This year is Canada’s 150th Anniversary, so instead of celebrating in the usual tourist hotspots like Vancouver and Toronto, how about a visit to one of the country’s more remote and beautiful regions?
If you enjoy wildlife and peace and quiet then Yukon could be the place for you. It’s located in the upper northwest corner of Canada, close to Alaska. The territory capital, White Horse, is approximately 2,400 km by road, or a two-and-a-half hour flight, from Vancouver.
I spoke to Jessica Ruffen from TravelYukon.com who told me that you don’t have to travel far to find some space for yourself. “Yukon covers about 500,000 square km but there’s only 38,000 people living in the whole territory. And 28,000 of those are in White Horse. So you could say you’ve got the place to yourself!”
So why do people visit Yukon, I asked Jessica? “There are different reasons. For some, it’s the Gold Rush and the human story behind the migration of 100,000 people to the north in 1898 to find gold near Dawson City. For others it’s the nature and wildlife – the untouched wilderness as far as the eye can see. Then there’s the draw of the Northern Lights and the classic winter experience. That’s not just seeing the lights but also dogsledding and snowmobiling.”
The Klondike Gold Rush is a big part of Yukon’s history and Dawson City is where visitors head to find out about this famous period. “Dawson is still known as the heart of the Klondike,” said Jessica. “People travelled from Seattle and had to bring all of their survival kit with them to be allowed into Canada. They had to carry a ton of goods with them across the high passes. Dawson City was still 700km away, so they cut down trees and built boats to sail up the river. It’s an amazing journey. These people were so motivated to pursue their dream of riches.”
A visit to Dawson City is like travelling back in time and Jessica told me little has changed since its heyday. “There are no McDonalds or Starbucks. We have dirt streets and wooden sidewalks and the clapboard-style of buildings with colourful paint. There’s still a saloon with the swinging doors to enter.” And Jessica says the saloon offers a unique cocktail, although you’ll need a strong stomach to enjoy it. “It’s famous for the Sour Toe cocktail. This is a preserved human toe in a shot of liquor of your choice. Over 65,000 people have added their name to the official register of the Sour Toe Cocktail Club and the only rule is – you can drink it fast, or you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch that toe!”
I think I’ll give that one a miss, although Jessica says there a plenty of other tasty dishes on offer in the territory. “There’s moose sausage and elk meat and bison. We have a focus on local game meats. And during the summertime, because we’re so far north, the sun shines for up to 24-hours a day, so people have created a movement growing their own produce and picking berries from the forests. We have that local farm-to-table thing going on here.”
But most people will come here to take in the wildlife and the breath-taking scenery which Jessica says changes as you travel around. “Because we stretch so far from south to north it’s quite varied. We have everything from forests to tundra to rolling hills. We also have five out of the seven highest peaks in Canada. That’s one of the joys of travelling through it by car.”
Jessica told me that Yukon has the largest ice field in the world outside of the polar regions. It’s in the UNESCO-protected Kluane National Park and you can take a ‘flight-seeing’ tour to view it. “It looks like an asphalt road from a distance, but as you get close, you realise the ice is up ten storey’s thick. You get a feeling that you’re just a little human with this great mass of ice”.
Yukon is a year-round destination and there’s another big attraction during the winter months. Apparently it’s an excellent place to view the Northern Lights. “We’re situated within the aurora band, but because we’re so close to Vancouver it’s not that difficult to get here to experience it,” Jessica explained. “The infrastructure is good too, with wilderness lodges close to town but far enough away to see the lights shining when you look up out of your window. Alternatively you can take a bus trip from town to an aurora viewing site that has a woodstove, hot drinks and marshmallows while you’re waiting for the lights to shine.”
If you’d like to find out more about Yukon, visit TravelYukon.com, which lists activities and accommodation and provides sample itineraries.