Exploring the Aishihik Road and Otter Falls, Yukon

The gravel/dirt Aishihik Road runs north from Historic Mile 995 on the Alaska Highway. It takes adventurers to Otter Falls, most famous for being featured on the 1954 series of Canada’s $5 banknote, on to Aishihik Lake and ends after about 120 km at Aishihik village, a seasonal Native fishing and hunting camp. Few people venture very far up this road, but on Saturday my niece and I decided to do some exploring – I hadn’t been up in many years.

The weather was awful – both very cold and very wet – as these Alaska-bound motorcycle riders will attest, and the forecast didn’t call for any improvement during the day. For a change, we got off to a fairly early start. This photo was shot on the Alaska Highway some 30km west of Whitehorse at 08:40.
Harleys on the Alaska Highway in a cold rain
Bobbie hadn’t seen Haines Junction yet so we made that detour (and picked up some bread at The Bakery while we were there). This view of the Kluane Range looks more like September than July. There was fresh snow on many peaks down to about 4,000 feet elevation even at Whitehorse this morning.
Snow on the peaks of the Kluane Range - Haines Junction, Yukon
Flowers are very happy about the wet weather we’re having this year. This was shot as we headed back to the Aishihik Road turn-off.
Flowers along the Alaska Highway
This was shot about 10 km up the Aishihik Road at 10:55.
Aishihik Road, Yukon
We found ourselves stopping often for photos – this is very pretty country. This was shot 5 minutes north of the photo above.
Aishihik Road, Yukon
We reached Otter Falls at 11:15, and I was extremely pleased to see that the falls were at full flow as I had expected, or at least hoped. I hadn’t gotten a photo of the water like this since July 1992 – for most of the summer, most of the water goes through a diversion channel to power turbines that were installed in 1975.
Otter Falls, Yukon
Looking down the Aishihik River from the foot of the falls. The river is also known as Canyon Creek, as it flows from Canyon Lake.
Otter Falls, Yukon
I shot a short video of Otter Falls as well as the stills.
This is the control structure at the outlet of Canyon Lake – the two valves were wide open to “fuel” Otter Falls.
Canyon Lake Dam, Yukon
A few hundred yards north of the waterfall pull-off is Km 28 of the Aishihik Road, and the entrance to a day-use area on the lakeshore.
Aishihik Road, Yukon
Continuing on, we reached the Aishihik Lake Campground at 12:15. This sign about Wood Bison is along the road into the camground. It’s far out of date, as the population is now near 1,300 rather than the 500 that lived here in 1999. While bison sightings used to be common in this area and even along the Alaska Highway, though, they can now be hunted and are seldom seen.
Aishihik Lake Campground, Yukon
The campground has some very nice sites, but was almost empty even on this long holiday weekend, I assume because of the weather. The temperature was dropping as we climbed, and was 5°C at this point (41°F).
Aishihik Lake Campground, Yukon
The boat launch was rebuilt by Yukon Energy a couple of months ago. The sheltered channel was dredged out and a concrete ramp laid – very nice.
Aishihik Lake Campground, Yukon
This is the dam at the foot of Aishihik Lake, near the boat launch.
Aishihik Lake Dam, Yukon
Signs warn that the road is not maintained beyond the campground, which is at Km 43. It is actually maintained but at a lower level.
Aishihik Road, Yukon
Mudholes are common, some surprisingly deep, and the road surface is mostly a clay-dirt that’s very slippery when it’s wet.
Aishihik Road, Yukon
This lovely marsh was cause for a stop. When it had rained it had mostly been light and the mosquitoes not bad at all, so the day was much better than I had expected.
Marsh along the Aishihik Road, Yukon
There are quite a few bridges, and several of them have had major rebuilds done recently, apparently because of flood damage (not this one, though).
Aishihik Road, Yukon
A pleasant forest along the road.
Aishihik Road, Yukon
For a few miles the road is elevated on a high gravel esker that snakes through a marshy area – a road-builder’s dream! An esker is the gravel left from a river that flowed beneath the glacier that used to fill this valley.
Aishihik Road, Yukon
We turned around at about 1:30 due to an approaching storm that threatened to make the road very bad even with four-wheel-drive. This is one of the recently-rebuilt bridges. If I had brought my Outback, I might have had to shovel some gravel to reduce that climb.
Aishihik Road, Yukon
The storm hit us about half an hour after we headed south. It was heavy, and icy cold! This was the view back up the valley to the north, the direction the storm was coming from.
Aishihik Road, Yukon
Rain or not, it is beautiful!
Aishihik Road, Yukon
Neither of us could resist making another detour, on a rough road that headed down towards the Aishihik River. It took us to this lovely spot, a flower-carpeted meadow which is used for camping.
Aishihik River, Yukon
At the far end of the meadow was a water recording station with this tramway crossing the river. While we were there the rain got much heavier, and we congratulated ourselves for turning back when we did.
Tramway across the Aishihik River, Yukon
A final shot of the road, looking back at a hill that a couple of vehicles had been unable to climb because of the mud. Our truck had slipped when we climbed it a couple of hours before, but it was clearly worse now.
Muddy hill on the Aishihik Road, Yukon

We got back to my home at 5:00. Despite the weather, it had been an excellent day of exploring an area that few people will ever see. There’s lots more to see up the Aishihik Road for another weekend, though 🙂

Edit: In late August the following year (2013), I did reach the end of the Aishihik Road finally – you can see that story here.

A Guide to Highways and Roads in the North


Exploring the Aishihik Road and Otter Falls, Yukon — 9 Comments

  1. So the time difference is 4 hours between here and there. I had forgotten. I especially enjoyed the view of the flowers growing wild as well as the lake.

  2. Great pics Murray!
    Too bad you had to cut the trip short.
    The scenery gets even better further up.

  3. great comment gary …yu are a great protecter of the aishihik area…keep up the good work…kevin /lena tutin

  4. Thank you so much for sharing these photos. I was just searching for information about Otter Falls and Aishihik Lake after sifting through old photos and coming across our two photos taken there. When my husband and I drove to Alaska in 1967, he stopped at a store and asked about fishing in the area. A local person gave him the directions to Otter Falls and we followed a very narrow and rough road for several miles to get there. (I was quite nervous about going so far from the main highway. We saw no one at all that day.) The fishing was great and I think John caught his first grayling there.(The road we traveled did not look anything like the road you were traveling. Lots of improvement over the past 40+ years.

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  7. Enjoyed your Aishihik blog. I was working as a naturalist at Kluane NP 1973-75, and did a breeding bird survey that began at Aishihik at the end of the road and came back south for 24.5 miles (50 stops one-half mile apart). I was trying to get more exact information on the location of various features to enter data into the eBird database and found that the roads are not even on the Google maps. Thanks for the photos and details on Otter Falls. The hydro development you mention explains some of the features on the satellite version of the map, and, as Becky noted, at least that part of the road has been upgraded since those days. It used to be an adventure requiring going up the day before to get to the starting point on time. One vivid memory that I have from there is when a wolverine appeared in a small wetland by the road while I was standing outside the car for one of the three minute listening periods! That is still the only one that I wave seen well in the wild.
    WN, Tremont, NS