Tagish Lake is an example of the pristine scenery and intensely beautiful views that entice visitors to travel to the outskirts of Whitehorse. (Miranda Post/Vacay.ca)
Story by Miranda Post
WHITEHORSE, YUKON TERRITORY — The view swept over a wide, water-filled valley: the Yukon River ambling through, trees glowing orange and fuchsia, tiny city lights blinking in the distance. My friend Tess stood next to me, giant beaming smile on her face and said, “This is truly one of the best views of the city. Welcome to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, the best place to spend the longest day of the year.”
Though the sun had set at 11:37 pm, the sky still radiated a dusty amber. Looking at my watch (12:15 am), I admired the determination of the golfers still trying to make par at Mountain View Golf Course
behind us. This was the end of our 220-kilometre (140 miles) solstice road trip. A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Whitehorse on June 21 and was treated to landscapes, wildlife sightings, awesome food and great company.
If you’re looking to kick off your summer with a scenic road trip, I’d suggest driving the Whitehorse-Carcross-Tagish loop while “the midnight sun” is high in the sky — which it will be through much of July and into August. It’s a fantastic way to see part of the southern Yukon, eat delicious food and take advantage of the long evenings. Herewith a short chronology on what to eat, where to stop and what to see on this fun, striking and totally relaxing drive.
Itinerary for a One-Day Yukon Adventure
Noon: Start the pedestrian section of your solstice journey by exploring downtown Whitehorse, making these two stops:
1) Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre
(1171 Front Street; Telephone: 867-456-5322), site of the annual National Aboriginal Day celebrations on June 21. Even though the solstice is a date earmarked to recognize the importance of First Nations, Inuit and Metis culture, heritage and achievements across Canada, visitors can experience the hallmarks of those qualities at any time. Whitehorse National Aboriginal Day celebrations can include bannock-making contests and cultural performances from aboriginal groups from across the Yukon. There are also events at other times of the year that will be worth checking out. Check the centre’s website
2) Explore downtown Whitehorse’s eclectic selection of curated shops (everything from First Nations crafts and gem stones to books and baked goods) and log “skycrapers” (a couple of haphazard-looking, multiple-storey log structures lovingly known as Whitehorse’s “original highrises”). The year I travelled to Whitehorse, my city slicker boots did fair well in the rain, so I bought some super cute, dry substitutes: naturally moose-printed novelty socks and moccasins from the Midnight Sun Emporium
(205C Main Street, 867-668-4350).
Need proof that Canada’s North can be downright balmy? Here’s the view of Yukon’s Carcross Desert, one of the smallest deserts in the world. (Photo courtesy of Yukon Tourism)
3 pm: Road Snacks
There is no better place to grab some road-trip snacks than the colourful, kooky Riverside Grocery
(201 Lowe Street; 867-667-7712) — a corner store come health food store come ice cream parlour/candy shop. The maze-like retail establishment sells global and local delights from penny candy to organic produce to natural skincare products.
5:30 pm: Dinner Delights
Before heading out on your adventure tuck into some dinner. Whitehorse is known for offerings of carnivorous fare — though the Klondike Rib & Salmon is the popular mainstay, I preferred the unpretentious homestyle dishes of Robbyn’s Street Grill (300 2nd Avenue, 867-456-7772), owned by husband/wife team Robbyn Burke and Darren Bakken. Known for its fresh halibut and messy, mouthwatering ribs, Robbyn’s started out as a tiny diner in a converted gas station on the Alaska Highway, but recently they upgraded to a larger space in the NVD complex, a new shopping facility in downtown Whitehorse.
6:45 pm: Hit the Klondike Highway
Start your journey on the Klondike Highway Number 2 south towards Carcross. Rising on the east side of the highway is Mount Lorne. Be sure to look for signs for Emerald Lake, an oft-photographed, you guessed it, bright green lake. Caused by green light waves reflecting off the marl — an otherworldly mix of decomposed shells and clay — on the bottom of the lake. Farther south is Carcross Dessert, one of the world’s tiniest deserts and home to some rare species such as the Baikal Sedge, a tiny, prehistoric plant that only grows in the dunes.
A walk around Carcross reveals sublime views of Whitehorse. (Photo courtesy of Yukon Tourism)
7:45 pm: Visiting the First Nations
Named Carcross, because it was a popular place for woodland caribou to cross the tiny Natasaheen River between Nares and Bennett lakes, Carcross is the next stop on your summer road trip. Just outside of Carcross village, the Carcross Tagish First Nations have built Carcross commons, a collection of beautifully painted businesses ranging from coffee shop, pizzeria and artists studio. Grab a coffee and chat with a First Nations carver. The night we stopped in there were fiddlers, drummers and dancing. They had just finished a feast of porcupine and beaver but were all out by the time we rolled in. We were, however, offered gopher stew but politely declined because we were full from penny candy and Robbyn’s deep-fried halibut and ribs.
8:15 pm: Tour Carcross Village
The village of Carcross was an important stop for pioneers venturing into the Yukon in the 1890s. Back then it marked the end of a gruelling journey on the Chilkoot Trail
, venturing east towards Dawson City in search of gold. Now, it’s an ideal place to stretch your legs, walk around and imagine what it was like to be a fortune-chaser more than 130 years ago. Carcross and its many 100-year-old log cabins are a picturesque start or end to the White Pass Train
between Carcross to Skagway, Alaska through the summer months. Poke your head into the antiquarian train station and other cute, false-fronted shops in town.
9:15 pm: Travel to Tagish
After exploring Carcross, leave town and drive west on Highway 8 towards Tagish. A “resort community” in the loosest sense of the term, Tagish is a motley collection of cabins, a community hall, a library and seasonal community markets surrounded by majestic mountains. Tess boasted of Lake Tagish’s great boating, swimming and fishing throughout the summer. The sand is fine and the water lovely, she noted. “There’s even a beach called ‘California Beach’.” On the night we stopped in, the weather was a bit grey and rainy. It was also mid-week, so the usual weekend crew were still in the city. But the lake was glassy and dark slate in colour, dazzling us with its reflections of the mountains on the surface of the water. If it weren’t for my lack of bathers and the bird-sized evening mosquitoes, we would’ve definitely hopped in for a swim.
9:45 pm: Watch Out for Grizzlies
Beware of grizzly. The great thing about the Yukon is that it’s still so wild. Wild enough that a hunchbacked grizzly bear will saunter across the road, into the bush just a couple hundred metres in front of your car. Unlike in Banff
, there won’t be 25 other cars pulled over. Just you and your friend, driving slowly admiring a gigantic, blond-tipped bear who is pawing into the fireweed and conifers.
10 pm: Dive Into Lake Country
At Jake’s Corner, where Highway 8 intersects with the Alaska Highway, turn north toward Whitehorse. One a clear night you’ll see views of Little Atlin Lake in your rear view and Marsh Lake on the west side of the road. They call this area Southern Lake Country for a reason.
11 pm: Wrap in Whitehorse
Back in Whitehorse, stop for a quick drink at the Cork & Bull
(103 Main Street, 867-633-3305), a resto-bar known for its haute food and strong cocktails. Compare photos of the coast mountains, blurry bear zooms and colourful Carcross totems before heading to Mountain View Golf Course
(250 Skookum Drive, 867-633-6020) for the piece de resistance of the evening: the setting of the midnight sun. There are many places to stop on the road before you reach the golf course. Make sure you leave your car on one of the many pull-outs on Skookum Drive and walk to the edge of the woods and plateau (some would call it a cliff) for vistas that span above the mighty Yukon River.
After our day of exploring and meandering road trip, I was exhausted despite the day-time feel of the well-lit night. I dozed off to sleep at 12:30 am that summer night, the sky still relatively bright. My belly was full of snacks, my memory card full of photos and my head full of great conversation with my old friend and Yukon devotee. As I drifted off to sleep, the sunset playing over in my head on the horizon behind Whitehorse I smiled sleepily, thinking, “What a magical place to spend the longest night of the year?”