Known as ‘The Land of the Midnight Sun’, Yukon is also the land of Canada’s highest mountain peaks, legendary northern parks, the world’s largest non-polar ice fields, several Canadian Heritage Rivers, and healthy, abundant wildlife. Yukon’s jaw-dropping natural features are what set this place apart. At least twenty mountains in the St. Elias Range in southwest Yukon exceed 4,000 metres, and a handful exceed 5,000 metres (the 5 tallest mountains in the country). Towering over them all and surrounded by vast ice fields is Mount Logan, Canada's highest peak at 5,959 m.
Yukon is dotted with countless scenic lakes and over 70 canoeable wilderness rivers including the mighty Yukon River, which is the longest river in Yukon and Alaska and the third longest river in North America. It flows northwest from the Coastal Range mountains of British Columbia, through the Yukon Territory and Alaska, and out to the Bering Sea. During the Klondike Gold Rush, the Yukon River was one of the principal means of transportation and continued to be so until the 1950’s when the Klondike Highway was completed.
Close to 80 percent of the territory remains pristine wilderness. Visitors come to explore iconic wilderness parks such as Kluane (home to the mountains mentioned above), Tombstone (Known as ‘Canada’s Patagonia’ and named after the shape of its mountains) Ivvavik (the first national park in Canada to be created as a result of an aboriginal land claim agreement), and Chilkoot (where hikers retrace the route of the Klondike Gold Rush). Yukon’s vast, wild regions and relatively sparse human population make it a haven for abundant northern species like caribou, wolves, grizzly bears, lynx, coyotes, foxes, and millions of migratory birds. The possibility for wildlife exists around every bend.
Yukon Territory is as far west as you can go in Canada, with the bordering US state of Alaska extending even further west into the Pacific. Perched above British Columbia (separated by the 60th parallel), the territory is about the shape of a right triangle, with its ragged hypotenuse acting as the eastern border with the Northwest Territories, running along the length of the Mackenzie Mountains and roughly following the Mackenzie River Watershed to the east. The relatively short northern coastline is along the Beaufort Sea.
Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital city, is nestled on the banks of the famous Yukon River near the territory’s southern border. The Klondike Highway runs north-south past the capital, linking the coastal town of Skagway, Alaska to Yukon’s Dawson City further north.
During the ice age, over 20,000 years ago, the Yukon’s first people arrived via the land bridge from Asia and enjoyed the ecologically-rich, ice-free refuge that was known as ‘Beringia’. They hunted mammoths, bison, horses and caribou, traveling on a seasonal round of fishing, hunting, trapping, and gathering. This forged a respect for the land, its creatures and the forces of nature.
Over time, they established permanent settlements, some of which remain as modern-day towns. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the fur trade and the Klondike Gold Rush brought visitors from around the world, resulting in a growth in infrastructure and a more diverse population. Today, about one-quarter of the population is of Indigenous ancestry and belongs to one of fourteen Yukon First Nations and eight language groups. First Nations people play a significant role in all aspects of Yukon society – including its governance, resource management, economy, art and culture.
The culture of Yukon's First Nations people evolved over millennia into the rich tapestry of dialects, arts, crafts, cuisines, and practices that we still enjoy today. From festivals to galleries to dozens of museums, historic sites, and interpretive and cultural centres, Yukon's story is brought to life for visitors in so many ways.
Music, dance and song are complemented by stories, plays and poems. Beaded moccasins and mukluks can be found in galleries and shops. Intricate native carvings, masks and jewellery are carved from antlers, wood, bone, horn and even mastodon ivory. A variety of summer festivals celebrate the Yukon arts, including the Adäka Cultural Festival and Riverside Arts Festival in Whitehorse, and the Yukon Riverside Arts Festival and the Dawson City Music Festival in the Klondike.
Yukon weather can be quite variable. One day an Arctic air mass can dominate, and the next day a warm front can move in from the Pacific. Sometimes visitors get to experience all four seasons in one day! The climate is generally very dry, with little precipitation, but is considerably wetter in the southeast. Precipitation is much greater in the mountains, and the snowpack continues to melt well into the summer, resulting in high water in July or August. No matter when you visit, it's important to be prepared for sudden changes in weather and temperature, especially if you are doing outdoor activities.
Spring is April and May. This transition season rolls together the last of the skiing, the arrival of migrating swans and early wildflowers. Pack long-sleeved shirts, pants, a windbreaker or shell jacket, sweaters, a warm hat and gloves, plus walking shoes and waterproof boots
Summer is June to August. The temperature can be plus 30 Celsius with the sun blazing around the clock in the far north, where the sun barely sets. People are full of energy. Life flourishes under hours of intense sunlight as the land hosts millions of migratory birds and explodes in wildflower blooms. On summer solstice, June 21, the sun doesn't set at the Arctic Circle—the further north one travels, the higher the sun and the longer the season of the midnight sun. Pack shorts and T-shirts, but come prepared with plenty of layering options. On an outdoor excursion, always bring along pants and long sleeves. A hat and gloves can come in handy, and a windbreaker is useful at higher elevations. Brimmed hats, sunglasses and sunscreen protect against the intense summer sun. Good walking shoes are a must. If you're going into the backcountry, consider packing a bug jacket.
Fall is September and October. The mountain slopes are vibrant with colour. Temperatures are dropping, especially at night. Bring plenty of light, long-sleeve shirts, sweaters and windbreakers for jaunts around town or in the wilds. Pack a warm hat and gloves, walking shoes, plus waterproof boots.
Winter is November to March. Yukon winters are cold and snowy, with temperatures dropping as low as minus 30 Celsius, with little to no sun at all. This is the perfect time to visit if you are hoping to witness the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis. A good parka and insulated winter boots are a must. Pack lots of warm clothes and long underwear. Bring wind or snow pants if you have them. Warm hat, gloves or mittens, plus a scarf or neck warmer are essential.