Adventures in Canada`s Yukon
One of the world`s most pristine wilderness areas – nature, wildlife, cool guys, great coffee and a memorable flightseeing over the most beautiful glaciers you can imagine! A must-visit destination for nature lovers and outdoor freaks.
Back to canada´s Yukon after 20 years!
„The Yukon“, said the nice waitress at Caffé Artigiano in Vancouver (my fav coffee spot in „Van“, by the way – with the „best espresso West of Milan“) – „wow, that`s crazy!“ That was the reaction of a Vancouver city girl when I mentioned my next destination. Many Canadians have never been up North – no wonder given the distances in this big big country. Well, the Yukon. I had not been there for 20 years – and now I am wondering why. Anyways, I went last May and I have to say this was one of the best trips ever – and believe me, I have seen many (great) places on earth. A rather quick flight on Air Canada brings you from the cosmopolitan Vancouver to Whitehorse, the capital of Canada´s Yukon! Not really a beauty and neither a „city“ where you will find tons of great hotels, shopping malls, fancy restaurants – but hey, you know what? This does not matter at all. You just have nature. And more nature. Canadian wilderness at its finest I would say!
Espresso and characters at BAKED
The first thing I am doing in any city that I am visiting is to chase for a great coffee place. Luckily, colleagues had already recommended a place called BAKED – right in the heart of that huge metropolis Whitehorse with 25,000 inhabitants ;-) - and by the way, Canada`s smallest city with non-stop air service from Europe!
And had I not been recommended that place it would not have been a problem neither – since everyone in Whitehorse knows BAKED. I went there on a Sunday morning at 8 am – not that I am an early morning person but since our little group was scheduled to leave at 9 am, I wanted to sip my beloved espresso and have something to bite. Guess what, the place was already full of people – maybe they don`t sleep at all because at this time of the year it hardly gets dark up North. A few young girls nicely dressed up (and you ask yourself where they buy this stuff – they must fly to Van for shopping...), Jack London-kind-of guys and a young chap with a laptop and a long beard – when watching him I thought he still had food remainings in his beard but having a closer look I discovered these were little colourful pearls – how cool is that? The double espresso was excellent – and so were the sandwiches and quiches, just delicious to start a long day. All over sudden a young guy comes on a skateboard – I mean he rides right into BAKED! No, not a client, he made his way (on the board) into the kitchen where he started his work. A nice way to come to work – the Yukon style! Funny characters and ... endless nature.
Nature. And more Nature!
You just take a short drive from the hustling and bustling metropolis of Whitehorse (OK, I will now stop to make jokes about the little „capital“) you will find nature at ist finest – pure Canada. Immense woods, mountains and lakes – and hardly any people. Something like 34,000 people on over 480,000 square kilometers – how cool is that? It may not be so cool though if you get lost in the wilderness but there is a solution to this – just don`t get lost! I could simply sit in a nice car and drive and drive and drive – just watching the great landscapes – in particular when you are heading towards Alaska and approaching Canada`s highest mountain (yes, it`s in the Yukon and NOT in the Rockies!), Mt. Logan at 5,959 m – actually North America`s second tallest mountain. I will get back to Mt. Logan and Kluane National Park later.
Let`s get physical in Canada´s Yukon
It would be shame to just drive around and watch although I have to admit that it is very appealing. But hey, come on, we want to move our bodies! Canoeing and kayaking are, of course, natural ways to get from A to B in the Yukon. By the way, Germany`s most successful Olympic participant of all times, canoeist Birgit Fischer, is a big Yukon fan! She comes here almost every year and runs hundreds of kilometers on the pristine rivers. We just did a few ones in a canoe on the Yukon River – Yes, I have paddled the famous Yukon River! Luckily we were a group of 8 people so you don`t have to work constantly – but don`t stop paddling too often, otherwise you might be in trouble with those sitting in the same boat. Our little group agreed from time to time to just stop and let ourselves float – you just hear the noise from some birds (worth to watch out for eagles!) and take a deep breath – life is just gorgeous!
My other experience – horseback riding! I had not been on a horse for ages but I felt comfortable when a nice chap introduced me to „Buddy“, my beautiful horse. Some nice words and gentle strokes – and off we go into the Yukon`s wilderness, slowly trotting horse after horse with one of our little group sitting on each of them. And yes, the ground rules of horseback riding come back to my mind ... and surprisingly they work until we reach a muddy little pond where the horse ahead of us decides to get crazy and kick out – and since we are just a very short distance away, I am full of mud in seconds. Why on earth had I decided to put on a white jeans this morning? Aaaaaaanyways, I am a brave soldier and continue my trip over hills, enjoying breathtaking vistas and forget about the bad smell which comes up from my jeans.
High Noon in Dawson City
John Wayne would have loved this place. You will immediately think about all those Western movies once you arrive in the Yukon`s former capital (and a very important city during the gold rush in the late 19th century!). No tarmac roads, no street lights – just wooden, colorful houses, a few little hotels (a few of them being brothels - no kidding!), shops, bars – that`s Dawson City. See the museum and learn all about the gold rush and yes, visit Uta, a German lady who has immigrated to the Yukon decades ago (it must have been love...) and runs a little jewelry. Uta knows EVERYTHING about gold and her German accent (she was born in the Black Forest) is as cute as her – I rrrrrreally love it!
And don`t miss to search for gold – yes, gold! There are a few claims outside of Dawson City where you can do gold panning – pure Jack London feeling (without the stresses and strains the gold seekers had to suffer back in the 1890s, of course...). Move the big bowl you are given, filled with soil, water and ... some gold! You have to move your bowl in a way that washes out the gold – and just remember that gold is heavier than water. Try it out! – And don`t miss to visit the dredge at the National Historic Site and Discovery Claim – a huge monster that digged out all the gold from the rivers, amazing. Your Dawson City day will unavoidably end at „Diamond Tooth`s Gerties“ – a casino with live entertainment from the gold rush period. No worries about ties and jackets, we are in the Yukon. Apart from bus loads of US American tourists you will see many local characters – and some nice Can Can dancers who are announced by a pretty big lady with a great voice performing well-known evergreens.
Flightseeing over Kluane National Park - breathtaking
The word „breathtaking“ is often overused in North America. However, in this case it nails it down to the point. You board a bush plane of Icefield Discovery in Kluane National Park, one of Canada’s truly special places. Roughly half the size of Switzerland, Kluane National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to 12 of Canada’s 20 highest peaks, including the country’s tallest (Mt. Logan – 5,959 m), the world’s largest (non polar) icefield and one of Canada’s largest grizzly bear populations. Yes, this is unbelievable. Once your little plane with a maximum of 4 people on board leaves the little airstrip, you enter a pristine world of lakes, mountains and glaciers with unbelievable vistas. It looks like the pilot knows every corner in this untouched and untamed land of nature and you don`t know where to look first. Kilometers of impressive glaciers and here and there you spot a little flock of wild goats, just amazing. Four travel pros were in that little plane ... and all of us could not believe what we saw. Definitely one of the most impressive travel experiences in my whole life – and believe me, I have seen many spots on earth.
Where the heck are the bears?
Germans are crazy about bears (as crazy as they are about lions in Africa)! No Canada trip is successful without having spotted a few of these giants. It can drive you crazy at times – I must have heard the word „bear“ a few hundred times in a couple of days. I can tell you - you can make a German the happiest person on this planet if you show him/her a real bear in real nature! A trip to Canada is not complete without a bear, the bigger the better! - Close to Kluane National Park we were driving as slow as we could, along rivers and lakes, through bushes and shrubs just to spot a nice grizzly (or at least a moose...). And? Nothing. They simply did not want to show up. Are all these stories about the many bears in the Yukon simply untrue? We drove thru areas where you almost felt a big big bear coming out of the shrubs. But hey, Canada is not a zoo (and that`s good!). Animals appear when they feel like and not to please you and your stupid camera. In my case, I had to leave our little travel group a few days earlier and guess what – when my fellow travellers came back to Germany, they told me about that huge grizzly who had shown up the day after my departure. OK, guys, I am so happy for you (and swallow the bitter) – and I just have another good reason to return to Canada`s North one nice day. - And thanks to my friend Helge Haus for sending me the image of that stupid bear I did not see, but I am happy for him and the other group members :-) who spotted him after my departure!
A few words about the hotels (and places to eat and drink...)
As already said before, no one will visit Canada´s Yukon to experience a fancy design hotel (maybe just a fishing lodge...) – and there is no Marriott, no Sheraton, no Shangri-La. Quite honestly, some of the places I have stayed at (such as the Westmark in Whitehorse) have not changed at all in 20 years – even the chambermaids were still the same ;-)! Same applies to the Eldorado hotel in Dawson City. Old charm, giant omelettes for breakfast, friendly staff but nothing fancy.
Some of the wilderness lodges have more comfort – such as the Dalton Trail Lodge which even offers a great selection of wines in the middle of nowhere. And talking about wining and dining – a great place for a nice dinner in Whitehorse is the Wheelhouse Restaurant – excellent food, a good selection of wine and nice service on the banks of the Yukon River. And my tipp for Dawson City is „Klondike`s Kate“ which you can hardly miss when strolling thru the village. And let me end this blog with another tipp for great coffee: „The Village“ in Haines Junction (in the middle of nowhere...) on your way to Kluane and Alaska has great espresso and ... pizza! On a sunny day just sit outside, enjoy your food and the snow-capped mountains around you. Easy, simple and ... breathtaking ...!
For more info visit travelyukon.com