Bon Voyage Sales Manager, Nikki Gibbs, has spent 20 years with the company and seen just about every part of North America from Niagara Falls to the Californian winelands and from the rugged Rocky Mountains to the beaches of Miami. But our intrepid traveller had never veered this far off the beaten track……
Day 1 – London Heathrow to Whitehorse
I joined a small (but select!) band of UK tour operators for the Air Canada flight from Heathrow via Vancouver to Whitehorse in the Yukon. I’m always fascinated by the fact that because you take a ‘shortcut’ over the Pole to Vancouver, Western Canada the flying time from London is the same as Miami and an hour less than, say, Dallas. The check-in at Terminal Three is quick and easy and thanks to excellent in-flight entertainment the time passes quickly.
Waiting for us at Vancouver is the lovely Della from the Yukon’s tourist office and we are immediately whisked away to the coast for a quick-lunch of fresh fish and chips followed by a whistle-stop tour taking in the sights and hearing all about the history of Vancouver. Unfortunately it really was a quick encounter and all too soon we are on-board the onward Air Canada flight to Whitehorse. The view quickly changes from city and seascape to mountains and more mountains. It soon becomes apparent that the Yukon really is the remote wilderness we’d been led to believe. Whitehorse is the largest city and has a population of about 25,000. Dawson comes next with some 2,500 souls and the rest are pretty much caribou – by the million.
It was late in the evening by the time we reached Whitehorse and I was more than pleased to see my bed at the very comfortable High Country Inn.
Day 2 – Whitehorse to Dawson City
I awake incredibly early cursing the time difference. It is dark and I am longing to check out the surroundings. At first light I grab my coat, as it’s pretty nippy, and head for the river walk that runs parallel to the hotel. Word has it there are eagles nesting there and they have babies. Also the SS Klondike is docked along the river too, so in the lovely morning sunshine I take in my new surroundings before heading back for breakfast. We depart early from Whitehorse to travel the 525km (330 miles) on the Klondike Highway to Dawson City. The Highway follows the Yukon River so it’s beautiful scenery all the way. We break for lunch at Five Finger Rapids and enjoy a picnic overlooking the river and then stop along the way at Pelly Crossing and Moose Creek Lodge. After a few more hours on the road we brake suddenly, swing the vehicle around and creep back as quietly as it’s possible to do in an enormous 4×4; there is a huge moose right on the side of the road. I am proud to report that it was my yell of ‘moose’ that brought us shuddering to a stop and although he had scarpered pretty much as soon as we went back , I had my first ‘spot’, seen him in his full glory with a complete set of antlers and felt I had definitely arrived in the Yukon now.
We arrive in Dawson City by late afternoon and have a quick drive around before checking into our hotel. Dawson is quite a city; different from anywhere I’ve been before. There are rows of colourful buildings many preserved from the glory days of the 1890s, unpaved gravel roads, the fast flowing Yukon River and the dramatic backdrop of Dome Mountain. You can see and feel the history of the gold rush as every step reminds you of those intrepid adventurers who ventured here without air travel, 4 x 4s and comfortable hotels. After a hearty supper of BBQ food we head off to Diamond Tooth Gerties for the local nightly Can Can show and in the interests of research a short time at the gaming tables.
Day 3 – Tombstone Territorial Park
We make another early start this morning and over breakfast I learn that I had missed the best show the North has to offer – The Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights. Apparently while I slept soundly they danced away in the skies above our aptly named Aurora Hotel. The lights are visible in this area from late August until March and 2013 has been a particularly good viewing year. I curse silently and hope to catch them later in the trip.
We head off to Gold Bottom Creek for a spot of gold panning. With wellies on and pan in hand I take to the river and while I didn’t make my fortune I did get a little speck of gold to bring home so I was happy. Next we set off on the Dempster Highway. I am very excited about this as I have watched ‘Ice Road Truckers’ on the Discovery Channel and those routes look challenging to say the least. The road is unpaved so as we speed along there is a trail of dust behind us and no one passed us on the road for mile upon mile. The scenery is amazing and even though it’s only the first week of September the vibrant fall colours of gold, orange, red and green are spectacular. We have a quick and warming lunch of cheese fondue and home-baked bread before heading out on the trail through the park. A stop at the visitors centre is a must; you can pick up maps of all the trails and they also organise guided walks. This is the best way to see it, with an expert, as they will have all the skills you need in the wilderness. We took the trails that in a few weeks’ time would be filled by caribou, migrating for the winter; quite a sight I’m assured. The air and the walk were exhilarating and followed by very welcome coffee and snacks in our guide’s cabin. There’s another fun evening in Dawson and tonight we enjoy the revelry and rituals of the Downtown Saloon.
Day 4 – Dawson City to Beaver Creek
We leave lovely Dawson City, but not before we have a chance to explore the Gold Rush Museum and learn about the journey of the 50,000 bounty hunters who descended on this tiny city in the hope of making their fortune. They had to overcome horrendous conditions getting there in the frozen arctic winter and if they were lucky pitched their canvas tent on the outskirts of a very crowded place from which most of the gold had long since been panned. It makes sad but very interesting reading. We cross the Yukon River by ferry and head off onto the iconic road trip that is The Top of the World Highway. As the name suggests we are travelling up into the mountain so we experience stunning vistas, vibrant fall colours and as we get further along we can see the huge Alaska Range and Mount Denali. After crossing the border from Canada into Alaska, a very quick process and $6.00 per person, we stop in Chicken Alaska, summer population 30; winter population 2!! It’s true! There’s no running water but it has a cafe and a shop and that’s it. The afternoon drive gets better and better as we climb towards the Alaska Mountains. There are a vehicles here , mostly motor homes, and passing on the narrow gravel road is not for the faint hearted if you are on the side with the massive drop. I think I might suggest it for a Top Gear Challenge and I think Mike, our driver fancied himself as a bit of a Jeremy Clarkson. We arrive into Beaver Creek; it’s the most westerly place in the Yukon and so close to Alaska you can’t pick up the Canadian Time Zone on your smart phone which made a few of our group an hour late the next morning.
Day 5 – Beaver Creek to Haines Junction
Today we are travelling Eastbound along the Alaska Highway to Haines Junction on the edge of Kluane National Park. We are scheduled a flight seeing trip around the mountains in Kluane later this afternoon, but the unpredictable Autumn weather takes a turn for the worse and with heavy rain and high winds the trip is called off. We stay in Beaver Creek for a while and visit Sid’s Museum; he is a local guy that has collected everything he has ever come across, has travel brochures from the 1930s as well as old cars and a mixture of just stuff! By the time we leave a bit later the rain has stopped so our drive through the frontiers of Canada and onto the small village of Burwash Landing is very pretty and a great lunch stop. We watch the Dall Sheep high up on the aptly named Sheep Mountain and then it’s on to Destruction Bay, which is absolutely beautiful and made more so by the wind whipping up the brilliant blue waters. In late afternoon we arrive in Klaune National Park and head off into the mountains with another local expert. We start at the bottom and wander around Kathleen Lake, which produces huge waterspouts as the wind hits it. Then onto a small mountain trail used heavily by the grizzlies and in the middle of September they actually close the trail as there are so many bears feasting on the berries. I was slightly concerned as we are well into September – how do the bears know when to congregate there – do they have a calendar? I could clearly see where the grizzlies have clawed high up on the tree trunks and I found clumps of blonde hair where they had been scratching – I think they were definitely aware that we were there. Well we had a great walk with fabulous views and made it in one piece. Phew!
Our overnight accommodation is at the very comfortable Ravens B&B; not quite as comfortable as it might have been for me since I did spend quite a bit of time in the freezing cold night spotting the Northern Lights. They make a brief appearance and very low on the horizon, but they were there.
Day 6 – Haines to Whitehorse
What a difference a day makes. This morning is bright and calm and perfect for our early flight seeing trip. We head straight out to the airfield and board a 4- seater single engine plane. Luckily I’m up front next to the pilot so get the perfect view. We see Mount Logan, the tallest mountain in Canada, then six of the tallest mountains in the USA. Klaune is a UNESCO world heritage site and has the world’s largest non-polar ice field – and we are flying over it.
There are glaciers and icebergs and we skim right next to huge mountains. For an hour we have an amazing time amongst the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen and back on the ground I can’t stop smiling at what I’ve seen and for braving that tiny aircraft up in the mountains. We leave Haines Junction for Whitehorse where our afternoon activity is to visit the Muktuk Kennels for an introduction to the sport of dog sledding. The dogs are super excited to have visitors, especially because we are taking some of them for a walk. After the walk we have a talk about the Yukon Quest 1,000-Mile International Dog Sled Race held every year. The Muktuk Kennels are big contenders every year. After a very friendly and homely evening meal we say farewell and head back into Whitehorse.
Day 7 – White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.
We leave our hotel early with a local guide who is going to take us to Skagway, Alaska and onto the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. Our first stop is at Carcross where the 110- mile railroad passes through and we then cross into the United States. The journey into Skagway is a pretty one, surrounded by tall mountain ranges and glaciers. We can see the railroad hugging the mountainside opposite the road we are following into Skagway. On arrival there are many cruise ships in the port so the small town of Skagway is buzzing with activity. We have an hour to explore before boarding the train which will take us back to Fraser, BC. Once on board the train we begin a 3,000 feet climb in just 20 miles through glaciers and mountains. As we trundle around cliff hanging turns of 16 degrees on this narrow gauge you realise why everyone considered the building of this way back in 1898 to be an impossible task. Back in the day when it was completed the steel cantilever bridges it travelled on were the tallest in the world.
After the White Pass Railroad we are then heading to the Southern Lakes region where tonight we are sleeping under the stars (in a motorhome). Our four motorhomes are already in place and after a pleasant early evening meal at the Inn on the Lake, we retire to a night of camp fire fun on Marsh Lake. We sing around the fire and melt marshmallows before snuggling into our warm beds in the motorhomes. Our last night of Northern Lights viewing is ruined by rain and low cloud, but the drumming of rain on the roof of the motorhome makes it feel cosy.
Day 8 – The end of the road.
This morning we travel back to Whitehorse for the morning. I head back to the trendy downtown area for another visit to the shops and a final lunch in the café that we had visited earlier in the trip. We all feel like locals by now and after our night in the wilderness last night we feel like we are now proper Yukoners. And then all of a sudden our Yukon adventure is at an end and we’re boarding our Air Canada flight to London just after lunch. Hopefully you can tell that it’s been a blast and the good news is that I can help you plan your very own Yukon adventure whenever you’re ready.
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