Land of the Giants
At least twenty mountains in the St. Elias Range exceed 4,000 metres, a few exceed 5,000 metres, but towering over them all is Mount Logan, Canada's highest peak at 5,959 metres.
Then there's the mighty Yukon River stretching for over 1,800 miles.
Vast regions, varied ecosystems and relatively sparse human population make the Yukon a haven for some of North America's most impressive species - grizzly and black bears, wolves, caribou, moose, muskox and millions of migratory birds.
Almost 80% of the Yukon remains pristine wilderness with just over 10% of the territory fully protected.
All three North American bears: black, grizzly and polar are found in the Yukon, but you are much more likely to see a black bear than a grizzly. Black bears live in forested areas, but grizzly bears range from southern forested areas and across the tundra to the Arctic Ocean. Polar bears are seen on the North Slope and Herschel Island. The Yukon grizzly bear population is one of Canada's largest and most stable in North America and the Alsek River corridor in Kluane National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site has been designated a special preservation area. Shorter summers in the north mean that grizzlies must be as efficient as possible in preparing for their long winter hibernation. In the Yukon, grizzlies depend on thick crops of berries and seasonal runs of salmon to fatten up. In an autumn feeding frenzy, a grizzly can eat 200,000 berries in a single day!
Whether you're an ardent birder or a casual wildlife watcher, the Yukon's flyway comes alive as trumpeter swans, geese, sandhill cranes and other migratory birds travel to and from nesting grounds. Birders converge in the Yukon to search for species including harlequin duck, northern hawk owl, wandering tattler, gyrfalcon and three kinds of ptarmigan.
Yukon is also home to approximately 130,000 – 150,000 caribou in one of North America's last remaining large animal herds. The herd was nominated as one of the seven wonders of Canada a few years ago.
Although the Yukon offers some of Canada's most accessible wilderness, civilisation is never far away in one of the Yukon's ten communities. It also enjoys a culture of rich northern tradition and First Nation (native) customs and beliefs.
Kluane National Park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and largest internationally protected area on the planet. It is home to the largest non-polar icefields in the world and 17 of Canada's 20 tallest mountains including Mount Logan, Canada's highest peak. Ancient glaciers feed the Alsek River that flows through the sprawling Alsek Valley and dall sheep, mountain goats, caribou, wolves, grizzlies and black bears roam the massive park.
Flightseeing tours are a quick way to get deep into the park. Land and step out onto a glacier to take in the vast surroundings. Some adventurers experience Kluane by rafting a Canadian Heritage River to see grizzlies, eagles and glaciers. Paddling Kathleen Lake which has campsites, a day-use site and trails, is slower paced but every bit as wonderful. See wildflowers on a stroll along the lakeshore or hike up to the cirque of King's Throne for far reaching views of the lake and landscape.
Besides spectacular scenery in the Kluane Region, the First Nation cultures wait to be explored.
For 5,000 years the Champagne area has been occupied by Indigenous people. The site just off the Alaska Highway is also home to Long Ago Peoples Place, an authentic recreation of a traditional First Nations village. Pay a visit to learn about the Southern Tutchone history and culture, enjoy bannock, hear stories and feel the connection to the land.
A scenic drive leads from Haines Junction to the Kluane Museum of Natural History in Burwash Landing on the shores of Kluane Lake. The museum's fascinating exhibits include many that offer another look at the traditional way of life of the area's Southern Tutchone people.
Just before the Canada-US border is Beaver Creek home to the White River First Nation. Archeological evidence shows people have lived in this area for 10,000 years. The Visitor Information Centre displays examples of intricate beadwork and other traditional crafts.
Besides these interesting stops along the highway, First Nation tour operators offer unique, immersive experiences. Hear captivating legends, learn about living off the land and spot wildlife and medicinal plants.
Interested in visiting? see www.windowsonthewild.com and www.audleytravel.com
The vast wilderness of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland is like nowhere else on earth. Visiting Inuit communities along Baffin Island all the way through the famous Northwest Passage, offers incredible insight to life above the Arctic Circle. Encounters with polar bears, whales and seals, impressive ice formations, massive glaciers, as well as the possibility of seeing the northern lights, make expedition cruises to the Arctic with One Ocean Expeditions a transformational travel experience.
I'm Gilly, award winning journalist, travel writer and 12 x author. I'm published in national and regional papers / magazines.