With its midnight sun, long winters, and remote wilderness, it’s little wonder Yukon is packed with wildlife encounters and quirky experiences you just won’t find anywhere else.
Yukon ‘ice bears’
Only in Yukon can you encounter grizzly bears in their sub-arctic wilderness home. The Ni’iinlii’njik (Fishing Branch) Territorial Park in the Territory’s far north is one of Canada’s most pristine wilderness areas, its limestone caves, salmon runs, and grizzly bears undamaged by civilization and the passing of time.
Located in the Park, Bear Cave Mountain Eco-Adventures offers once-in-a-lifetime grizzly bear excursions, with professional guides providing safe encounters with breathtaking grizzlies and other wildlife. It all starts with a two-hour helicopter ride from Dawson City, with incredible views of snow-covered mountains, rivers, and arctic tundra.
Immerse yourself in the unique culture of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, dating back thousands of years, and allow the serenity of this tranquil piece of heaven permeate your being and make you wish you could stay forever.
Great Klondike Outhouse Race
Only in Yukon could the humble outhouse become a source of community hilarity. Each year in September, teams of five don their decorated outhouse (and themselves) and compete in a comical race, complete with obstacles, scavenger hunts, and physical challenges. A Yukon tradition since the 1970s, the ‘outhouses’ are metal structures fitted with rickshaw-like bars for pushing through the streets and are available for rent through the Klondike Visitors Association.
Teams can choose their own theme and are judged on their creativity and team spirit. Previous smash hits include “Farts Canada” (a Parks Canada team), “The Smell of the Yukon” (a play on poet Robert Service’s nickname, ‘the bard of the Yukon’), and “Dumped at the Altar” (a team of crying wedding-clad runners).
Join the Sourtoe Cocktail club
This is a drink you won’t forget in a hurry. Visit the Sourdough Saloon in historic Dawson City where the Toe Captain will prepare the famed tipple. The Sourtoe is an actual human toe that has been properly mummified, ready to be dropped into your cocktail. The golden rule is this: You can drink it fast or you can drink it slow, but your lips have to touch the toe. Sourtoe is a play on words, with ‘Sourdough’ being the name given to anyone who has survived at least one Yukon winter. Most toes last about four years and the hotel relies on anonymous donations and inheritance to remain in stock. Be warned: There’s a $2500 fine for swallowing the toe!
You might be wondering who invented this crazy past time. It all goes back to the Prohibition era of the 1920s when rum-runner Louie Linken had his frost-bitten toe amputated. Years later, the toe was discovered in Louie’s abandoned cabin and the Sourtoe Cocktail Club was conceived. The fact that ten toes have been donated to the club since then is testament to the Club’s proud members and strong tradition.
Celebration of Swans
Canada’s leading bird festival swoops into Yukon Territory in April, as thousands of trumpeter and tundra swans come home to rest, feed and breed. Each year, bird-lovers flock to Marsh Lake, where the Swan Haven Interpretive Centre is the festival hub for this spectacular phenomenon.
Up to 13,000 swans fly over Whitehorse and the southern regions annually, signalling the end of winter, as they return to raise their young after spending the winter in the Canadian Pacific Coast region.
Yukon is a bird-lover’s paradise, home to more than 200 species of birds throughout the territory, including the bald eagle, great gray owl, yellow rumped warbler, bufflehead, northern hawk owl, great horned owl, boreal owl, and horned lark.
In addition to Swan Haven, key places to observe birds in the Yukon include the Albert Creek Bird Observatory near Watson Lake, Teslin Lake Bird Observatory, and McIntyre Marsh Bird Observatory.
Yukon Wildlife Preserve
The whole of Yukon is a wildlife sanctuary; a place where the moose outnumber the humans two to one. The Territory boasts three national parks, six territorial parks, and four Canadian Heritage Rivers, a haven for more than 165,000 caribou, 70,000 moose, 22,000 mountain sheep, 7,000 grizzly bears, 10,000 black bears, and 250 species of birds.
You’re in with a great chance of spotting wildlife meandering alongside the road and on the hiking trails, but for a fail-safe way to encounter these magnificent creatures, head to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, where 700 acres of lush green hills, marshes, steep cliffs, and flat-lands are the perfect ecosystem for 13 species of northern Canadian mammals. We’re talking bison, moose, mule, deer, woodland caribou, elk, mountain goats, Canada lynx, and foxes, to name a few.
Just 25 minutes from downtown Whitehorse, you can walk, ski, snowshoe, or bike the five-kilometre viewing loop, or jump on a bus tour with a knowledgeable interpreter. However you choose to experience it, be prepared for wildlife encounters you’ll never forget.
Fish climbing ladders
One of the longest salmon runs on Earth runs from the Pacific Ocean to the breeding grounds of the Yukon River. When construction of the Whitehorse hydroelectric dam in 1959 made it impossible for the fish to complete their 3200-kilometre journey, a massive fish ladder was created, measuring 1182 feet, the longest of its kind in the world. This nifty invention allows the salmon to swim up and over the dam wall and also serves as an excellent viewing platform for witnessing this spectacular phenomenon.