What are the Northern Lights?
As magical as they appear, Northern Lights are a subject of science to understand. The Aurora Borealis (as science knows them) begins 149 kilometres from the sun’s surface as energetic particles are carried on solar winds. full details
After a trip to earth at speeds of up to 1,000 kilometres per second, the particles that are not deflected by the earth’s magnetosphere are trapped in the magnetic field. These particles rush to the Polar Regions where access to the atmosphere is easier. When they come into contact with earth’s oxygen and nitrogen atoms, they become excited electrons that release light as they settle down once again. The Northern Lights are not always on display and are sometimes obscured by clouds. Forecasts are available by visiting http://www.auroraforecast.com.
Photographing the Northern Lights
It is difficult to capture the Northern Lights on film. The detail can be best captured on slower films that offer a fine grain. The experts start with a happy medium. A 200 ASA film is quick, but still has a fine grain. Use an aperture opening of 2.8 and leave it open for 60 seconds. full details
Then shoot the same photo at 50 seconds and again at 70 seconds. At any time during the exposure, you can trip your flash toward the foreground. Someone standing approximately five metres away will come out sharp.
Digital cameras are best because they do not have film that can become brittle in the cold or susceptible to static electricity in the dryness. You can also experiment much more. A tripod is a must since you cannot hold your camera still for such long exposures. Also bring extra batteries and keep them warm in an inside pocket.
Whitehorse to Dawson City - 534 km/334 mi
From Whitehorse, embark on your own Klondike Trail of ’98 journey to Dawson City through Carmacks, Pelly Crossing, Fort Selkirk and Five Finger Rapids, and imagine thousands of bedraggled miners floating the Yukon River all the way to the Klondike. If you're making this journey in early fall, be sure to stop and photograph the beautiful golden colours awash on the trees. Fall in the Yukon is a well kept secret and provides avid photographers with great opportunities. full details
On this part of your drive, you’ll feel the grit, heartache and golden dreams of the Klondike Gold Rush when you reach Dawson City. This authentic gold rush town is bursting with historic sites and engaging attractions. Spend the night here in one of the many campgrounds in the town or at the Yukon Government campground, just across the river by ferry.
Dawson City to Fairbanks - 617km / 386 mi
From Dawson City, take the free ferry across the Yukon River to the Top of the World Highway, and enjoy expansive views along this winding ridge-top road before crossing into Alaska. Continue west on Highway 2 towards Tok and Delta Junction, one of only two real towns between the US border and Fairbanks. In Delta Junction, check out the Buffalo Center Diner. It has a model train that does circuits of the dining room and serves buffalo burgers which are huge. full details
From Delta Junction, the road follows the Tanana River towards Fairbanks. Officially the end of the Alaska Highway is at Delta Junction; however along your journey you may encounter residents of Fairbanks who would be prepared to argue that honour goes to their city.
The central location of Fairbanks makes it the focal point for the tiny villages scattered throughout the surrounding wilderness and Fairbanks is a supply point for villages such as Barrow and the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay. Its charm lies in the fact that, unlike Anchorage, Fairbanks still retains its down home "frontier" feel.
In Fairbanks, the "Northern Lights" are at their most dazzling from December to March when nights are longest and the sky darkest. They can usually be seen even as far south as Juneau.
Interesting law.... Did you know that it's illegal to get a moose drunk in Fairbanks?
Fairbanks to Anchorage - 585 km/354 mi
The fastest way to get to Anchorage from Fairbanks is via SR-3 - the George Parks Highway - which skirts the Denali National Park 193 km/121 mi south of Fairbanks. Denali National Park is the most beautiful park in Alaska covering 6 million acres - larger than the state of Massachusetts. full details
If you're pressed for time and want a taste of the type of scenery Denali National Park has to offer, we suggest you visit the town of Talkeetna, a classic Alaska pioneer town halfway between Anchorage and Denali National Park. You're actually closer to Mount McKinley from here (as the crow flies) than if you stood at the entrance to Denali National Park. Talkeetna comprises some of Alaska's best flightseeing, fishing and river tours all in one. We recommend you spend at least one night here. This town has retained its rustic roots as an original supply station for miners and trappers. Today, of Talkeetna's 24 buildings, 15 are on the National Register of Historic Places. Many locals still live in log cabins, or out in the Bush, without running water or electricity.
Anchorage to Tok - 536 km/335 mi
After spending time in Anchorage, take the Glenn Highway north east towards Tok. This road offers a much more spectacular drive than the Parks Highway, particularly between Anchorage and Glenallen. The road here passes through high alpine terrain and then close by the Matanuska Glacier where it winds through a deep canyon valley carved by the glacier's river. full details
The northern section of the highway from Glennallen to Tok (sometimes called the "Tok Cut-Off") borders Wrangell-St Elias National Park, with broad tundra and taiga broken by high, craggy peaks. The Glenn Highway will take you back into Tok, an important junction, sitting at the crossroads of the Alaska and Taylor Highways. There are a few versions as to how Tok got its name, the most popular being that it is derived from the Athabascan word for "peaceful crossing".
Tok to Haines Junction - 481 km/300 mi
From Tok, head south on the Alaska Highway and loop back to the Yukon via Tetlin Junction. From Beaver Creek to Haines Junction, the Alaska Highway parallels the majestic outer rim of Kluane National Park. Beyond the front ranges lie icefields and glacial valleys crowned by Mount Logan, Canada's highest peak. Watch for moose, bears and sheep on your scenic drive down the Kluane Parkway. full details
The highway snakes between a sweeping mountain range and Kluane Lake, the Yukon's largest lake. The communities of Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing hug the lakeshore. Wander the curving beaches of this inviting deep blue glacier fed lake. Haines Junction is a picturesque mountain village nestled at the edge of Kluane National Park - the perfect base for day excursions like glacier flightseeing, hiking, canoeing and river rafting.
Enjoy fishing on Kathleen and Pine lakes, explore roadside trails and in the evenings, watch for the Northern Lights.
Haines Junction to Haines - 224 km/153 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 passport handy. And, remember, you will lose an hour as you enter a new time zone.
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.
Our recommended campground in Haines is 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.
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.
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.
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 will take you eight hours.
Haines to Skagway - 40 km /25 mi
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 sidewalk. 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.
And 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 Starbuck’s.
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 private-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.
Skagway to Carcross - 102 km/65 mi
It would be very easy to rush your journey back to Whitehorse - after all, the entire journey from Skagway is only 176 kilometers (112 miles). However, this is a trip you should take your time with as there's a lot to see. The South Klondike Highway will take you the 102km to Carcross. The scenery on this part of the drive is like nowhere else on earth - it looks like the glaciers just retreated last year. full details
While this highway wasn’t opened completely until 1978, it is one of the oldest access routes from the Alaska coast to the interior. The Tlingit people used the White Pass as a trading route far back into the mists of time, and, when gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1896, the White Pass, along with the Chilkoot Pass, became the main trails for the mad rush to the goldfields.
8km out of Skagway you'll see a parking area from where you get a good view of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad on the east side of the canyon. There are several parking areas along the Klondike Highway with views of Pitchfork Falls and the railway. 18km from Skagway, the Captain William Moore Bridge spans the 110 foot/36m gorge. Just past it you'll find a parking area where you can view the Bridge, hanging glacier, Sawtooth Mountains and the Skagway River Gorge.
The US/Canada border is only 24km/15 miles from Skagway - here you have a time change and lose an hour - the Yukon is on Pacific Standard Time. The Canadian Customs station is 12km further on and you must stop here for inspection. Just past the customs station, stop at the rest area for a view of Fraser Lake. Other rest areas between here and Carcross afford views of Tormented Valley, Tutshi (too-shy) Lake, Windy Arm, Dall Creek, Pooly Creek and Narea Lake. At km 105, the Nares River Bridge spans narrows between Bennett Lake and Tagish Lake. On the left (travelling northbound) you can see the railroad bridge for the White Pass & Yukon Route. After crossing this bridge, you'll find yourself in Carcross, which has the oldest operating general store in the Yukon. If you feel like spending more time in this area, there's a Yukon government campground close by with picnic tables and fire pits where you can stay for a minimal fee (check season opening and closing times). If the campground is full (or you wish to stay closer to Tagish), we recommend you visit the RV Park at the Yukon Tagish Stores. This is a small campground with clean restrooms, hot showers and a sani dump. If you don't feel like cooking tonight, their onsite cafe has a large selection of mouthwatering food to tempt the tastebuds.
Carcross to Whitehorse - 74km / 46mi
Just out of Carcross you'll reach an important junction at Jakes Corner. This is where the Klondike Highway meets Highway 8 leading to Tagish, Atlin Road and the Alaska Highway. Here you can get gas and refreshments. full details
Most Canadians have never heard of Carcross Desert - the smallest desert in the world at less than 260 hectares. Be sure to look out for the point of interest sign marking this desert and pull in to investigate. This desert is the remains of the sandy bottom of a glacial lake left after our last ice age. The dry climate and the strong wind conditions are what created the sand dunes and what allows little vegetation to grow.
A little past the Carcross Desert is Frontierland, a wildlife museum, gift shop, heritage park and coffee house. There are also visitor facilities at Spirit Lake Lodge. Be sure to pull into the rest area at Emerald Lake for a view of one of the most beautiful lakes in the Yukon.
At the 128km/79.8mi marker, a side road leads to Lewes Lake which is a great fishing spot.
From Lewes Lake, it's an easy drive back into Whitehorse to drop off your motorhome. Unless you have paid for a late drop-off, you will need to be at the Whitehorse station between 8.00am and 10.00am where our friendly staff will complete your paperwork and give you a ride to the airport or your hotel.
The best part about your Northern Lights RV vacation is that you don’t need a ticket to see all the action. All you have to do is get away from the city lights and get north. The best time of the year is between mid-August and late April. The best time of day is between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Now there is an easy and comfortable way to see the Northern Lights - CanaDream has winter campers that will take you to the most picturesque corners of Canada’s north and Alaska. Just imagine sitting on your lawn chair with the Northern Lights displaying its wonders on nature’s very own high-definition wide screen of the night sky. You can go into your CanaDream winter camper, parked just behind you, to warm up and make a hot drink. Now, return to the show until sleep nudges you back inside to your warm bed. As wonderful as the Northern Lights are, you want a good night’s sleep because The North has so much to offer during the day. You can go ice fishing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, dog mushing and shopping. And many communities celebrate winter in their own special way … and guests are always welcome and enjoyed.