As much as I really love the sun, heat and the beaches, this year we decided to venture to the great White North and explore winter at its best.
Whitehorse has so much to offer and right now is such an amazing time to go discover it in its glory. It is developed enough to offer many options of things to do, see and eat, but there are not busloads of people in every direction. Yet.
Things To Do
We chose to arrive during the Sourdough Rendezvous Festival – an annual celebration of winter where the lovely and eclectic folks of the north get dressed up in gold Rush costume and celebrate. They come up with great ideas like “So, we have an axe, a chainsaw and a log. What should we do with them?”
“Oh, I know- let’s chuck them and see who can throw the farthest!”
The all-round winners are crowned as Sourdough Sam (the Yukon’s ‘Primo Mail’) or Queen (the Sisterhood in the quest for the crown). What I found particularly impressive was the fact these ladies actually lob the aforementioned objects while wearing gowns and hats of all sorts.
Not all activities are outside, there is plenty of music and dancing happening in the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Can Can Line put on a lively performance, as did the famous Snowshoe Shufflers, who did their Can Can version while wearing snowshoes.
There is no shortage of entertainment, laughs and fun sportsmanship and it is an amazing tribute to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898. For more history on this event, read on here.
Our kids loved the KIDSFEST which included dogsledding, games in the snow, face painting, a Candy Emporium and more. The delicious and authentic maple treats at the Maple Rush Yukon sugar shack were also a huge hit with our crew.
Only a short distance from the Rendezvous event site is the Lumel Glassblowing Studios, where our 9 year old daughter made a beautiful flower. The shop has some very impressive glass work and the staff are incredibly knowledgeable and inviting. It’s a worthwhile experience for all ages whether you choose to partake in the process or just watch.
I’m not going to lie, it can be cold (-20 C) but that’s to be expected. Have no fear though, as there is no shortage of wonderful coffee shops in the area to duck into and warm up. One of my favourites, is Baked Café which serves the most delicious scones ( I don’t even like scones except for these). The space is bright with beautiful wood aesthetics and it is centrally located in the heart of downtown on the sunny side of the street.
Along the lines of warming up are the Takhini Hotpools (a MUST visit) about 30 minutes from downtown.
Just down the road, make sure to pop into Bean North Coffee Roasting Co Ltd. It has delicious locally roasted organic coffee and brownies to die for. Apparently I am not the only one with this opinion as they recently made it on the Big Seven Travel’s list of ‘the 50 Best Coffee Shops in Canada‘.
Also on route to the Hotsprings, is the Yukon Widlife Preserve, which is well worth the visit. This property has been designated to house, rehabilitate and reintroduce some of the most evasive wildlife in Canada. We were lucky to see every animal at some point in their huge habitats. My favourites were the arctic fox, lynx, and the two friendly moose that will literally come right up to see you at the fence. We were the only people there for a good hour, so took in the full serenity of the experience.
Back in town for another warming break, the locals and true coffee fans will all point you to Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters micro roasts premium coffee. They recently expanded for a reason- it’s that good. You can try out their craft on your Air North flight who proudly serves the local nectar in the sky.
Speaking of Air North, it is worth the trip for the flight alone. Not only do they serve up free charcuterie board‘s, generously stuffed Panini‘s and other hearty delicious meals, they then offer you their world famous freshly baked hot chocolate chip cookies. Need I say more?
One last thing we did to keep the kids entertained indoors was to hang out with the wooly mammoths at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, located next to the Yukon Airport.
Places to Go
Small little jaunts out of the city offer amazing views of rugged mountains and high plateaus featuring the beauty of the 60th parallel. Carcross and Skagway are both amazing options, but we voted on a trip to Haines Junction (an hour and a half from Whitehorse) to check out the highly recommended Da Ku Cultural Centre and Village Bakery.
Unfortunately they were both closed due to the time of year that we went, but hanging out on the frozen lake in the stunning sunshine for a few hours wasn’t a bad way to spend the day either.
This area of Kluane National Park is known for great snowmobiling, ice fishing, backcountry camping and skiing in the winter and offers spectacular hikes in the summer.
For a complete list of other ideas for easy day trips out of Whitehorse, check this out.
As for getting around, with the exception of our 2 day trips, we managed easily without a vehicle. The public transportation was readily accessible and the proximity of everything in Whitehorse makes it feasible to walk everywhere (which we did).
For a good cardio challenge you can hike (or run) up the Black Street Stairs (that apparently have their own Facebook page).
From there, you can continue on the trail around the entire airport.
For more fitness options, the Canada Game Centre sits on the edge of town and offers a beautiful ice surface with public skate times and drop in hockey and an awesome kids play area that includes an indoor playground. Their aquatic centre boasts a large pool with an impressive waterslide, lazy river, rope swing, hot tub, steam room and sauna. You can also join an exercise class, or check out the well-equipped fitness centre upstairs.
One of my favourite activities was fat biking. The trails were surprisingly challenging (even for us who mountain bike). They kick off with a beautiful uphill climb through the forest and spit you out in an awesome trials area to play around on. This area also hosts spectacular cross country skiing which we witnessed as the biking and skiing trails intersect.
We stayed at the Yukon Inn, centrally located, clean with friendly staff, airport shuttle and laundry facilities. Their adjoining restaurant, Legends Smokehouse and Grill, is a great place to grab a hearty breakfast or burger. Also worthy of mention, is their Deep Fried Mac and Cheese Bites found on the kids menu (literally deep fried craft dinner). A true experience.
And finally, it’s always worth taking in some well-known local talent like Gordie Tentrees who can regularly be found in the happening local spots. Ironically, we met Gordie last year while in El Salvador!
Come for the Place, Stay for the People
This place is so rich in culture, nature and outdoor activities, but the most endearing part of the Yukon is of course is the people.
They are genuine, welcoming, friendly and there is something special about them… I don’t have my finger on it yet, but it could be something to do with the long winters they endure.
Overall, this trip was spectacular. The air is noticeably cleaner, the sky is 10 times more blue than I even knew existed, the water is delicious and everything just seems that much more pure up there. It really is the true Canadian experience.
A return trip in the summer is definitely on the Bucket List as we look forward to a midnight bike ride in Carcross, exploring their stunning lakes and rivers by stand up paddleboard, hiking Kluane National Park and enjoying the brews at out the microbrewery, Yukon Brewing.
Stay tuned for our next family adventure.