Buckling up into a tiny Cessna, I steady myself as the plane swerves over green valleys, with snowy mountains in the distance. I’ve journeyed to Kluane National Park in the far northern Canadian region of the Yukon to experience the legendary beauty of its sprawling wilderness.
When visiting Canada, a flght over Niagara Falls is an attraction for the bucket list but so is a flight over Kluane National Park, which is a crystalline spectacle of glaciers.
My pilot, Easton, explains the history of Kluane National Park and the mountains and glaciers that cover most of this remote area.
My stomach swirls as we glide further up while the view the first of dozens of glaciers takes by breath away.
Seeing glaciers in the Yukon is right up there with looking up at the sky at night and seeing the Yukon Northern Lights.
Kluane National Park
The highway stretches out in quiet wonder, lined with spruce forests and scrawny pine trees stunted by brutal winters.
Although it’s a road that hosts thousands of vehicles, the highway is calm and hushed, with just the rush of the wind through the wildflowers or an occasional car stirring up sounds. Even the elk that I spot in the distance seems to be trotting delicately.
The highway was once a gravel-filled road that mangled tires and served up treacherous winter journeys but now the paved version seems to inspire almost reverent passing.
We roll into the Kluane Glacier Air tours office primed for a standout excursion and we are not disappointed.
UNESCO World Heritage
Kluane National Park sits in the southwest corner of the Yukon Territory.
Its claim to fame is it has the world’s largest non-polar ice fields and is part of the world’s largest internationally protected wilderness.
There are hiking paths and camp grounds but large portions of the park are inaccessible and can only be viewed by plane.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, Kluane National Park is also home to Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan (5,959m).
In other words, this endless expanse of mountains and glaciers is spectacular.
Up in the air, Easton kicks off the glacier flightseeing tour by teaching me about the structure of glaciers.
Glaciers are composed of fallen snow that has packed down in layers over time.
These layers of snow turn to ice and the glaciers begin to flow like rivers because of their massive size.
My first glimpse is a section of Kaskawulsh Glacier, looming up in a frosty blue vision.
It looks like a landscape from another planet and as the plane flies closer, I see the details of the ice forming long waves, like a frozen road.
The surrounding snow-covered mountains resemble a perfectly rendered winter landscape. They are so striking that they don’t look real.
What is real is my rising motion sickness as the small plane swoops and glides upwards.
Easton checks my expression to see if I’m okay and I push aside my nausea, determined to absorb every minute of the flight experience.
We fly near Mount Kennedy and the aptly named Disappointment Mountain, named by gold miners who joined the Yukon’s 1800s-era Gold Rush too late.
Criss-crossed with crevices packed with snow, the mountains supply scene after scene of panoramic views.
South Arm and Lowell Glaciers appear next, filled with icebergs floating down the front.
As we near then end of the 60-minute flight, I feel dizzy with amazement and a queasy stomach.
Before we land, I’m rewarded with a peek of Mount Logan, cutting through the clouds.
With shaky legs I climb out of the Cessna. I have surveyed one of the most isolated and beautiful areas on Earth and gained up-close views of massive glaciers.
I’m no longer in the air but I still felt high with amazement.
10 things to do in Kluane National Park
1- See the amazing landscape from the air on a flight seeing tour of the park. The bird’s-eye view of mountains and glaciers of the park will take your breath away.
2- Viist the Tachäl Dhäl Visitor Centre, which is about an hour’s drive north along the Alaska Highway from Haines Junction, to learn more about the park. The centre also has telescopes that you can use to spot wildlife from afar.
3- Go paddling at Kathleen Lake, which has campsites and trails. Sleeping in an oTENTik is a fun way to experience this natural region. Find out more about it here.
4- Backcountry camping is an amazing experience in the Kluane wilderness. The best spots are Observation Mountain and along the Cottonwood Trail. You need a permit to camp.
5- See the giant floor map at the Kluane National Park and Reserve Visitor Centre in the Da Kų Cultural Centre at Haines Junction. This is the place to learn about Champagne Aishihik First Nations culture.
6- Kluane National Park and reserve is a fantastic place to go hiking. From day trips to multi-day treks, the scenery is amazing. Try the Auriol Trail or the Sheep Creek Trail. Find out more about the hiking routes here.
7- Go on a rafting adventure on the Alsek River, which has the distinction of being glacier fed from the second highest coastal mountain range in the world.
8- Experienced mountain climbers will relish the challenge of mountaineering in Kluane National Park. The season runs from mid-April to mid-June.
9- Go on a mountain bike ride along the park’s old mining roads and trails, such as the Alsek Trail and the Cottonwood Trail.
10- Go fishing for Rainbow Trout or Arctic Grayling at Mush Lake, Bates Lake or St Elias. Day or annual fishing permits are available at the visitors centres at Haines Junction and Whitehorse.
Exploring Canada? Here are more breathtaking vistas and ideas on what to do in Canada.