubs foraging off the roadside, and later on a black bear run across the road in front of us.

Yukon Grizzley Bears

Within a couple of hours of leaving Whitehorse we reached the Alaskan border for passport checks. Not long after that and we were in Skagway, another historic gold rush town and port now popular with Ocean Cruises. We wandered around and stopped into Skagway Brewing Co., for lunch. Our friend couldn’t wait for us to try what she says is THE world’s best burger, but sadly they don’t serve it until after 5pm.

Skagway

The lunch menu was still enjoyable, and had a pint of what the century old brewery is really famous for – their signature Spruce Tip Blonde beer (it’s good!).

After lunch we drove to a few of our friends favourite camping and hiking spots, more history and scenery, and then made the drive home.

Alaska

We got back to Whitehorse and, still being daylight, we took a couple of beers and hiked up Grey Mountain to sit atop a wooden helicopter pad at 10pm, the sun still shining, beer in hand, watching over Whitehorse and the stunningly beautiful Yukon wilderness.

View from Grey Mountain

Looking out over the Yukon from Grey Mountain, Whitehorse

Day three

We had planned to canoe the Yukon River but had unfortunate issues trying to organise boat transfers, so we went for another drive and a hike, this time to Fish Lake.

Huskey-pup-2Whitehorse Huskey PupsAlong the way, we stopped in at our friend’s former dog sledding kennel where we met 150+ dogs of varying ages and experiences. We also met one of her good mates who was awesome enough to let us into the puppy enclosure to play with the newborn pups! So cute!

We then hiked up the nearby Fish Lake Mountain where we were greeted by some very cute Artic Ground Squirrels barking at us.

FIsh Lake Artic Ground Squirrel

Barking mad – Artic Ground Squirrel

That ended up filling our day. We hiked back, drove home, packed up and went to the Airport for our 5pm Air North flight to Vancouver (again via Kelowna).

Those three days in Whitehorse were just a taste of what the mighty Yukon has to offer. A lot of our friends in Vancouver questioned why on earth we were going to Whitehorse – but we are so glad we did.

Fish Lake Mountain

One of the many views atop Fish Lake Mountain

It was an amazing trip to an amazing part of the world, with the added benefit of hanging out with a good friend.

I highly recommend Whitehorse as a base for both city comforts and exploring the Yukon. Enjoy the city, hire a guide, drive out of town – then you’ll really start to experience why so many people go to the Yukon – the unbelievable untouched wilderness of the Great White North.

We’ll definitely be back!

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What are your experiences in the great white north? Leave a comment below…

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