The Yukon is one of those destinations we hear or read about online, in travel articles, or through documentaries. It’s a place so remote that most of us can only imagine what really goes on there. It can be freezing, naturally gorgeous, and super adventurous. Visiting the Yukon in northwest Canada is also a year-round possibility as the region is open for business even in the depths of winter. Flights into Whitehorse, one of the two major cities in the territory, are easier to come by than you might think. Just be sure to pack your cold-weather gear if headed there during the winter, which you should, because it’s so damn cold that it’s actually fun. What follows are some of the winter highlights that one can only experience in Yukon, Canada. Grab your hand warmers and read on.
The small city of Whitehorse has all the makings of a large one with tons of both outdoor adventures and cultural activities, dining options galore, and deep roots in the gold rush. Known as the Wilderness City, nature surrounds Whitehorse with more than 700 kilometers of marked trails that run along the river and out to incredible lakes. In the downtown area, you can find a mix of coffee shops, museums, and quirky heritage buildings. Artists thrive in Whitehorse and are showcased through public art, inspired cuisines, live performances, and inviting cultural experiences. During the winter, the city still thrives and operates as normal. Expect to see cars plugged into electrical outlets so that motors don’t freeze, people waddling around in extra heavy gear, and temperatures that drop into negative digits that will amaze your social media family. The one great thing about the Yukon, and Whitehorse in general, is that the locals are beyond welcoming, friendly, and helpful — they won’t let you freeze out there.
Kluane National Park
Located in the heights of southwest Yukon, Kluane is home to Canada’s highest peak (19,550-foot Mount Logan), the world’s largest non-polar icefields, and North America’s most genetically diverse grizzly population. There are so many ways to experience the park, including day hikes, driving on the highway, and just pulling over for snapshots. However, the best way to see what Kluane has to offer is by plane. Rocking Star Adventures provides an unforgettable experience at an affordable price. With flexible flight schedules and aircraft that have been used for world-class photography and filming, this air tour will leave you speechless, especially when flying next to the summit of Mount Logan. From above, the sights below appear to be a different world and the views really help put into perspective how massive and beautiful the Yukon truly is.
This and this alone is one of the best reasons to come to the Yukon. The Northern Lights-viewing here is just magical, and in winter, the Lights can be extraordinary. There are many ways to experience the Aurora Borealis and if you are fortunate enough to spend multiple nights in search of the lights, consider both the traditional as well as the following creative ways of experiencing the dancing lights.
The Traditional Way: There are multiple options for viewing the Aurora Borealis through companies like Arctic Range Adventure, with the simplest being a late evening tour. Guests are picked up from Whitehorse and driven about 20 minutes outside of the city center to the Aurora Center Yukon, a private viewing space that has heated yurts to help stay warm while waiting for the Aurora Borealis to make an appearance. The tours come with expert guides and photographers who are more than happy to help explain the phenomenon as well as take your photos with the Lights.
From a Glass Chalet: One of the Yukon’s best resorts just got better. The Northern Lights Resort and Spa recently introduced three new glass-fronted chalets that were purpose-built with perfect Aurora viewing in mind, offering a new opportunity to experience the Yukon. You can see the wintry star-filled sky and the Northern Lights all while lying comfortably in your warm bed.
From the Sky: True Aurora chasers will want to grab a seat on this flight! This once-in-a-lifetime experience takes guests on a private charter jet, where they will have the best access possible for seeing the Northern Lights. This new experience is extremely limited but will be adding more flights each season. The 737 aircraft, provided by Consulta Meta, will only sell 80 seats and fly at 36,000 feet above Earth to give guests a spectacular light show. Special multi-night packages are also available. When booking this and other options, it’s best to have multiple days on the ground as the Northern Lights are never guaranteed, although if the clouds are out, rest assured that your flight will take you above the clouds so that you can enjoy the view.
Through a Storytelling Experience: For a truly unique take on the Northern Lights, this three-night winter program allows guests the opportunity to experience the magic of the Aurora Borealis through the eyes of the First Nations. Listen to stories passed along by their ancestors and learn about living on the land during the winter months. Guests will experience this unique cultural opportunity surrounded by the magnificent landscapes of Kluane National Park while staying in the comfort at Mount Logan Lodge (which also has a private yurt and cabin option for that next-level experience). The trip combines hands-on cultural immersion into Yukon’s First Nations Culture, the breathtaking natural wonders, and the fun of winter activities such as dog sledding, snowmobiling, and ice fishing. More information on this package can be found here.
A major winter draw to the region has to do with the Yukon Quest. This epic winter sport takes place each February, starting in Whitehorse and ending in Fairbanks, Alaska. The 1,000-mile international dog sled race covers that massive stretch between the two cities and countries and is known for excellence in canine care in addition to fostering the traditions of northern travel by dog sled. The weather conditions in February can be the coldest and most unpredictable but the quest runs no matter what, regardless of weather, and lasts from 10 to 16 days until the final dog team arrives at the finish line. The Yukon Quest follows historical Gold Rush and mail delivery dog sled routes from the turn of the 20th century. Mushers conquering the quest carry mandatory equipment, food, and supplies at all times. Mushers are not permitted to accept any assistance, except at the halfway point in Dawson City. The trail crosses over frozen rivers and four mountain summits. Temperatures of -40 degrees Fahrenheit, 100-mph winds, open water, and bad ice are all obstacles that mushers must overcome. There are a total of nine checkpoints, some separated by more than 200 miles. Watch the start of the race and follow the route along by car so you can cheer your favorite team on.
Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra
The Montane Yukon Arctic Ultra is the toughest ultra race in the world. Situations which under normal circumstances don’t cause any problems, can become life-threatening in the dead of winter in the Yukon. The race is open for men, women, and teams of two or more athletes. There are three disciplines to choose from: mountain bike, cross-country skis, or foot. The race begins in Whitehorse and follows the Yukon Quest trail. Participants also have three length options to choose from. The 100-mile racers will go from Whitehorse to Braeburn. The 300-mile racers will keep on going all the way to Pelly Farm and the 430-mile participants go all the way to Dawson City. The trail is marked, however with fresh snow and wind, and at times it’s hard to find the trail. This race isn’t for amateurs and is taken seriously, although if at the start line, you might think otherwise since the participants all appear to be calm and amped to race. It’s a spectacle for sure to see runner, bikers, and skiers all departing at the same time, on the same track.