Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: September 2023
Whitehorse is the capital of the Yukon and is the largest city in northern Canada. It’s located along the Yukon River and is surrounded by pristine wilderness. It has a rich history in mining and played a key role in the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s. Whitehorse is also reputed to be one of the best places in Canada to see the northern lights and enjoy the rugged outdoors.
We passed through Whitehorse during our drive along the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek to Haines Junction and stopped at Miles Canyon to stretch our legs. The canyon was created nearly nine million years ago from lava flows in the valley. There’s a few hiking trails around the canyon, along with a suspension bridge that crosses the Yukon River and provides sweeping views of the landscape.
After spending a few days in Kluane National Park and Reserve, we circled back to Whitehorse to restock on groceries and explore some of the main attractions. Since we’d be visiting a larger city, we figured we might as well stay in a hotel for the next couple of nights. Plus, after spending the last week camping, we were in desperate need of a shower.
We started our day at the Eclipse Nordic Hot Springs which features a variety of Scandinavian and Japanese Onsen healing practices. Nestled within the forest, the facility contains four natural outdoor rock pools, two steam rooms, two saunas, and other areas to relax and lounge around. The pools contain natural hot springs water of varying temperatures and are drained and cleaned every day. And the facilities are only available to those over 19 years of age.
We booked our tickets online as their website indicated that it’s more expensive to book in person, and selected one of the first time slots available. Upon our arrival we checked in at the front desk and were given a key to a locker and bin for our belongings. We were required to take a shower before changing into our bathing suits. Once we stashed our stuff in our lockers, we were free to explore the facility at our own pace.
The Eclipse has a recommended cycle known as thermotherapy, which involves a sequence of “hot, cold and relax” rituals, which are then repeated. We opted to do our own thing, mostly because I couldn’t use the hottest of the pools, sauna or steam rooms due to pregnancy. Instead we spent most of our time in the Eclipse Pool (the largest pool which features a Japanese design and overlooks the mountains), Aurora Pool (a smaller pool with contoured benches), Hidden Pool (an even smaller pool with cooler temperatures) and the Japanese Clay Tubs (accommodates one person and contains cooler water).
After spending a couple of hours pampering ourselves, we figured it was time to get a move on. From there we headed to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. The preserve covers 350 acres and contains twelve species that are native to the Yukon. It also operates a wildlife rehabilitation facility and offers a number of educational programs and events. There are two general options to view the wildlife. There’s a guided bus tour (for an extra fee) or a 5km trail that loops around the various enclosures. We opted to hike along the trail so we could explore at our own pace and get our steps in.
The “trail” essentially follows the same road that the guided bus tour takes which forms a figure eight loop. The road passes by the various wildlife enclosures for the following species: wood bison, mule deer, moose, thinhorn sheep, woodland caribou, Canadian lynx, red fox, mountain goats, muskox and elk. We weren’t able to spot all (or even half) of the species. And the truth is that we had much better wildlife sightings while we were driving along the Alaska Highway. But, we were supporting a good cause and it was a nice day to be outdoors.
We headed back to downtown Whitehorse to hit up the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site. Parks Canada offers guided tours in English and French throughout the summer. We were about 10 minutes late for the guided tour that started at 2pm. But since no one had signed up for the tour, they were able to accommodate us latecomers. And we essentially had our own private tour. The timing worked out well for another reason as this was the final day of guided tours for the season.
The S.S. Klondike actually refers to two sternwheelers that were used to carry freight along the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City. Klondike I was built in 1929 and was used until it ran aground in 1936. Some parts were salvaged and used to build Klondike II the following year. It carried freight until the early 1950s before it was retired following the construction of a highway to connect Whitehorse to Dawson City. Parks Canada then acquired it in 1960, conducted extensive restorations and designated it a national historic site.
Our guide explained the history of the S.S. Klondike and how labour (and wood) intensive it was to make a roundtrip from Whitehorse to Dawson City along the Yukon River. We toured through the main floor where many of the furnishings are representative of what a sternwheerler would have onboard at the time. The upper deck was closed when we visited for renovations.
We returned to our hotel to have a quick bite to eat before heading to the MacBride Museum to learn more about the history of the Yukon. The museum contains more than 40,000 objects and includes a mix of indoor and outdoor exhibits which provide a better understanding of the culture, climate and economic history of the territory. Some exhibits showcased stories from the First Nations peoples, the types of mammals found in the Yukon, and had more information about the Klondike Gold Rush. The museum also featured some artwork by Ted Harrison and contains the original Whitehouse telegraph office.
We spent longer than anticipated exploring the different galleries and exhibits and stayed until closing. Afterwards we took a short stroll through the downtown and along the Yukon River. It was then time for us to head back to our hotel. We were planning to get an early start the next morning as we had a long day of driving to get to Tombstone Territorial Park, located along the Dempster Highway.