We’re rugged up in warm winter rentals – thick red padded jackets, waterproof pants and big storm trooper boots – sipping hot chocolate in the Aurora viewing tent of Yukon adventure company Northern Tales.
I’m on a work trip with five Australian travel product managers who are here to experience the delights of the Yukon.
The tent we’re huddled in is away from the city lights and reconstructed in the tradition of the historic tents once used by gold seekers and trappers. Inside there’s a wood-fired barrel stove, timber benches, food and hot drinks to warm us up.
Outside, the sky shimmers with a glimpse of an aurora borealis barely visible to the naked eye. To the human eye, the stars are a million twinkling diamonds on an indigo canvas.
My camera, however, has recorded a strip of green arced across the sky like a part of a rainbow.
It’s my first attempt at photographing an aurora and fortunately, our guide has some good advice as well as sturdy tripods for guests to use.
I’ve come to the Yukon because I’m drawn to the wilderness, winter and wonderful scenery. If you’ve read and loved Call of the Wild (I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read the book!) then the Yukon might well be on your bucket list.
The Canadian territory bordered by British Columbia, Northwest Territories and Alaska is overflowing with stunning wilderness landscapes. There are cosy lodges, friendly people, fun outdoor activities and, of course, the magical northern lights.
On this trip, we learn the skills of dog mushing and I ride my own dog sled pulled by four huskies through the wintery landscape at Sky High Wilderness Ranch without falling off!
Another time, we keep warm while soaking in Takhini Hot Pools. The natural hot springs have there for more than 100 years. The water is rich in minerals.
A scenic flight over the Yukon’s glaciers and the Chilkoot Pass reveals a majestic landscape of snow-covered mountains and lakes. It looks like a scene from a fantasy movie. The land is full of wildlife.
The easiest way to see them all is at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, which is home to 10 species of northern Canadian mammals including woodland caribou, thinhorn sheep, moose, wood bison, arctic fox and muskox.
The Yukon is also steeped in culture. At Carcross, we meet Master Carver Keith Smarch who reveals insights into the First Nations people, their history and beliefs.
I’d visit the Yukon to see any of these things but the biggest lure of all is the chance of experiencing the northern lights.
Northern Lights in the Yukon
To experience the northern lights, you can either stay in Whitehorse and join organised Aurora-spotting tours at night or spend a few days staying in a cabin away from the city.
Tour companies will pick you up from your accommodation and take you to their viewing tents. Staying in Whitehorse is good option for those who want to wander around a friendly town with decent cafes, restaurants, shops and museums.
Accommodation in Whitehorse is not ultra-luxurious but there are options that offer comfortable rooms with Wi-Fi and mod cons.
Try Coast High Country Inn, Westmark Hotel and Best Western Gold Rush Inn.
Head to G&P Steakhouse for a decent steak or The Wheelhouse Restaurant for local fish. Other popular eating spots are Café Balsam and Burnt Toast Café.
Nature Tours of Yukon also runs an informative city tour that reveals much of the region’s adventurous history. We visit the SS Klondike and the MacBride Museum where we learn about the hardships faced by the early settlers and the gold mining fever that swept the region.
Booking into a cabin for a day or two away from Whitehorse will give you the chance to experience the ruggedness of the landscape. Accommodation ranges from rustic cabins with no electricity to luxury lodges that serve gourmet meals.
Staying in a lodge is a quintessential Yukon experience but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll see the aurora borealis. The northern lights are a natural phenomenon that doesn’t follow a schedule. Most of the lodges are a do-it-yourself experience and finding the best spot to photograph the northern lights is usually up to you.
Here are some cosy cabins and lodges to choose from.
1-Inn on the Lake is a top of the range luxury lodge with a dash of old-world charm at the edge of March Lake, 40 minutes from Whitehorse.
2-Boreale Ranch is a contemporary lodge in the wilderness 40 minutes from Whitehorse. The floor-to-ceiling blackboard menu is as impressive as the view through the lodge’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
3-Northern Lights Resort and Spa is on the Alaska Highway 20 minutes south of Whitehorse. Accommodation is in individual cosy log cabins. There’s an outdoor Jacuzzi and a spa with a Finnish sauna, infrared sauna, gym and massage room.
4-Tagish Wilderness Lodge is a floatplane flight away on Tagish Lake. The lodge is rustic and offers good food as part of the tariff. Meals are prepared with herbs from the boreal forest and vegetables from the garden.
5-Takhini River Lodge is a B&B on Takhini River Road 40 minutes from Whitehorse. There are four rooms, a high dining table and floor-to-ceiling windows with a deck that has an amazing mountain view.
6-Dalton Trail Lodge is a fishing lodge at the edge of Kluane National Park. Activities include ATV trips into the mountains, hiking in the park and wildlife spotting.
7-In Connu Lodge is a high-end fishing lodge in south east Yukon.
8-Francis Lake Wilderness Lodge is a wilderness getaway that offers dog sledding, trekking and cross-country skiing
9-Sky High Wilderness Ranch offers dog sledding and back-country adventures. Accommodation is in a five-bedroom lodge or cabins with no electricity or running water.
10-Little Atlin Lodge has rustic cabins with hot and cold running water but no electricity.
11-Sundog Retreat is a multi-cabin retreat with self-contained cabin and spa facilities. The spa cabin has an outdoor hot tub, indoor sauna, exercise space and a yoga/meditation room.
12-Bombay Peggys is the place locals like to go in Dawson City. The restored brothel is a charming abode with Victorian furnishings and a great martini menu.
Air Canada flies from Sydney to Whitehorse via Vancouver
Looking for more things to do in Canada? See Best of Canada and for more ideas when visiting Yukon Territories see Travel Yukon.
Check out these fascinating places to stay while in Canada