Yukon, Ho! The Appeal of the North

by Chris on September 5, 2012

There’s something about The Yukon that will always have a romantic draw. Some photos from my trip to Whitehorse earlier this year.

As with almost everything else in my travel life, The Yukon came to me first between the pages of a book. The Call of the Wild, to be exact, although I later preferred White Fang.

Jack London statue, Whitehorse, Yukon

Both books involve dogs, in immensely savage situations; not necessarily the most pleasant intro to the Far North. Jack London’s genius was that he was able to illustrate man vs. nature in relateable ways for a child raised in Minnesota. I didn’t understand animal abuse, and the passages where the dogs suffer made me cry as I read before bed. But I did understand snow, a lot of snow – enough to know that I didn’t want to be caught out in it. And I also understood, however vaguely, the motivations of those people in the books who were determined to strike out on their own, regardless of the odds (I was one of those kids who, while I loved my family dearly, couldn’t wait to leave the nest).

Jack London in Whitehorse

The phrase “The Yukon” puts that type of mentality top of mind. You can’t hear it and not think of soaring mountains, raging rivers, uninhabited stretches. It’s where people have gone to escape, to seek their fortune, to get lost. It’s the edge of the frontier, even though that word doesn’t mean as much today. And it seems that the people of Whitehorse prize that heritage. On the artwork above, of a miner and his faithful dog, the inscription reads, “This statue is dedicated to those who follow their dream.”

Art gallery, Whitehorse, Yukon

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to explore much of the Yukon on my May trip other than the capital, Whitehorse, where about two-thirds of the Yukon’s 30,000 people live. Although its location on the Alaska Highway makes it a major tourist thoroughfare, Whitehorse still feels like a small town, one that’s dwarfed by the sheer space outside of town. And like many cities on the fringe, it has a quirky side that you could see in its architecture and people (there’s even a public artwalk that you can take around town).

Downtown Whitehorse

Whitehorse’s main street consists of storefronts that evoke its Klondike past. The city was founded in 1898 when stampeders on their way to the gold fields (and later the copper mines) camped out in town.

Whitehorse is not the place to stay if you’re looking for luxury lodges or accommodation. As I’ve found in Alaska, you often pay more and get less up in these parts. To me, this area of the world is best explored by RV or by visiting a lodge in more remote areas of the territory.

That’s not to say that the city doesn’t have some tourist attractions. The MacBride Museum, part of which is housed in a log cabin, is crammed with memorabilia from the Klondike days, as well as stuffed animals, exhibitions of local photography and an old railway engine. It’s a good stop if you’re traveling through town.

The Yukon River

But it’s not really the town that people come to see. It’s a good place to use as a base to do hiking, fishing and dogsledding nearby, or as a place to fuel up as you continue on the Alaska Highway. That being said, the city has worked hard to stay attractive to tourists. The  banks of the Yukon River have bike and walking paths, and you can also rent kayaks.

Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre in Whitehorse, Yukon

About 20 percent of Yukon’s population are First Nation. The Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, on the Yukon River, looks gorgeous against the sky.

Whitehorse Star

It’s hard for me to resist a local newspaper, particularly when it’s one as old as the Whitehorse Star, which has been almost around as long as the mining camps. Like most papers, the Star has undergone changes, publishing only five days a week.

Klondike BBQ, Whitehorse, Yukon

To me, this sign inside the Klondike Rib & Salmon House (where I found my favorite eats) sums the spirit of this part of the North. People do have to rely upon others more, while still maintaining their privacy. It’s the reason why The Yukon remains a draw to those of us below the 60th parallel.

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Lane September 5, 2012 at 7:30 am

Great teaser. For years I’ve wanted to drive the Alaskan Highway.

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Chris September 5, 2012 at 8:07 am

Lane, I’d like to do that too. My ultimate dream is to take an RV up this way.

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Yvonne September 5, 2012 at 9:01 am

Chris if you haven’t already, you should look into the Great Alaskan Holiday “Spring Adventure” package where folks can drive the new RV’s from their manufacturing plant in IA all the way up to Anchorage! From all that I’ve read, it’s a great way to make the trip affordable, especially if you do not own your own RV.

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Chris September 5, 2012 at 9:27 am

Yvonne, I haven’t heard of that option before. Thanks for letting me know….food for thought for next spring….

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Donna Hull September 5, 2012 at 8:52 am

Like Lane, I have always wanted to drive the Alaskan Highway. In fact, that road is calling my name louder and louder. Traveling by RV is probably the way to go, although this travel princess would be requesting to stop at a few lodges along the way. You know, just to space out all that rugged travel :-) . Also, I think driving the high one way and driving/cruising on the Alaskan ferry system the other way would be an ideal trip.

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Chris September 5, 2012 at 9:26 am

Donna, that would be a great way to do it! I’m also intrigued by the Marine Highway. It sounds like a trip of a lifetime.

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John at cheap car hire September 10, 2012 at 3:02 am

As you said we passed by & used this as a place to fuel up for the trip ahead on the Alaska Highway. Never knew this city was a little picturesque package. At least it seems so by your pictures. Better luck next time.

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Leigh September 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I ate at the Klondike Rib & Salmon House after I finished hiking the Chilkoot Trail. It was a great meal and a lot of fun.
I agree that there isn’t anything in the way of wonderful accommodation. I have had recommended to me by a friend who I trust The Inn on the Lake – recommended by Nat’l Geographic as accommodation with a sense of place.

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Chris September 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Leigh – I’ve heard that Inn on the Lake is a good choice. Thanks for mentioning it here.

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