where the north wind blows | whitehorse, yukon

Kwanlin Dün First Nation

The Yukon is known for its vast landscapes, giant playground for adventure and perfect conditions for winter northern lights. Spoiler alert: we did not end up finding the northern lights this trip even though that was the main goal, but I’ll share why!

Getting to Yukon

I highly recommend flying Air North instead of Air Canada. It supports a more local business for a similar price and you get a little meal! For the 2.5 hour flight, you’ll get a breakfast loaf + grapes or a cold dinner sandwich + cookie. It helps your tummy from grumbling like it might normally on other domestic flights. Looking at flights, it made sense to drive from Seattle to Vancouver and fly from there. It saves time and eliminates the hassle of transferring flights. 

If your flight is super early, you can book a cheap hotel and see if they can let you leave your car there for a small fee. You may need to do the math yourself to see if that is better or parking in the airport lots. On the flight, I’d recommend picking a seat opposite where the sun rises or sets. The sunset seats were worth it! The alpenglow was incredible  looking over the sea-to-sky highway just before landing in Vancouver.

Sea to Sky Valley
Fish Lake night sky

Staying in Yukon

There’s plenty of Airbnb’s to choose from. We didn’t consider hotels, but I’m sure that would be an option too! I love having the ability to cook for extended travel if I plan to stay somewhere more than 2 nights.

Northern Lights

While it’s common to see them in Whitehorse, it is not a guarantee due to a few factors. Unfortunately we saw all these at once. Personally, I don’t feel the need to book a tour to take me out to see the lights – they might not be visible anyway. However, a company might be helpful in taking the driving off your hands and taking the guesswork out of where to view. 

The first ingredient is clear skies. Partly cloudy can be okay, but it should be fairly clear to the north. Even light clouds can obscure the clarity of the aurora borealis. But seeing something is better than nothing!

The second main part is the presence of the northern lights themselves. There’s two primary ways to figure out if it’s a good night for it. The first is the Kp index, which is a generic forecast of the lights. The possible range is 0 to 9 for the Kp index. Usually the average Kp index hovers around 3, which is enough to see auroras in Whitehorse. A more accurate representation is monitoring the Bz and Bt values, relating to the direction and magnitude, respectively. Solar activity interacts with the earth’s geomagnetic field and the Bz and Bt values reflect components of the interplanetary magnetic field. You want a negative Bz value for northern lights (going down the earth’s center north to south) and the strongest positive Bt value.

The last major component is light pollution from both the moon and cities. The best spot we found was the north side of Fish Lake. There are open fields to the north of the parking lot, perfect for seeing near the horizon. Takhini Hot Springs is another good option. Marsh Lake is a bit of a drive but gets you away from city lights. It might be worth checking that there are spots with no  trees blocking your immediate view. If it’s a pretty frozen year, consider walking out on the lake, but I found that staying in the warmth and protection of a car is best.

Foothill of the Saint Elias Mountains

Kluane National Park

Kluane National Park

While seeing northern lights is not guaranteed, there are still fun times to be had in the Yukon. The Kluane National Park resides in the Saint Elias Mountains, where you might find Mt Logan — the tallest peak in Canada and second tallest peak in North America. The beauty of the park is how the mountains stretch from the valley all the way to the peaks with geometric couloirs defining their shape. When covered in snow, these mountains looked extra magnificent. Even the drive on Highway 1 from Whitehorse is gorgeous and they’re technically not part of the Kluane mountains. It’s not till you arrive in Haines Junction that you realize how immense the mountains are in the National Park. Mt Logan sat too far west for us to see on the partly cloudy day, but it’s wild to think of how many peaks are connected and how difficult the access is to many of them. 

I’d recommend driving up north on the Alaska Highway at least to the Thechàl Dhâl Visitor Center, which is closed in the winter, but serves as a great parking lot and turnaround spot. It’s right next to Kluane Lake which is frozen in the winter. Be careful of high winds along this road!

Time permitting, also check out Kathleen Lake. This is a great area for skiing or snowshoeing across a frozen lake! There’s a little indoor picnic area for you to stay warm too. The national park website has a short list of snowshoe trails and common places to backcountry ski.

Mule deer

Yukon Wildlife Preserve

This was the other highlight during my short visit. Yukon Wildlife Preserve is next to the Takhini Hot Springs if you want to combine the two activities. You can definitely take a lazy morning, check out a breakfast place in Whitehorse before arriving when the Preserve opens at 11am. They say it takes about 1.5 hours to visit but we spent nearly 3 hours because it’s so fun to watch the animals and you might want to search for hiding critters. It costs CAD 18 for admission and I thought it was well worth it. My favorite was the muskox!! The preserve offers tours but I also recommend walking it yourself for a more immersive experience.


It’s the capital of Yukon and it’s a town with all your essentials and not too much more. 

Some attractions include the SS Klondike National Historic Site, Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, Yukon Transportation Museum, Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre (historical).

Walking along the Yukon River is gorgeous. You can start by Shipyards Park heading north or south. In the winter, Miles Canyon Suspension Bridge must be accessed by foot. The best option is parking north of the bridge. From near the Whitehorse Dam, turn south onto Miles Canyon Road from Robert Service Way and continue until you reach the gates.

There’s a few outdoor clothing and gear stores and plenty of tourist shops. I particularly liked the shared space between the restaurant Gather Cafe & Taphouse (think tacos) and the glass blowing Lumel Studio. The ideal visit would be to enjoy a walk-in 15 minute glass blowing session to create your own glass work under guidance while you wait to be seated at the cafe. A pretty cool business partnership!

I was a little bummed to have missed out on Alpine Bakery and Baked Cafe & Bakery. So please check them out for me when you’re there. But there ya go! Whitehorse in a nutshell.

Other destinations

Carcross: It’s home to the smallest desert in the world! Surprisingly there’s a lot of sand around Kluane and Whitehorse. If you can, make your way to Watson River Canyon. It’s a pretty and winding river in the winter.

Skagway: It’s a major port in Alaska! It’s wild how Alaska hogs all the coastline by Yukon and northern British Columbia. Anyway, Skagway seems like a fun little town to visit. The road sometimes gets closed due to weather and driving conditions. The drive to Skagway goes through White Pass, a beautiful high mountain region and there’s 8 miles you can drive before reaching the customs patrol!


Photos taken on Canon 5D Mark IV and iPhone 13 mini


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