Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete & Dalene Heck
I am finally writing this as snow flies outside for the first time since early spring of this year. As soon as I woke I opened the front door a crack to let in a rush of cool air and freshness like only the first frost can bring.I’ve been waiting for this day. Not only because I do enjoy cooler weather, but also because I’ve been aching to finally publish what I’ve been musing about since our trip to experience a Yukon winter last February. (It always seems somewhat inappropriate to post something from one season when the next one is starting, and especially when people are excited for the change. I enjoy winter but last year’s was a longggg one.)
Well now that winter has landed, I want to make my annual plea for everyone to embrace it. And there are few places in the world that can inspire an endorsement of the iciest season better than the Yukon Territory.
Yukon is, quite literally, the epitomy of the Great, White, and North. And that has to be part of its fantastic appeal and why winter tourism in the territory is on the rise. It may take a brave soul (and a lot of layers of clothing), but for those with an adventurous spirit, there are plenty of good times to be had.Especially in February!
yukon sourdough rendezvous festival
On the shortest day of the year, December 21st, residents of Whitehorse experience only 5 and a half hours of daylight. In mid-February, at the start of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, sunlight time has grown to just over 9 hours. You better believe that residents are ready to embrace all of those extra minutes and then some. Rendezvous is a full-on celebration of the emergence from winter. The snow may still be flying and temperatures dipping far below freezing, but that stops no one. With everything from dog costume parades to hard water canoe races to flour packing, and yes, even hairiest leg competitions (why shave in winter?), Rendezvous is a truly unique festival.
This was where we saw people throwing logs and axes, a pretty epic drag show (for the crowning of the “Sourdough Sam”), and the very best cancans that we ever did see. And this is also where we met the most locals who were as endearing as they were entertaining, and who even caused us to contemplate a move up there (and we still talk about it). That’s how special this festival is.
Takhini Hot Springs
After witnessing much of the festival in a swirl of winter outside, plans to warm up should follow. Not far from Whitehorse is the Takhini Hot Springs.
The outdoor pools are the perfect antidote to chilled bones, and even though I typically eschew such “human soup” experiences, I lingered for a good long time, even if it wasn’t quite Yukon winter at its most boisterous (it was about -10C when we visited). I was, in all honesty, even a little disappointed by the “warm” temperature, as it prevented me from an attempt to enter the hair-freezing contest that is a part of the Rendezvous Festival.
Yukon Wildlife Preserve
Just a few kilometers from the Hot Springs is the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving its 700 acres of land and the array of beings that inhabit it, all of which are native to the territory. Against the magnificent setting are eleven animal species and ninety of birds.
The passion of the staff for the animals is highly apparent and encouraging to witness. We were so glad to book one of the tours, not only to access their wealth of knowledge, but for the warmth of the bus in between stops on the preserve.
Click through to learn more about wildlife in Canada.
Kluane National Park
To truly appreciate the conditions and landscape that the people and wildlife of the territory are a part of, soar above to see it in all its glory. A flight over one Kluane, one of the most scenic National Parks in Canada, is a must (as are some anti-nausea meds, if you have a sensitive tummy like me).
We were so close it felt as if we could reach our hands out of the plane and touch the tips of the St. Elias mountain tops. Rock faces broke through clouds, and frozen rivers weaved and forged through the landscape into Kluane Lake. There was a seemingly endless freeway of ice from the glaciers that twisted and turned through the valley. We even caught a glimpse of the highest mountain in Canada, Mount Logan, as it peeked through some clouds.
All Kinds of Wintery fun
How does snowmobiling to a frozen lake for a bit of hiking and a game of shinny hockey sound? Throw in some campfire treats and this is the ultimate Canadian winter experience. We found ourselves on Caribou Lake for these exact reasons and between all the activities, plus making snow angels and just admiring the bluebird-sky day, we wiled away hours in the fresh, crisp air.
The chances of seeing the northern lights while in the Yukon during winter are substantial, as long as the skies are clear. (That is an important caveat.) The best months are August through April, and even with low aurora activity, the far northern location means viewing the lights is still very possible.
It was on our last night, while staying at the incomparable Inn on the Lake, when the magic happened. Although they aurora yet viewable to the human eye, Pete caught the famous green glow on his camera and ushered everyone outside to wait for them to dance.
And it wasn’t just an aurora show on display, but Pete captured a significant moment for a sweet young couple we had just met from Mexico. When the lights came into view, he dropped to one knee, and she said yes. They had journeyed a great distance for that moment, and on their last night, the opportunity finally came.
It was a case of right place, right people, right time, and left a lasting impression. (We can’t guarantee such an enchanting moment for everyone when they visit the Yukon. But we can all hope, right?)
Our trip north was thanks to Travel Yukon. All opinions, as always, are our own.