While many people think of the ubiquitous reality television series when they think of “the Yukon,” we weren’t sure what to expect while visiting the area for a few days under the August sun. What we found made us wish we weren’t a five day drive away. In just one small sample of the province, we had adventure, education, solace, and even lots of sand while making our way from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse and on to Watson Lake as we set off on the Alaska Highway. If you’re embarking upon the Last Great Road Trip, especially if you are including the Whitehorse area in your plans, you’ll want to keep reading for some can’t miss fun!
Alaska used to be “the place to go” if you wanted to experience a truly wild, rugged landscape that is not only rural, but also seemingly untouched by the metropolitan lifestyle that exists in much of the United States and many parts of the world today. With the onslaught of reality TV shows and word getting out about how great our 49th state is, the crowds descended and for this rural mom, I had to look elsewhere for that secluded family vacation. Wherever we went, we knew we didn’t want linguistic challenges or tropical weather. Yukon Territory, specifically the Whitehorse area, moved to the top of our summer vacation hit list! Just to be clear, this post will NOT be about Yukon River, which IS in fact in Alaska. But, you should still read on, since Yukon, Canada is an amazing destination!
Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre
Shhh! This one is actually super educational and interactive. They also have special showings of family favorites like Ice Age! From a prehistoric hunting tool that looks a little like “lawn darts” (better and more accurately known as the atlatl) to a game of seek and find for small prizes, your children will be enveloped in history all around, inside and out! Huge mammoth statues make great stops for family photos and the outdoor grounds have plenty of places for picnics. This is the most fun I’ve ever had with my son teaching and learning about prehistoric times in North America, side by side.
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Find Inner Peace at SunDog Retreat near Whitehorse
Or you could soak in the hot tub, melting your woes away. While having a BBQ. Or just listening to the Aspen leaves tremble in the breeze. Sundog Retreat is the epitome of serenity and is just minutes from Whitehorse. If you’re planning to stay in the area, plan to stay here! A little welcome basket greets you as you enter your lodging accommodations, where you’ll find cabins that are quaint but also fully-stocked with everything you need (except the food – though that can be taken care of too!). It’s like renting a community, really! There is a garden where you can get fresh vegetables during the summer. Enjoy the blazing Aurora Borealis in the colder months while simmering in the hot tub or after taking a cleansing sauna, channeling your Norsk roots! A trip to the Yukon is not complete without experiencing this off-the-beaten-path gem!
Sandy Surprises in Yukon Territory – Carcross Desert
This is billed as “the World’s Smallest Desert” — it’s directly off the road from Skagway, AK, USA to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada–so why wouldn’t you stop?! We decided to go against the cardinal rule in order to see this one: we woke our sleeping child. Yep. On a 6,100 mile road trip, we actually coaxed our freshly napping three-year-old awake to get out and play in a giant sandbox. It was gorgeous. Maybe not the best place to plunk down your baby unless you want a diaper full of sand, but it’s a definite memory-maker for the older kids! Unique ecosystems exist here (so again, Education Ninja, you win!) and if you time it right, you can avoid tour buses and have a little roadside picnic in the sugar sand expanses of the small pit stop.
Yukon Wildlife Preserve – Animals of The Yukon
You can get pretty darn close to many of Canada’s infamous, elusive, evasive, odd, and just plain interesting beasts here at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. The wildlife park is off the beaten path and is a short drive from Whitehorse (less than 30 minutes) but is well worth the time. We were the only visitors aside from one other family who opted to hoof it rather than take the wildlife bus. The loop around the enclosures is about 5K. No big deal if you’re running, but make sure you have the time to walk, dawdle, take musk ox selfies, etc. The bus is free with your admission, comes with naturalist narration, and stops at each pen. Your driver knows all about the critters inside. Take. The. Bus. We had a fantastic walk and after a 6,100 mile road trip, we were happy to stretch our legs. We also thought our three-year-old might throw a fit and ruin the time for other bus-goers. Not the case. They are wholly accommodating and kid-friendly. We heard the curious clicking of caribou cloven-hooves as the animals grazed and plodded near the fenceline. We saw the behemoth musk oxen as they lumbered across the prairies. Also spotted: mountain goats up close and lynx mamas with new kittens, mewing back and forth, and lots of mindless, zen-inspiring walking around the quiet Yukon wilds. It actually feels wild. You know you’re in a wildlife center but that’s entirely forgotten as you have an experience that is absolutely opposite of what you might encounter at Animal Kingdom or the St. Louis Zoo.
Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse
This is an easy evening or afternoon — easy. Spend a whole day if your sports-lovin’ athletic people! We checked out the activity schedule for the pool and kids indoor play area so we were sure to hit the activities we wanted to take in. They have an inflatable obstacle course on certain nights and though I was pregnant and we had a three-year-old in tow, this looked fun. So, I precariously tried to amble over, under and around, but quickly realized that the inflatables and my belly just weren’t going to make life easy. So, I slid off, defeated but still giddy, the kid in me elated (literally, probably and figuratively). My husband and son provided me with many laughs and we had a ball the entire time it was up.
The pool area itself is a ton of fun — there is a wave/current pool that is turbo fast! Put a life jacket on the littles, grab a ball or boogey board and let ‘er rip! It is small and goes around in a cyclic circle and is a blast! Other areas include activity equipment for really little kids, shallow pools, pools for playing basketball or ball games, and a luxurious hot tub. Family changing rooms and lockers are available That JUST the pool area.
Something Wild Is Calling
Haven’t thought of putting the Yukon on your family travel to-do list? You’re missing out in a big way. I guess that’s the point I’m making, isn’t it? Everything is BIG in the Yukon. It’s largely still wild. You don’t ever see hoards of people. You will likely see about 30 black bears, numerous sheep, maybe a few brown bears, elk, if you’re lucky caribou, and maybe even an iconic moose though. You might hear things that go bump in the night. One thing is for sure, you’ll be changed on the inside in a BIG way after a family trip to Yukon Territory!
Before you exit the Yukon Territory heading East, make sure to stop off in Watson Lake to visit the Signpost Forest. We were amazed how many signs we located in under 45 minutes from our rural area at home! We didn’t plan for this stop, so we didn’t have a sign of our own and didn’t have the time to spend devising a plan to make one, as some visitors do. Plan ahead and bring a street sign or even just a two by four board and find a place to leave your mark! This is a free stop and is truly a unique and absurdly well-known roadside attraction. This unique spot is a wonderful place to exit the Yukon feeling great about all you’ve experienced!