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Sample Tours: Great North

The Golden Circle

The Yukon has pristine rivers and lakes; endless forests teeming with wildlife; and a fascinating Gold Rush history that is so close, dance hall music can still be heard. And anywhere there is a place to park a camper – whether it is in a natural Motorhome or RV park or beside a stream with no name – a mountain view is practically guaranteed. The Yukon is young and wild, yet a modern highway system links its many historic and beautiful towns. Most roads are paved and medical facilities and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are in each community.

The Golden Circle starts and ends in Whitehorse, the territory’s capital city. It takes travelers over a mountain and to the Pacific Ocean and from a coastal rain forest to the world’s smallest desert. There are wondrous geological features along the way that can be found nowhere else.

Duration: 6-13 Days
Total Distance: 606 km/379 mi


Tour Map - The Golden Circle
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Itinerary
Bald Eagle with Salmon
Days 1-3 - Whitehorse to Haines Junction – 158 km/98 mi

Please phone our station at 668-3610 to arrange your transfer from the hotel to our station. Detailed vehicle instruction will be provided. Do your grocery shopping and head west on the historic Alaska Highway, a modern, two-lane highway that began as a trading route between First Nations. During the Second World War, the American Army pushed bulldozers to the Pacific Ocean allowing supplies to reach the coastal defences. 

full details

The air is so clean and dry here, the far-off mountains will seem close enough you can touch them. There are lots of turnouts to allow a rest or to take some photographs.

19 kilometres from the turnoff to Dawson City, at the edge of Whitehorse’s city limits, there is a turnout that shows a portion of the Dawson Trail. Until 1950, stage coaches would cross the Takhini River here.

Seventeen kilometres further on there are salt flats, left over from evaporating underground springs. There are unique plants growing here, such as the red sea asparagus, which thrive on salt.

This stretch of highway is home to many farms that are challenged by the short growing seasons yet helped with long days of sunlight. Livestock on the road is common.

A viewing platform is set up at Takhini River Valley. Information panels are set up to explain the wildlife found in this area. Elk, for example, made this home after being transplanted from Elk Island National Park, which is 2,000 kilometres away in the province of Alberta.

Fifty-four kilometres from the Dawson City turnoff, is a road leading to Kusawa Lake. This road was originally built by the American Army to access timber. There are two government campgrounds on this road, the furthest being 15 kilometres from the Alaska Highway. On this road is a viewpoint of Mendenhall Landing, a freight transfer point used to supply mining operations in the early 1900s.

Twenty-three kilometres further, there is Kwaday Dan Kenji (Long Ago Peoples Place), a replica of a Native traditional camp. There’s a moose skin tent, caribou fence, skin sled and other examples of how the First Nations survived long before the Gold Rush.

As you continue along the Alaska Highway, you will start to see mountains from much closer up. Ruby Range is to the north, Dezadeash Range to the south and Kluane Range up ahead.

As you get close to Haines Junction, you will see Otter Falls Cutoff. There are camping spots here, gas, groceries and a wildlife museum for customers. At this junction, a road leads to Otter Falls. 

It was once featured on the Canadian five-dollar bill, but today it is just a trickle because of the hydro dam upstream. During the summer the dam is opened to allow some of the flow for sightseeing and photographs. Times are posted at the cutoff. At the end of the road, 42 kilometres from the highway, is a government campground on Aishihik Lake.

Toward Haines Junction again, you will cross Aishihik River Bridge. It has a view of the original bridge built in 1920.

As you get closer to Kluane Range, you will see its ice fields. The Kluane National Park has the highest mountains in Canada and has the largest non-polar ice field in the world.

If you drive straight through from Whitehorse, you will be in Haines Junction within two hours. Pine Lake Recreation Park and territorial campground is off the highway just as you enter town. A six kilometre trail begins here that gives you a chance to spot grey jays, ruby-crowned kinglets, boreal chickadees and red squirrels. A monument, in the middle of Haines Junction’s main square, is devoted to the abundant wildlife in the area.

Haines Junction’s first buildings were American Army barracks. The Alaska Highway continued northwest while a spur was pushed south to reach the port at Haines, Alaska. Today, Haines Junction is still a junction to these two routes.

Haines Junction is also the jumping-off point to many adventures in the Kluane National Park and Reserve. Tour operators, outfitters and rental companies are located here to help you enjoy the great outdoors with glacier flight seeing, river rafting, mountain biking, horseback riding, llama trekking, hiking, snowmobiling and cross country skiing.

Your first stop should be the Visitor Reception Centre where you will learn about the richness of wildlife in this land at the base of the St. Elias Mountains. From Dall sheep in the mountains to grizzlies scooping salmon from the rivers to moose grazing along lakeshores, the professional displays make it all come alive for you.

Just across the street is the Village Bakery. At night, it sometimes has musicians playing on the front deck. Madley’s Store has a bank, post office, groceries and hardware. The Raven offers fine dining.

If you like hiking, spend another day in Haines Junction and enjoy its many trails. But check with the Visitor Reception Centre first and the staff can warn you about any bear sightings. The staff can also tell you about any guided hikes or campfire talks.

Dezadeash River Trail, for example, is an easy 3.5-kilometre walk along the river’s edge. 

 

Haines Alaska
Days 4-7 (depending on how much fishing & sightseeing you want to do) - Haines Junction to Haines - 257 km/160 mi
When you leave town (fill up your tank with gas first), follow the signs to Haines, Alaska on the Haines Highway. It may be a military spur that has been modernized, but before that it was a packhorse trail to the Klondike Gold Fields … 20 years before the Gold Rush of 1898. Before that, even, it was the “grease trail” used by coastal Chilkat Indians to trade oil and furs with the interior First Nations.full details

Twenty kilometres from Haines Junction is Kathleen Lake. There is a turnout that offers a great view of the windiest lake in the Yukon. Conflicting winds from the mountains will shoot water 30 metres into the sky when conditions are just right. Bird watching will give you a chance at seeing harlequins, northern pintails, American wigeon, lesser yellowlegs and spotted sandpipers. If you brought your fishing rod, and fishing licence purchased in Haines Junction, you can catch rainbow, lake trout, kokanee and grayling. Kathleen Lake Campground, the only established campground in the Kluane National Park, is just 1.5 kilometres off the highway.

Remember that people are not the only ones who like to fish along this highway. Wherever the fishing is the best, you are likely to run into bears. They may look sluggish and cuddly, but they are unpredictable and very dangerous. Make lots of noise so they are warned away – a startled bear is likely to attack.

Fifteen kilometres down the road is Dezadeash Lake. It was visited often by the Chilkat First Nation before the Gold Rush for its easy fishing. Dezadeash Lake Campground is placed at the most scenic spot.

Klukshu, a genuine native fishing village, is eight kilometres further down the highway. Families still return here each year to collect steelhead, king, sockeye and Coho salmon in the traditional fish traps. Besides the residents’ log cabins and meat caches, there is a museum and gift shop here where you can buy moose hide beaded slippers, birch bark baskets, smoked salmon, soapberries and homemade jams.

Dalton Post, the mid-way point on the Dalton Trail, is 12 kilometres from Klukshu. Unfortunately, the road is not fit for motorhomes or truck campers.

Just a bit further is Million Dollar Falls Campground at the Takhanne River Bridge. Boardwalks allow for an easy hike to a platform overlooking the falls. Below the falls is a good spot to catch grayling, Dolly Varden, rainbow and king salmon.

As you get closer to the mountains, you will start to see bald eagles playing in the thermals swirling around the mountaintops that you will be driving through. The best views will come as you get closer to Haines, but the mountainous backdrop from the Chilkat Pass will provide wonderful photo opportunities. This is the highest elevation on this trip at 1,065 metres above sea level. It is one of a few access points to the interior and was jealously guarded by the Tlingit Indians who didn’t want their business with Russian and coastal native fur traders to be threatened. But they were overwhelmed by the stampede to the Klondike gold fields in 1898.

In less than four hours of straight driving, you will be getting close to Haines, Alaska. You will need to go through American Customs, so have your identification handy. And, remember, you will lose an hour as you enter a new time zone.  Also, please be aware that there is a restriction on some foodstuffs which may be taken into Alaska.  You may be asked if you have any fruit or meat with you and it may be confiscated if it was not of US origin.  We suggest you consume these items prior to arriving at the border.  Citizens of countries other than the USA and Canada may also need to complete immigration documents here and pay a small documentation fee.

Thirteen kilometres from customs is the Mosquito Lake State Recreation Site. A private campground is close by. If you want to do some serious eagle spotting, stop here for the night because you will be at the edge of the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.

The road into Haines follows the Chilkat River. In November, when the rest of the rivers in the Yukon and Alaska freeze up, this river still flows because of the friction of water percolating through the porous riverbed. This phenomenon attracts up to 4,000 bald eagles to feast on the chum salmon that have come here to lay their eggs and die. From October to December, you will see bald eagles hanging like grapes on the vine on both sides of the highway. Some of the better vantage points have interpretive centres and lots of room for parking.

Haines, Alaska is a town of 2,500 that has always been a port on Portage Cove, the furthest you can sail inside the Inside Passage. First it was a port for the Chilkat First Nations and then the Russian fur traders. Today, it is a port for many cruise lines and the Alaskan Ferry System that brings in visitors and supplies.

The American military established Fort William H. Seward here. The design of barracks and homes has a definite southern influence; on a nice summer day you can imagine yourself in the heart of Georgia. Now de-commissioned, these buildings have been converted into homes, bed and breakfasts and quaint restaurants.

For a small population, the downtown core is surprisingly robust. Downtown Haines offers shopping and restaurants that serve halibut a week fresher than any other you have likely ever tried. And the American Bald Eagle Foundation has a display of taxidermy in an unbelievably realistic setting. The Alaska Indian Arts Center will give you a chance to meet with local artisans and carvers and buy their crafts. Our recommended campground in Haines is the Haines Hitch-up RV Park.  Conveniently located near the heart of Haines and surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of the Chilkat Mountains, the campground offers CanaDream guests a discount off their campground fees. 

In the evening, just before dusk, drive five minutes along the shore on Lutak Road (just follow the signs to the ferry terminal) and turn left when you reach the bridge. Just down this road, you will find a weir across a river. Park your camper and watch the show: Bears will come in from the forest on the other side of the river to feast on the salmon slowed by the weir and eagles will dive into the water right in front of you. It is an amazing sight.

Next door to the campground on this road, you will find the Takshanuk Mountain Trail. You can rent a “Mule”, which is a 60-cc, four-wheel-drive all-terrain vehicle. Even if you are in a wheel chair, you can climb to 700 metres above sea level for an awesome view.

This will take up a morning. So, in the afternoon, you can visit Kroschel Films Wildlife and Educational Centre. It is set up for Hollywood to film Alaskan animals in their natural habitat. If you enjoy your tour, leave a donation.

Chilkat Cruises and Tours has sightseeing tours of the eagle preserve and area.  No trip to Alaska would be complete without seeing its magnificent scenery from the air.  Mountain Flying Service offers scenic flights out of Haines and Skagway over Glacier Bay National Park where you'll fly over the most vertical terrain in all of North America affording stunning views of all that lies below.  Show them your CanaDream key tag to receive a 10% discount.

If you'd like to visit Juneau, Alaska Fjordlines offers a 12 hour Wildlife and Sightseeing Cruise departing from Haines at 8.45 daily from mid-May until early September.  Head south through the Lynn Canal, the continent's longest and deepest glacial fjord, stretching over 100 miles long and over 2000 feet deep.  You'll see hanging glaciers, nesting bald eagles, harbor seals and whales.  CanaDream guests can get a discount on this trip by picking up a coupon from our Whitehorse location.

Once you have enjoyed this coastal town to its fullest, it will be time to drive onto the ferry and head to Skagway. It only takes an hour, but if you were to drive, it would take you eight hours. 

CanaDream Club partners on today's itinerary:

Haines Hitch-up RV Park
Alaska Fjordlines
Mountain Flying Service

Chilkoot River Alaska
Days 8-10 - Haines to Skagway - By Ocean Ferry - 11 km/7 mi then spend a couple of nights in Skagway
As you plough through the Inside Passage toward Skagway, the gateway to the Klondike Gold Fields, try to imagine how the Stampeders felt over 100 years ago when they approached this very same port. The mountains look cold and imposing as they stand shoulder to shoulder as if they forbid entry. full details

Skagway today, as it was in 1898, is a bustling town with false-fronted stores and boarded sidewalks. It is a shopper’s paradise. This town knows how to keep that Gold Rush era flavour. There are historic buildings, tours of graveyards, gold dredge exhibits and restaurants that sit right on the harbour.

There is a trip on a narrow-gauge railway that will take you around the sides of canyon walls, over trestles and up into the mountains from lush valley floors. White Pass Railway and Yukon Route has done a marvellous job of offering a breath-taking and authentic journey. People come from all over the world to experience this trip on a rail system that is considered one of the seven engineering wonders of the world.

The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center has a room-sized relief map of the White Pass and Chilkoot Trails that easily shows the challenges of the stampeders. There is also a display of a typical stampeder and a representation of the ton of goods they had to carry into Canada and to the Klondike; it was a requirement of the North West Mounted Police’s Inspector Sam Steele to ensure each stampeder’s survival for one year in the Klondike. The Center is on Skagway’s main street and close to the ferry terminal. But, more importantly to those who keep track of such things, it is across the street from a Starbucks.

The National Park Service also maintains 14 historic buildings in Skagway and has leased most of them out to businesses. One of the buildings belonged to Captain William Moore, Skagway’s founding father. It is kept as a museum.

There is a privately-run, full-scale gold dredge in Skagway as well. Tours and a chance to try gold panning are offered. There is also a mining exhibit.

Entertainment includes readings of Robert Service and a theatrical production of Soapy Smith’s rein of terror on Gold Rush-era Skagway and trails. And there are saloons that feature live music from ragtime to jazz to rock and roll.

There are two campgrounds right in town, but try the national park at Dyea, just a 15-minute drive out of town. This is where the Stampeders camped in the late 1800s. You can hike the early portions of the Chilkoot Trail and visit the abandoned town site of Dyea and its cemetery, which is now overgrown and sunken, but still fascinating.

If you didn't get a chance to take a scenic flight over Glacier Bay National Park while you were in Haines, you have the opportunity to do this from Skagway with Mountain Flying Service.  This is an experience not be be missed and you'll receive a 10% discount off your scenic flight when you show your CanaDream key tag.

CanaDream Club partners on today's itinerary are:

Mountain Flying Service

Skagway White Pass Railway
Day 11 - Skagway to Carcross - 106 km/66 mi

The next leg of this trip will start with a shock: In a mere 10 minutes you will leave behind broadleaf cottonwood trees of a coastal rain forest and enter a moonscape of glacially scarred granite and stunted heather on the top of a mountain at 1004 metres above the Pacific Ocean you just left. It can snow 12 months a year here and it is often socked in with fog for an eerie feel. 

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Keep in mind that out your passenger door window, and far down in the ravine, was the “other” trail to the Klondike gold fields. The White Pass was longer than its more famous neighbour (out your driver’s side window and on the other side of AB Mountain), the Chilkoot Trail. This trail was flatter and had a more gradual climb than the Chilkoot, but it was longer and had more boulders blocking the way. That is why only a third of the stampeders took this route. But it is also why the White Pass Railway was built along this path, thus killing off Dyea and the Chilkoot Trail after only a few years.

Klondike Highway 2 (aka Skagway Road; aka Carcross Road; aka South Klondike Highway) began as a trading route between coastal and inland First Nations. It then became a wagon trail and, in 1942, the American Army built the road to service a gas pipeline to Whitehorse. The residents of Skagway, desperate for a paved road to the Alaska Highway and points south, started building a modern road to encourage the American and Canadian governments to take over. The plan worked and it was officially opened in 1981.

On the other side of the mountain pass is Fraser, British Columbia. This is a tiny community that houses road crews and Canada Customs agents. Have your identification ready and remember to add an hour to your watch for Pacific Time. This is a prized posting for the staff here since hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and hiking is literally just outside their back door. An underwater dam, called “micro-hydro”, provides electricity to this far-flung community. It is an innovation that is being advanced all over the Yukon.

As you descend into the Southern Lakes Region of the Yukon, colour returns with volcanic rock and impressive limestone bluffs. Life abounds once again as wetland and dense forests emerge above thick, mossy floors. This is Moose Country, so scan the edges of the various lakes for a chance meeting.

Nine kilometres past Fraser is Log Cabin. It was once a North West Mounted Police customs checkpoint (moved there from the summit when the train started its run) but is now the official end of the Chilkoot Trail.

Just a little further is your first chance at fishing on Tutshi Lake. Lake trout and grayling are plentiful, but only in the early season. At the far end of the lake is a campground. The roads here are tight, so you may want to walk in first to ensure your camper will fit. From here to Carcross, you will be wedged between mountains on your left (those white dots may be Dall sheep) and lakes on your right. There will also be remnants of various failed ore mining operations:  Cement foundations of an ore concentrator, caves that were dug to find a vein, abandoned town site of Conrad and bare posts for tramlines. A turnout, 12 kilometres past Tutshi Lake Campground, has picnic tables and information on the Venus Mines.

The next lake you will see is Tagish Lake. Lt. F. Schwatka had renamed it Bove Lake to honour a colleague. Lt. Schwatka was an engineer in the American Army and had mapped the entire length of the Yukon River in 1883. He had a bad habit of renaming mountains and rivers contrary to local usage and the wishes of the Canadian government. Since the Americans were the only people to publish maps of this region before the Gold Rush, many of the names stuck. But Dr. G.M. Dawson, a Canadian mapmaker and early predictor of gold in the Klondike, changed the name back to Tagish Lake in 1887. He left the name of the largest island, Bove Island.

A little over an hour into your drive, you will reach Carcross, Yukon. Surrounded by mountains and slow of pace, it is a harbour of quiet. It is also a very spiritual place as it sits at the convergence of four valleys and two water systems.

Nares Lake, on your right, seldom freezes and is one of a few places where waterfowl can be found in the winter. It is frequented by swans, teal, pintail, goldeneye and wigeon. On your left is the famous Lake Bennett. This is the lake the stampeders tried so hard to reach because it meant the walking was over and a raft trip all the way to the Klondike gold fields began. The river joining these two lakes was travelled by 30,000 stampeders. Had they known (or cared) they would have paid tribute to this town that bore the discoverers of the gold that they sought.

This town was called “Caribou Crossing” until 1902, when Bishop Bompas requested it be changed to “Carcross” because his mail was being diverted to other communities with similar names.

Carcross became a major stop for the railway until 1982. Passengers and freight would transfer to sternwheelers for the rest of the trip. One of those sternwheelers, the S.S. Tutshi, was almost restored in July of 1990 when it burned. Remnants have been preserved and are on display.

Another veteran of the boom years, a little locomotive called “Duchess”, is preserved and sits in the town square.

There is a restaurant at the water’s edge and you can shop for souvenirs in genuine, historic buildings. Indeed, Matthew Watson General Store is the oldest store in the Yukon. The oldest hotel is there, too. There is also a fantastic, sandy beach just off the end of the Carcross’ main street. It would be crowded if the water wasn’t so cold. But it is still a nice place for a walk.

On the highway, you can choose between a full-serviced campground on the left and a wooded, territorial campground on the right.  

CarCross Station
Day 12 - Carcross to Whitehorse - 74 km/46 mi

Your last day on the road begins immediately with the Carcross Desert, the world’s smallest desert. It is 260 hectares and is home to several plant species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. 

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Just a few minutes further up the road, toward Whitehorse, you will see Caribou Crossing Trading Post. You can spend all day here as you visit the outdoor exhibits and the taxidermy museum inside.

And just a little further is Emerald Lake. It is a natural wonder of clear, blue water that is lit up with blue-green swirls of colour throughout. As it sits beneath the highway, photographers can easily capture this rare beauty.

As you continue your trip, you will see Caribou Mountain to the east, Montana Mountain to the south and Gray Ridge Range to the west.

Eventually, on your left, you will see a turnout to Robinson Ranch. A town site was surveyed here in the early 1900s when gold was discovered nearby. It closed in 1915, but a few buildings still stand because it was maintained by the town’s former postmaster as a ranch.

For those of you who like to golf, watch for Annie Lake Road, just beside the farm. It has an 18-hole golf course that is as wild as the Yukon. Sand greens and fairways, that are cut once a year, are pocketed with gopher holes and moose droppings. The clubhouse is actually his and hers outhouses. It is surprisingly well maintained and costs only $2 to play. You can park your camper there for the evening and golf again in the morning … or at midnight; it doesn’t matter here in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

As you get close to the Alaska Highway once more, you can stop for a swim at Kookatsoon Lake. Although fed by glaciers, it is shallow enough to warm up quickly in the afternoon.

When you get to the highway, turn left and you will be back in Whitehorse in 15 minutes. Choose from one of the many campgrounds in Whitehorse for your overnight stay. 

 

SS Klondike
Day 13 - Return RV to our Whitehorse Location

Sadly today you have to return your CanaDream RV to the Whitehorse location.  Return time is between 08:00 and 10:00. If you are planning to stay an extra day or two in Whitehorse, we will gladly provide you with transport to your Whitehorse hotel. 

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If you are heading for the airport to fly home, again we will give you a ride. Let our friendly front counter staff know if you need to be taken somewhere when you drop off your RV.  Once you've returned home and had a chance to view your photos, we invite you to send us your favourite photos for our website and to write about your experiences so other people can get first hand recommendations about what to do and see on a motorhome vacation in the Yukon. 




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