Whitehorse is the capital city of the Yukon Territory in far northwestern Canada. Rubbing elbows with Alaska to the west and British Columbia to the south, the Yukon Territory is home to the biggest non-polar ice fields in the country and the highest mountains in Canada. The Yukon still has the untamed, wild feel of its raging Klondike Gold Rush Days.
Whitehorse is the quintessential town of this rugged area. For those traveling up the Alaska Highway or visiting by air, this capital city is the first real taste of the Yukon. The historic Yukon River flows through town, which also boasts hundreds of miles of trails. From a “midnight” boat tour of the Yukon, a flightseeing tour over the immense St. Elias Mountains, or experiencing local and indigenous art, these are 13 unforgettable experiences in Whitehorse, Yukon.
The writer was a hosted guest of Travel Yukon, but all opinions are her own.
1. Explore The Yukon In A Variety Of Ways
The Yukon River is a storied and sometimes deadly waterway that weaves through this city, and one of the best ways to get acquainted with this historic river is to explore the trails.
Whitehorse is part of the main Trans Canada Trail, which winds through every province in Canada, but the Trans Canada Trail Connector in Whitehorse is an easy flat-walking trail that runs through downtown. Another great and easy trail to explore the Yukon River is the 2.8-mile Whitehorse Millenium Trail.
Because the Yukon River runs straight through town, it’s super easy to get out on the water for a leisurely canoe or kayaking adventure.
2. Take A Boat Trip Down The Yukon
One of my absolute favorite adventures in Whitehorse was a guided “midnight” boat tour of the Yukon River with Yukon River Tours. Located only 5 miles from downtown Yukon, our summer nighttime tour of the river started out with views of Shwatka Lake, Grey Mountain, and Mount McIntyreer before our breathtaking journey through Miles Canyon.
Pro Tip: Even in summer, bring a light sweater because it can get relatively cold when zooming down the river. Yukon River Tours also has multiple departures daily to see Miles Canyon, if you want a shorter boat tour of this towering landscape.
Whether you visit cultural centers and museums, walk the ancient paths along the river or experience First Nation culture through performances and exhibitions, the Indigenous experience is a must in Whitehorse.
3. Explore The History And Culture Of Yukon’s First Nations
The Whitehorse area’s First Nations heritage starts with a visit to the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, located on the traditional home of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation. The welcoming staff offers guided tours, as does the nearby MacBride Museum, which has an impressive permanent exhibit on First Nations beadwork, tools, and artifacts.
The Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre is a unique museum that not only includes displays about ancient First Nations people, but artifacts and fossils from ice age Yukon. The center focuses on the long-lost subcontinent of Beringia with remains and artifacts from a time long past.
4. Learn Traditional Ways At Long Ago People’s Place
One morning, we ventured a ways out of Whitehorse to visit the Long Ago Peoples Place, run by the absolutely fascinating and experienced Meta Williams. Ms. Williams led us through a history of how First Nations people lived in the area, displayed tools and structures of traditional Southern Tutchone First Nations culture, and even showed us how to make a salve using spruce sap. Her stories were endless, her knowledge was impressive, and her fry bread was to die for.
Pro Tip: Bring insect repellent because Long Ago Peoples Place is located in the wilderness about an hour west of Whitehorse. If you have a whole day or so to spend here, Meta also offers workshops, plant medicine walks, drum-making camps, and foraging tours.
5. Support First Nations Crafters And Artists
Support Indigenous artists and take home artistic traditional crafts at Whitehorse’s many local galleries and gift shops. Many times, the artists are working on site, so it’s a great opportunity to learn about their work and culture. Great places to shop and experience First Nations crafts and artwork are at North End Gallery, Northern Cultural Expressions Society, or at the nearby Carcross/Tagish First Nations Carving Centre.
In June, the multi-day Adäka Cultural Festival highlights live performances, inspiring workshops, and even hands-on activities like beading, drum-making, and moose-hair tufting.
6. Learn What Makes Whitehorse So Special
While you’re downtown, learn about the Klondike and Gold Rush history of Whitehorse as well as its Indigenous culture at the thorough MacBride Museum of Yukon History, which was my favorite excursion in town. The museum walks visitors from Whitehorse’s First Nations People through the Klondike Gold Rush and the unforgettable places and amazing people who built modern Yukon.
The MacBride Copperbelt Mining Museum will bring you back in time to when hundreds of thousands of fortune hunters braved the wilds to mine for copper as well as gold.
Pro Tip: For the best experience, book a guided tour of the museum. I highly suggest booking tours in advance, especially during the winter season.
7. Kluane National Park And Reserve
Just a short and scenic 2-hour drive from Whitehorse is the immense and stunning Kluane National Park and Reserve, home to 20 of Canada’s tallest peaks, including Mount Logan, Canada’s highest.
While you’ll have no shortage of hiking trails, tours, and events, taking a flightseeing tour over the impressive St. Elias Range and the largest inland icefield is an unforgettable and breathtaking experience.
Pro Tip: We used Rocking Star Adventures to fly over Mount Logan, which is only visible from the deep interior. Our guide was friendly, safe, and full of great information.
8. Stay In A Local Hotel Or A Treehouse
There are plenty of places to stay in Whitehorse, but one of my favorite hotels included the Raven Inn, which sits right along the Yukon River and has apartment-like rooms. The Edgewater Hotel is another great local hotel that is 45 percent First Nations-owned. It also has an impressive collection of Yukon art from three First Nations artists who are major shareholders in the company.
However, the most unique and stunning place to stay is Black Spruce, which has four little modern cabins perched within a boreal forest surrounding Whitehorse. Even better, it takes sustainability seriously by using a wood preservation technique from Japan called “Shou Sugi-Ban.”
9. Head To Haines Junction
In addition to Kluane National Park and Reserve, there’s plenty of other reasons to visit Haines Junction, just 2 hours away from Whitehorse. Pine Lake is a popular spot for swimming, boating, fishing, picnicking, and camping, and the Kluane National Park’s Visitor Center, also known as the Daku Cultural Centre, is tucked right in the middle of town.
10. Explore The Beauty Of Emerald Lake
Just south of Whitehorse, along the South Klondike Highway on the way to Carcross, is Emerald Lake, notable for its intense green color. It is located on the South Klondike Highway. An easy pull-off along the highway will unveil positively stunning views and Instagram-worthy shots of this beautiful lake.
11. Shop And Learn At Carcross
Originally called “Caribou Crossing” because of the large number of caribou that migrated through the region, Carcross is a tiny community rich in First Nations heritage and railway history.
Visit the Haa Shagóon Hídi Learning Centre (Our Ancestors’ House) to learn about the eight towering totem poles and view the unique art and history of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. Grab a gourmet coffee at Carcross Commons’ little coffee shops and artisan hubs right on the shores of Bennett Lake’s sandy beaches.
12. Check Out The World’s Smallest Desert
On your way back to Whitehorse from Carcross, be sure to stop at the world’s tiniest desert, the Carcross Desert, which is actually a series of sand dunes formed during the last glacial period. The area used to be massive glacial lakes, but when they dried up, they left behind soft, sandy dunes that people can hike up, sandboard down, or explore on ATVs.