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Day-tripping from Whitehorse, Yukon

by Murray Lundberg

    As well as offering a wide variety of attractions that make it a destination in itself, the Yukon's capital city makes a great base for a series of day trips to destinations including Atlin, Carcross, Skagway and Haines.

Marsh Lake as seen from the Alaska Highway south of Whitehorse Marsh Lake as seen from the Alaska Highway
south of Whitehorse.

    The first must-see point during your visit to Whitehorse is Miles Canyon - although it's fury was tamed 50 years ago by a power dam, if this basalt-walled section of the Yukon River hadn't existed during the Klondike Gold Rush, there would never have been a reason to stake a townsite at this location. As well as the free view, there are tours available by boat and raft. The other key to understanding Whitehorse's history is a tour of the sternwheeler S.S. Klondike. This is the city's centrepiece, a magnificent Parks Canada restoration of one of the last 3 of about 270 steamers that have worked the Yukon River over the past 100 years.

    There used to be a pamphlet available which described 101 things to do in Whitehorse - I won't attempt to duplicate that! But, the summary is, we have the Beringia Centre which displays the prehistory of the Yukon and Alaska, 2 very good museums (the MacBride Museum downtown, and the Yukon Transportation Museum at the airport), lots of hiking trails, a Vaudeville-style shows, canoe and mountain bike rentals - well, you get the idea. At the Visitor Reception Centre on 2nd Avenue, you can view (for free) a film on the Yukon which is very well produced and which many locals find quite moving.

    As with every other community in the North, there is a radically different feel to Whitehorse for a few weeks during the summer. To really see what the Northern lifestyle is like, you have to come back in the winter - say February, when the Yukon Quest sled dog race is being run and the Sourdough Rendezvous is in full swing. Sure, it may be -35 or -40°, but we promise to show you a good time - maybe even a showing of the Aurora Borealis!

    All the communities which I suggest here as day-trips will be upset with me - if I thought that you all had unlimited time, I could easily suggest each of them as a multi-day destination (as they all have been for me). But since time is precious, and none of us will live long enough to see everything the North has to offer, here are some suggestions as to how to fill 4 days or so:

    Carcross is only 50 minutes south, and offers the most accessible high-country hiking and mine-exploring in the territory. If working up a sweat is not your idea of a good time, Lake Bennett has a beautiful 2-mile-long, virtually unused beach of fine sand. For the history-buff, there are several interesting buildings, as well as White Pass & Yukon Route railway and steamboat relics.

Broadway, Skagway's main street Broadway, Skagway's main street.
    If you continue on the South Klondike Highway for another 66 miles (106 km), you'll be at Skagway, which is of course cruise-ship heaven. The scenery on the drive to Skagway is like nowhere else on earth - through the White Pass summit area, it looks like the glaciers just retreated last year. Most people assume that if you've been across one Coastal Range road, you've seen them all - however, the drives to Skagway, Haines and Valdez each take you through dramatically different terrain. Whether your taste is for shopping, hiking (maybe a couple of miles of the Chilkoot Trail just to get the feel?), a trip on the White Pass & Yukon, or a glacier flight, Skagway has something to offer.

    The most famous attraction in Haines is certainly the Bald Eagle Preserve - to see this world-class nature phenomenon at its peak, you'll need to come back in November, though. There is a lot to see and do in the area in the summer, from the beautiful collection of native art at the Sheldon Museum to great hiking and world-class fishing charters. For many Yukoners, dining on halibut and salmon that's only been out of the water for an hour is the only reason needed to make the drive to Haines. To help in your planning, Haines has a great Web site that's chock-full of information.

    Last, but certainly not least, is the 3-hour trip to "Little Switzerland." The drive to Atlin takes you past some spectacular lakes, and Atlin and the surrounding area are full of reminders of their gold rush, which looked for a while like it would rival the Klondike. The Tarahne, a 119-foot tour boat built in 1917, now sits on the beach and is host to occasional events through the summer.

    Getting back to Whitehorse after any of your exploring days, the pool at Takhini Hot Springs feels wonderful.

    As always, if you have questions or comments, please drop me a line and I'll see if I can help.