Before World War II, a quiet village of 500 people, Whitehorse boomed with the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942. The village was originally established during the Klondike Gold Rush because of its location beside the forbidding Whitehorse Rapids on the Yukon River. Adventurers boating down the Yukon had to cope with both Miles Canyon, just upstream, and the rapids. Enterprising entrepreneurs built log tramways and charged the stampeders to lift their boats, rafts, and supplies around the canyon and rapids. The gold rush and its aftermath created a major river port at Whitehorse, with paddle-wheelers plying the waters of the Yukon, taking supplies and passengers to Dawson and other mining towns.
With World War II and the highway, Whitehorse became a city overnight, with a wartime population of 10,000. Although the population declined somewhat after the war, Whitehorse became the Yukon's major trading and transportation center. The territorial government was moved to Whitehorse in 1953, replacing Dawson as the government center. The impressive government building is located on the bank of the Yukon River. More than 60% of the Yukon's population lives in Whitehorse. The city limits encompass 421 square kilometers, including several suburbs spread along the Alaska Highway and the Riverdale subdivision on the east bank of the river.
The Whitehorse Visitor Information Centre is in the T.C. Richards Building, a large log cabin at 302 Steele Street, downtown. Whitehorse attractions may be previewed from a laser disc. For advance information, call (867) 667-7545. The Parks Canada Information Centre is found next to the S.S. Klondike restoration at the end of 2nd Ave., downtown.
Several days could be well-spent in the Whitehorse area, visiting museums, taking river trips, shopping for native art and crafts, and visiting the special attractions that have been developed in recent years, including nighttime entertainment shows.
The Yukon Government Art Collection is on display in the territorial government building on 2nd Ave, downtown. Northern landscapes and people are shown in the works of prominent Yukon and other Canadian artists. There's a gallery in the Whitehorse Public Library, in the same complex.
S.S. Klondike, the best remaining example of the Yukon River sternwheeler, is located on the bank of the river at Rotary Park at the end of 2nd Ave. This is a National Historic Site, operated by Parks Canada. An interpretation centre is located in the park. For in formation, phone (867) 667-3910.
The Old Log Church Museum, at 3rd Avenue and Elliot Street, was once the territory's Anglican Cathedral. It opened as a museum in 1962, and displays documents, artifacts, and photos of the early missionary days in the Yukon. The museum is open daily, June through August.
The Frantic Follies Vaudeville Revue is a long-time staple of Whitehorse summer nightlife, staged in the Westmark Hotel, downtown. Gold Rush songs, skits, Robert Service poems and cancan dancing are highlights of this entertainment set in the Gold Rush days, (867) 668-2042. Advance tickets are available in the lobby of the Westmark Whitehorse Hotel.
The Beringia Interpretive Centre is a series of multimedia exhibits featuring life-size displays of animals of the last ice age, interactive CD-ROM kiosks and dioramas depicting the unique landscape, flora and fauna of Beringia. The exhibits include a full-size cast of the largest woolly mammoth ever recovered and a reconstruction of the 24,000 year old Bluefish Caves archaeological site.
The MacBride Museum, 1st Avenue & Wood St., has a number of historical themes including natural history, Native culture, the Gold Rush era, and the construction of the Alaska Highway. The museum is packed to the rafters with railway artifacts and other forms of early transportation in the area. Open daily, May 15-Sept. 15. For info, call (867) 667-2709.
Yukon Gardens, on the Alaska Highway, is the only show garden in the northern territories. Here are large displays of wild plants as well as northern flowers, trees, and shrubs. Children will enjoy the petting farm and an international bird display. Open daily, June-September.
Takhini Hot Springs, 9.6 KM (5.9 miles) off the Klondike Highway north of Whitehorse, is a memorable hot spring resort which has a coffee shop and one of the best campgrounds in the north. For information, call (867) 633-2706.
Canadian Yukon Riverboat Family has riverboat trips departing from Whitehorse and Dawson City, on the Yukon River. Accommodation and meals are included. Riverboat trips: Whitehorse to Dawson -- 3 nights; Dawson City to Whitehorse -- 4 nights. For information and reservations, call (867) 633-4414.
Tours and Walks
Walking tours are available through the Yukon Conservation Society, (867) 668-5678. These guided walks include tours to Miles Canyon, Grey Mountain, and Hidden Lake. Allow two to six hours.
Whitehorse Heritage Walks start from the Donnenworth House (3126 3rd Avenue) and lead through the downtown area. For information, call (867) 667-4704.
The cruise boat M.V. Schwatka offers a good opportunity to see the famous Miles Canyon and learn the history of the most treacherous rapids of the Trail of 98. A friendly and informative 2-hour cruise. Hosted by long time Yukoners Bruce and Rachelle, this trip will help you understand some of the hardships and trials of the early day gold seekers. The tour departs from downtown hotels, RV Parks or from the hydro dam from June 1 to September 10. For information, call (867) 668-4716.
The Dam & Fish Ladder along the Yukon River beyond the downtown area is worth visiting during spawning runs. This route to the ladder starts at the end of Nisutlin Drive in the Riverdale suburb, across the river from downtown. The fish ladder allows chinook (king) salmon to migrate past the hydro dam to their spawning grounds up river. August is the best time to see the migration. The fish ladder is open daily, July and August. Info: (867) 633-5965
1. To Carmacks & Five-Finger Rapids
Drive north on the Alaska Highway from the Two Mile Hill junction for 12 KM (7.4 miles), and turn onto the Klondike Highway (Hwy. 2). Passing the Takhini Hot Springs Road you approach the Yukon's only reindeer farm. It is open to the public. Lake Laberge, made famous by Robert W. Service in "The Cremation of Sam McGee," can be seen from viewpoints and from the Lake Laberge Yukon government campground 32.8 KM (20.4 miles) from the Alaska Highway junction.
Passing by Fox Lake and the small Twin Lakes, an old tumble-down log building revives memories of the early days of the Yukon. Montague House was a way-station on the rough wagon road to Dawson City.
Carmacks, a small community on the Yukon River, is located 165.3 KM (102.7 miles) from the junction of the Klondike and Alaska Highways. This was once a stop on the riverboat route to Dawson. Now, it has a hotel and cafe, plus a Yukon government campground with a picnic site.
189.1 KM (117.5 miles) from the junction is Five Finger Rapids, named by early prospectors for the 5 channels or "fingers" made by the rock pillars sticking out of the river. Riverboats had to be winched through the one navigable finger. There is an excellent viewpoint with steps leading down to a trail which gives a closer view of the rapids. 2 KM beyond the rapids is the road to Tatchum Creek Park.
2. To Carcross and Atlin
It makes a long day, but any visitor to Whitehorse should drive to the scenic village of Atlin, B.C., the historic gold rush town on Atlin Lake. Drive south along the Alaska Highway to the Klondike Highway junction and turn right towards Carcross. Carcross is a small village which was an important lake steamboat and rail center before the 1950s. The original Carcross Hotel is still in business with a cafe and lounge. The paddle-steamer Tutshi (Too-Shy) is beached here as a museum.
After visiting Carcross, turn northwest on Tagish Road (Hwy. 8) and drive to the junction with the Atlin Road, near Jake's Corner. The Atlin Road (Hwy. 7) provides a 93.3-KM (58-mile) drive along Little Atlin Lake and Atlin Lake. This area is called the "Switzerland of North America," for its high snow-clad peaks and hanging glacier.
Native tribes, descended from the early Athabaskans who traveled over the Bering Land Bridge&emdash;have been the primary residents of the Yukon for at least 10,000 years and probably as long as 30,000 years. Over the centuries, the Native people have survived the rigors of this harsh land, adapting to the changes brought first by the fur trade, then by gold discoveries, the Alaska Highway boom, and the recent mining and tourism development.
There are seven Native tongues used by Yukon tribes: Tlingit, Tagish, Kaska and Southern Tutchone in the southern areas of the territory, Tutchone and Han in the central interior, Kutchin in the north. There are seven thousand Natives now living in the Yukon. A campaign has been waged to preserve the traditional languages, as well as the art of the Yukon groups, including leather crafts, beadwork, canoe-making, carving and parka-making. Many of these arts and crafts are exhibited for sale in crafts stores in the Yukon communities.
The Yukon Natives are deeply spiritual and have preserved this culture in the face of modern civilization. An outstanding experience for tourists is visiting the Native communities, exploring the local museums, and observing their ancient traditions.
The vast Yukon Territory is an exciting land of mountains, rivers, plains, and northern muskeg. In most of the Yukon, permafrost is only a few feet under the surface of the ground. Canada's highest mountain is located in the southwest corner of the territory. The Dempster Highway, running north from Dawson City across the Arctic Circle, passes through the most northerly range of the Rocky Mountains, permitting tourists to see mountain tundra in the higher altitudes.
The Yukon provides a range for vast herds of caribou, seen as they migrate in the spring and fall. Throughout the Yukon there is an abundance of other wildlife: grizzly bears, Dall sheep, mountain goats, and fish including lake trout, northern pike, and Arctic grayling.
Outdoor recreation lies around every corner in the Yukon. Anyone who likes the outdoors will want to don a back pack and wander along the rivers, through mountain meadows, and on many trails found in the national and territorial parks. Kluane National Park is outstanding, with 250 KM (155 miles) of hiking trails, including trails for day hikes and others which take you to striking wilderness country and overnight camping. River trips are a popular pastime. Several outfitters in Whitehorse organize trips down the Yukon River and it's possible to canoe from Whitehorse to Dawson with a portage at the Five-Finger Rapids. Other rivers offer white-water canoeing and rafting.
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Takhini Hotsprings Campground
R.R. 2, Site 19, Compartment 4, Whitehorse YT Y1A 5A5
This is arguably the best private campground in the Yukon, and a major attraction is the hot spring resort of which this is a part. It's located at the end of Takhini Hotsprings Road, off the Klondike Highway, north of Whitehorse. Camping facilities include electrical hookups, showers, picnic tables, firewood, and laundry, and other resort features include a coffee shop, large outdoor hot spring pools, and guided trail rides. The resort is open year-round, with cross-country skiing and soaking in the steaming hot water.
Sourdough City RV Park
411 Main Street (mailing address), Whitehorse YT Y1A 2B6
(867) 668-7938, or 800-661-0539 (Yukon, B.C.), or 800-764-7604 (Alaska)
This large downtown RV park is located on 2nd Avenue, north of Ogilvie Street. The entry is at the 2nd Avenue Chevron. Facilities include RV and trailer sites with full hookups, additional sites with electrical hookups, tenting sites, showers, laundry, barbecue area, and a gift shop. This is the only camping park close to the downtown area. Open May 1 to October 1.
MacKenzie's RV Park
301-Mile 922.5, Alaska Highway, Whitehorse YT, Y1A 3Y9
Located 6 miles north of town, this park has RV and trailer sites with full hookups, plus tenting sites, showers, laundry, a grocery store, and an RV/car wash. Gold panning is a popular feature.
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