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Roadschooling through the Yukon

midnight with a Yukon River backdrop

midnight with a Yukon River backdrop

The Yukon tourism tagline is “Larger than Life” and it certainly lives up to that. While  not very populous in terms of humans, it is full of breath taking scenery, abundant wildlife and living stories of the Klondike Gold Rush. We firmly believe that coming to the Yukon (summer or winter) is a must do for all Canadians! With summer just around the corner we thought we’d start to plant some seeds out there…

We recommend the following adventures to make the most of any visit:

Drive the Alaska Highway:

The Alaska Highway is a historic monument in itself. Also referred to as the Alcan Highway, it was completed in 1942 to create a connection between Alaska and mainland USA for World War II, and is a partnership between the Canadian and US governments. Be sure to pick up the Milepost Guide Book which gives you mile by mile information for the entire highway.

Be sure to stop at the Liard HotSprings in Northern B.C. (between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake) for a soak or two in a natural hot spring. You can camp or stay at the lodge across the road.

There are plenty of provincial/territorial campgrounds along the Alaska Highway and you don’t have to worry about them being full other than on long weekends.

Skagway, Alaska – start at the beginning:

Recognizing the critical role that the Gold Rush played in Yukon’s history, it is best to take a side trip to Skagway, Alaska as this is where most miners started their Yukon adventure. Skagway is a historic town that is quiet 8 months of the year and plumb full 4 months of the year thanks to the cruise ships that show up every day.

Be sure to check out both the Skagway Museum & Klondike Gold Rush National Park centre to get yourself oriented to the region. They are both open year round.

There are a number of hiking options in the area, from and hour or so all the way up to the multi-day Chilkoot Trail (a national historic site). Another fun activity is to ride the historic White Pass & Yukon Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Carcross:

In order to get to and from Skagway, Alaska you have to pass through Carcross. Be sure to take an hour (or a day) to explore the area. It is located on the shores of Bennett Lake and has a nice beach for swimming, world class mountain biking trails, fishing off the town bridge and yummy eats, all surrounded by beautiful first nation’s art & carvings.

Whitehorse – the hub of the Yukon

Whitehorse is the capital city of the Yukon and where the majority of the services and people are located. It has many hotels and campgrounds (both territorial & commercial) to meet a broad range of budgets.

For the more active minded, the best way to see the area is by bike and canoe. We recommend Boreale Explorers for guided bike, canoe and hiking tours of the Whitehorse area. If you want to rent equipment yourself then stop by Icycle Sports for bikes and UpNorth Adventures for canoes/kayaks. Whitehorse was recognized as the top mountain biking destination by Outside Magazine in 2013.

Other fun stops on the living history tour are the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site and Canyon City Historic Site.

Haines Junction/Kluane National Park:

Haines Junction is the entry point to Kluane National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which is home of Mount Logan – Canada’s highest peak. The visitors centre is very educational and well worth the stop for all ages. Kluane can be enjoyed from the ground but is best appreciated on foot through one of the many trails in the park.

Dawson City:

The heart of the gold rush, Dawson City comes alive in the summer time (June 1st – end of August). There are numerous festivals and a plethora of historic sites to be toured. From the dirt streets and wooden sidewalks, you can’t help but be transported back in time. If you have time, take a side trip up the Demster Highway to Tombstone Territorial Park for some rustic wandering.

Going above and beyond:

Epic trips that really allow you to experience the splendour of the Yukon are:

  • Canoe the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City (7-10 days)
  • Explore any river in the Peel Watershed and see some of the most pristine wilderness in the world (10-15 days)
  • Drive the Dempster Highway up to Inuvik (or Tuktoyaktuk when the road is finished) and then head to the Arctic Ocean
  • Raft the Tatshenshini-Alsek River and be in awe of the glaciers & landscape

Home Schooling connections:

The Yukon was home to a number of key historic figures over the past 100 years. They provide a lot of pre and post learning opportunities:

At 483,450 square kilometres (186,661 square miles), the Yukon is larger than California and covers more area than Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands combined. It represents 4.8% of Canada’s total land area. That’s a lot to explore so be sure to give yourself lots of time!

22 hours & 2000 km

IMG_1601Leaving Williams Lake we pressed the “home” button on the GPS and were told it would take us 22 hours – UGH… Nothing like a long long long drive to cap off our 8 months! The spring transition was an interesting one. Harrison Hotsprings was definitely spring like with lots of green on the ground, daffodils and tulips out and cherry blossoms in full bloom.

IMG_1603Williams Lake was just starting to green up – the snow had been gone for a few weeks and you could see the green poking through the brown layers of grass. By the time we hit just north of Quesnel, we were seeing snow in the ditches. A few more hours and we were into full fledged snow in the fields and on the roadsides. Really interesting study in latitude and altitude and the impacts they have on weather.

We were really happy with the amount of wildlife that we saw driving as we struck out on the drive south in the fall. A mother bear and 3 brand new cubs, a healthy 3 year old bear, fields of deer and elk, handfuls of caribou and a number of roadside bison clusters. The bison are definitely the most amazing – seeing these 1200lb animals just laying in the ditches or at times, wandering up and down the road – you have no choice but to pause and admire them.

Our first night of the drive we slept in the rest area at Mile 80 of the Alaska Highway (after 9 hours of driving). Our second night we made it to Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park. It is the second largest natural hot springs in Canada and a must stop when driving the Alaska Highway. We all agreed that we preferred it to Harrison Hotsprings as this has no commercial structure or feel to it – the pools are right at the source, and you feel like you are in the middle of a river. There have been some infrastructure upgrades (new change rooms, new deck) over the last few years that have improved the experience. We didn’t take any photos but there are some good images that you can see on this Yukon site. The hot springs is open all year long and is incredibly peaceful (except for weekend evenings). We took a dunk  when we got there at dinner time, just before bed and again before breakfast.

IMG_1622Day 3 of driving was a straight haul up the Alaska Highway 7.5 hours to Whitehorse. The bluebird skies were out and you can’t help but admire the rugged beauty of snow capped mountains and bright blue skies. It’s how you know you are in the Yukon in the spring.

IMG_1619Everyone was happy to pile out of the truck once we got home. This 3 day push is the longest stretch of driving that we did in the entire 8 month journey. Our house sitters did an amazing job and we came home to a house with minimal wear and tear and a fresh loaf of bread on the counter… can’t get better than that!

I will write more about the whole aspect of getting home, settling back in etc. later this week.