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YUKON TOURS BY TRAIN, CAR, CANOE AND PLANE

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Canada's highest mountain. The world's largest non-polar ice fields. Tranquil lakes and fast-flowing rivers. Boreal forests, tundra and wildflowers. Caribou, bears, 224 species of birds and twice as many moose as people. If you love the great outdoors, you'll love the Yukon.

Driving on Yukon road
Driving on Yukon road
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

How could we sample the vast and diverse wilderness, with only one week in the territory? Four fascinating Yukon tours and 24-hour daylight left us captivated.

White Pass & Yukon train

Built in 1898, the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad climbs 915 meters through tunnels, over bridges and trestles from Skagway, Alaska, to Carcross, Canada.

During the 110-kilometer journey, we inhaled the pollution-free air and photographed cascading waterfalls, turquoise lakes and snow-topped mountains.

The announcer pointed out the gruelling Trail of '89 used by prospectors on their way to Klondike gold fields. Nowadays, the train transports hikers to-and-from the 53-km Chilkoot Trail, as well as camera-toting sightseers.

Klondike Highway

The scenery was equally spectacular from the Klondike Highway, south of Whitehorse. Bristly pines and snow-streaked mountains surrounded Emerald Lake. Sunlight reflected off powdered limestone in the shallow water, creating its gemstone colour.

The nearby 260-hectare Carcross Desert is locally known as the world's smallest desert. Lodgepole pines punctuate the sand dunes that were formerly a glacial lake bed.

In Carcross, we stopped for waffle ice cream cones at Matthew Watson General Store across the road from Carcross Station. Built in 1910, it's a designated Canadian Heritage Railway Station.

Ten minutes from the U.S./Canada border, the South Klondike Highway crossed British Columbia and took us to the 65-meter-long Yukon Suspension Bridge. The spectacular views of the raging Tutshi River, its gorge and mountains were well worth the vertigo as we traversed it. (Yes, it does sway, but it’s sturdy enough to hold 300 people.)

White Pass and Yukon Route Railway travels between Alaska and Canada
White Pass and Yukon Route Railway travels between Alaska and Canada
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Wildlife competed with the scenery. We photographed a black bear romping through the greenery. A friend spotted one lolling along the roadside, his mouth full of dandelions.

Yukon wildlife

The 300-hectare Yukon Wildlife Preserve, just 25 minutes northwest of Whitehorse, is a snapshot of Yukon wildlife. A massive moose sipped water from a pond. White mountain goats climbed a narrow ridge. Shaggy wood bison grazed on lush grass. Muskoxen rested under shady trees. Undeterred by their size, an Arctic ground squirrel stood on its hind legs, and uttered a high-pitched cry.

Moose in Yukon Wildlife Preserve
Moose in Yukon Wildlife Preserve
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Large fenced habitats, ranging from bogs to boreal forests, shelter 90 species of birds and 11 species of northern mammals. Many were rescued, like the orphan moose whose mother was killed in a forest fire. Others, like the baby mule deer, were born here.

During our 1.5-hour interpreter-guided van tour, we learned how to tell the age of Dall sheep by the rings on their horns and how to identify antlers of elk and woodland caribou.

To prevent diseases, visitors can't touch the fences, but the openings are large enough for cameras to capture spectacular images, especially with telephoto lenses.

Dall sheep
Dall sheep
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Yukon River trips

The Yukon, the second longest river in Canada after the Mackenzie, is 3,185 kilometers long and as wide as two football fields. On expedition trips, you can canoe the Yukon River and camp along the banks at night.

As we paddled along North America's fifth largest river, a bald eagle, its white head feathers glistening in the sun, observed us from a cottonwood tree.

High above, white Dall sheep with massive curled horns walked along precarious cliff-side trails. "The river draws birds and animals as well as people," said our guide.

He pointed out remnants of the Dawson Trail, traveled by prospectors to Klondike gold fields in the late 1890s. During our trip, canoes and kayaks in the Yukon River Quest, the world's longest paddling race, were the only signs of civilization.

Kluane Park

The Kluane, St. Elias and Icefield mountain ranges in Kluane National Park are massive, rugged and breathtaking. Our Kluane Glacier Air Tours flight, departing from Haines Junction, a 1.5-hour drive northwest of Whitehorse, brought us into the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We swivelled our heads to take in IMAX-film views of saw-toothed mountains and turquoise lakes, some with icebergs from calving glaciers. For mile after mile, our small plane skirted between peaks, over ridges and glaciers.

Flightseeing offers aerial views of mountains and glaciers in Kluane National Park
Flightseeing offers aerial views of mountains and glaciers in Kluane National Park
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Some of these Ice Age relics looked like elongated ski runs. Others, like Kaskawulsh Glacier, resembled curving superhighways, connecting the ice fields. To see a larger ice field, we would have to fly over the North or South Poles.

We glimpsed menthol-blue ice in the crevasses. Several mountains, higher than 4,000 meters, poked their rocky heads through snow that blanketed their flanks like downy comforters. Clouds flowed like Champagne foam between their peaks.

Our jaws dropped as we circled Mount Logan, Canada's highest mountain, at 5,950 meters. Its massive peaks are only the tip of the mountain. The rest is buried in 1.5 kilometers of ice.

We searched our minds for the right words to describe the 360-degree panorama around us: pristine, uninhabited, awesome. None sufficed. The Yukon describes itself as "larger than life." Now we know what they mean.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Tourism Yukon: www.travelyukon.com

More things to see and do in the Yukon:

Yukon Meetings and Incentive Trips

Dawson City, Yukon - What to Do, Eat and Drink

How to Get to Fort Selkirk Yukon - What to See on Walking Tours