My winter trip to the Yukon filled me with dread.
As a Canadian who has mostly lived and traveled in the major cities along our southern border, I can say that few of us have visited the real “Great White North” — the Canadian Arctic. But once I arrived, I realized that life in this territory is built around the extreme climate — and that for all these years, I’d truly been missing out.
Once I bundled up in a rental parka and snow pants (the kind of gear one doesn’t just own if they are a city slicker like me), the Yukon was my winter wonderland to explore — from dog sledding through the thick boreal forest to snowmobiling across frozen lakes to soaring above glaciers on a flightseeing tour.
While many North Americans chase the Northern Lights across the ocean in destinations like Iceland and Norway, I discovered nature’s most impressive light show lies right here in our backyard (at a much more affordable price). Better yet, I didn’t even need to venture far to see them — lodges like Northern Lights Resort offer bedrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows and a wake-up service to notify guests when the lights are out.
Despite the sparse population (the entire territory is home to fewer than 50,000 people), there’s a surprisingly rich cultural scene, largely due to the significant Indigenous population. Whitehorse is where you’ll find the most inspired cuisine and local goods. The territory’s capital is known as the “Wilderness City,” but all I could notice were the people — they exude a friendliness so warm it could counter any sub-zero temperature. Most of the locals I chatted with were visitors who decided to stay, and it's not hard to see why.
The most impressive experience in the Yukon lies in the sky. No, it’s not the Northern Lights. It’s the otherworldly sight of the Llewellyn glacier meeting the clouds on a flightseeing tour over the Southern Lakes region. Back on land, Kluane National Park and Reserve — home to 17 of Canada’s highest mountain peaks — is another sight for sore eyes. Those looking to get their heart racing can explore the arctic tundra by way of snowmobile (some lodges provide them to guests, but tour operators are available too) or dogsled (book a longer tour to enjoy a cozy campfire lunch in the forest). Animal lovers will also want to visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, where you can learn about all the local fauna, like caribou and bison.
For a more relaxing wilderness experience, Eclipse Nordic Hot Springs combines Nordic thermotherapy (alternating between hot and cold baths) with Japanese onsen-style soaks to leave you feeling rejuvenated. If massage is more your style, Northern Lights Resort arguably offers the best in the territory. And for northern lights chasers, the bedrooms at the resort were designed with remote-controlled curtains revealing giant windows for optimal viewing from bed, and they’re the only accommodation in the Yukon that offers an aurora borealis wake-up call.
For more adventurous aurora chasers, several tour operators offer everything from snowshoeing to canoeing to camping under “The Lights” (as Yukoners call them). Either way, visiting during the winter gives you the best chance of catching the Northern Lights — they’re visible from mid-August to mid-April.
No visit to the Yukon would be complete without learning about the Indigenous people who make the Yukon the territory of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council. A tour with Indigenous-owned Who What Where will take you to Tagish Learning Centre, where the Kwanlin Dün First Nation is celebrated with artwork and live performances. More locally made crafts and goods can be found in Whitehorse — head to Unorthodox for Indigenous-made jewelry and clothing; Anto Yukon for witty Canadian goods and small-batch soap; and Aroma Borealis for body care products made with native plants. Itching to get creative? Join a cooking class at Well Bread Culinary Centre (think pancakes made with 124-year-old sourdough starter) or a glassblowing session at Lumel Studios, where you can make your own colorful glassware.
While you’ll be hard-pressed to find a five-star luxury resort in the Yukon, the caliber of accommodation is quickly improving as properties renovate, shift to adults-only retreats, and incorporate wellness treatments into their offerings. One example is Northern Lights Resort, where only guests over the age of 16 are welcome. Here, modern chalets come outfitted with fireplaces and enormous windows that look out onto a snowy canvas. The resort is also unique in its wellness amenities, offering an infrared sauna and treatment room for massages in the main lodge.
You’ll also find luxurious villas with floor-to-ceiling windows at Southern Lakes Resort. The resort’s location on the shore of the frozen Tagish Lake makes it the perfect launching pad for winter activities like snowmobiling, dog sledding, and flightseeing. If you prefer to stay in the forest, Boreale Ranch has 16 acres of secluded snowshoeing trails and rooms with mountain views. The standout experience here is stargazing from the outdoor hot tub (complete with a Yukon beer from its well-stocked fridge).
If you’re staying at any of the aforementioned properties, you don’t have to worry about driving far to eat; they all have in-house chefs who prepare breakfast and offer a set menu for dinner. If you’re staying elsewhere, Southern Lakes Resort is worth the drive to taste chef Bruno’s European-inspired creations — like Swiss chocolate mousse — with stunning views of Tagish Lake.
Back in Whitehorse, Gather Café and Taphouse is a must for Latin American–inspired fare (think, beer-battered arctic char tacos) and creative cocktails served in handblown glass made at Lumel Studios next door. Plant-based eaters can stock up on all the trendiest healthy snacks at Riverside Grocery (don’t miss the chocolate malt soft serve) and recharge with superfood elixirs, artisanal toasts, and gluten-free desserts at Kind Café.
If the cold weather has sparked your hibernation appetite, Smoke and Sow is cooking up Southern barbecue, and Sanchez Cantina has been serving Mexican food for more than 25 years. Warm up with a bowl of ramen at KITA Japanese Kitchen + Bar and Annabelle’s Noodle House, or a cup of local coffee at Baked Café (Whitehorse’s most popular cafe), Midnight Sun (a hipster hangout in a bike shop), or Bean North (set in the forest). Finally, get a closer look at the territory’s growing craft beer scene at Yukon Brewing (whiskey lovers will want to order the Two Brewers whiskey flight), Woodcutter’s Blanket, and Winterlong Brewing.
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