In the mighty Yukon, there seems to be endless room to breathe. Throughout this mystical place, intrigue runs high and natural beauty runs wild. Wide-open roads, sparsely speckled with camper vans, stretch out beyond the beckoning horizon, while curious hikers share trails with mammoth residents from moose to grizzlies.
A lone RV cruises near Haines Junction, with the front range of St. Elias Mountains towering in the background — Photo courtesy of Government of Yukon, photo Derek Crowe Photo
In the towns and villages that dot the stunning Canadian territory, hearty characters live by the seasons and prove they have what it takes to survive long, dark winters and eternal summer days (when the light never fully disappears). Some eclectic souls come here to live off the grid and get away from convention (just ask about Dawson City's "Caveman Bill"); others carry the same dogged determination and rugged sense of adventure exhibited by their pioneering and Gold Rush-ing forefathers and mothers.
At 186,661 square miles, Yukon is about the same size as the state of California. One major difference? The Yukon has a population of 38,000, while California's tallies closer to 39,000,000.
This means you might find yourselves all alone while watching a dancing display of the Northern Lights. Or you might be the only ones on a pristine lake during an early-morning fishing trip – making your senses extra-attuned when an eagle swoops by or a baby sheep's bleating echoes down onto the water.
Natural wonders abound here, luring adventurers from near and far (especially German-speaking travelers, it seems), but first you'll get to experience some quirky "downtown" charm.
Emerald Lake, along South Klondike Highway, proves one of the Yukon's most photographed spots – and for good reason! — Photo courtesy of Government of Yukon, photo R Hartmier
Logistics + Whitehorse
Whitehorse is a great jumping-off point, with many flights arriving here via Vancouver or Calgary connections. Air North makes travel an exceedingly enjoyable experience (like the old days), and the compact layout of Whitehorse makes it pleasant to explore on foot.
The town buzzes with history while offering modern-day delights. Its location at the head of navigable water on the Yukon River once made Whitehorse the end of steel for the White Pass and Yukon railway route – and a jumping-off place for travelers heading for Klondike gold.
These days, adventurers choose to stay at the uber-central Edgewater, a revamped hotel sitting on a Main Street site that has welcomed "the territory’s most distinguished founders and notorious bounders" for more than 100 years.
Alternately, book a room at Coast High Country Inn, located less than a 10-minute walk away. Here, The Deck boasts one of the city's largest outdoor patios and pub fare dishes like delightful Dungeness crab BLTs.
While in Whitehorse, stroll the river boardwalk, and pick up a Visitors Center map to locate brilliant murals around town. Buy gorgeous First Nations artwork at the North End Gallery, go on hikes around Miles Canyon, tour massive gold-digging machine Dredge No. 4, and sample local brews at Yukon Brewing (tagline: "Beer Worth Freezin' For").
When it comes to mealtime, savor the vibrant colors, joyful Caribbean beats and flavorful dishes (from mango spring rolls to salmon with guacamole) at Antoinette's, or enjoy hipster-ready small plates and a buzzing scene at adjoining Miner's Daughter and Dirty Northern.
Dakka' Kwa'an Dancers bring beauty and tradition to Carcross — Photo courtesy of Government of Yukon, photo Derek Crowe
With Whitehorse still serving as your home base, depart for the historic community of Carcross via the Alaska and South Klondike Highways, keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife along the way.
In Carcross, wander among the scenic hub's lineup of vendors and exquisite First Nations artwork, before grabbing a hearty lunch at The Bistro on Bennett. Then hop aboard the White Pass & Yukon Route train to Fraser, B.C., via historic Bennett City and the end of the storied Chilkoot Trail.
Sheep Mountain in Kluane National Park has an appropriate name — Photo courtesy of Government of Yukon
In order to properly explore Kluane National Park, a stunning UNESCO World Heritage site that's the largest internationally protected area on the planet, settle into the charmingly rustic Dalton Trail Lodge.
With fishing rods propped up outside of guestrooms and lifelike taxidermy creatures lining its walls, this friendly lodge proves the perfect place from which to go on Kathleen Lake excursions, hike among some of Canadian's tallest peaks or take glacier flights over the largest non-polar ice fields in the world.
Dalton's Swiss owners have brought European touches (like an extensive breakfast spread) to this welcoming outpost, which offers easy access to some of Mother Nature's biggest draws – like the Northern Lights, if you're lucky enough to hunt them down.
An exquisite Aurora Borealis dances along the Dempster Highway — Photo courtesy of Government of Yukon, photo Robert Postma
Our next stop? Heading north to legendary Dawson City. Stay tuned!