The Yukon: A Paddler's Paradise
Six Bucket List River Trips You Simply Have to Experience
The world’s best paddling trips are right here in the land of the midnight sun. Clean, clear, winding rivers flow through a land of unparalleled wilderness and stunning mountain beauty. Here are the top six sure-fire-fun trips that accommodate any skill-or-thrill level – plus all the trip info you’ll need to turn your dreams into reality.
Tucked away in the northwest corner of Canada, wedged between Alaska and Northwest Territories, is a pie-slice-shaped land pulsing with paddle-perfect wilderness rivers. Yukon is truly a paddler’s paradise. What makes this place so special is that we literally have it all. Trips to suit every skill level, every budget, every dream. Take your pick: fly-in or road access? Splashy whitewater or mellow meanderings? Lots of hiking options or mostly just great fishing, or both? Far north above the tree line or deep in the thick of a coastal rainforest? A few days or up to a month? Remote wilderness or close to the road? You name it – we have it.
One thing all trips have in common: they’re all set to a backdrop of incomparable mountain wilderness. With only 36,000 people in the Yukon, mostly concentrated in the capital of Whitehorse, pristine intact ecosystems are the norm. We’re one of the last places on the planet with 100,000-strong caribou herds, healthy wolf and moose numbers, plus thriving populations of animals that are nonexistent or threatened in other places – eagles, peregrine falcons, Sandhill cranes, Dall sheep and wolverine. All our rivers, even those with road access, immerse you into this fantastical wilderness world. In this handy guide, we feature the six best trips that represent the full range of options. There are dozens more offered by our Yukon Wild adventure operators.
TRIP 1: THE TATSHENSHINI
A trip down “the Tat” will thrill you to no end. Rated by National Geographic as one of the “Top Ten Whitewater Rafting Trips in the World,” this unbelievable journey will take you through some of the most stunning wilderness and mountain scenery on the planet.
Let your expert guide steady your raft down exhilarating whitewater, past grizzlies feeding on spawning salmon, under towering snow-capped mountains. Watch glaciers calve into the water. Hop onto an iceberg for a float. A hike up Goatherd Mountain will reward you with sights of elusive mountain goats and a view you’ll never forget. As you approach the Alaska coast, Mount Fairweather towers above you at 15,000 feet. “This river has it all, other than serious whitewater,” says California paddler Ken Jacobs. “It’s my favorite trip of all time, even more special than the Grand Canyon because of its wilderness.”
Trip Type: Raft
Duration: 1 day to 2 weeks.
When to Go: June and July is best for weather.
Skill Level: Beginner.
Getting There: Guides will pick you up at your Whitehorse hotel in the morning for the three-hour scenic drive through Kluane National Park to the put-in spot.
Getting Back: When your raft spills into the Pacific Ocean at Dry Bay, Alaska, your operator will have a scheduled chartered floatplane ready to fly you back to Whitehorse.
Don’t forget: All-weather wardrobe. It can get chilly and wet near the coast.
TRIP 2: THE WIND RIVER
The Wind is the most accessible of all six Peel rivers. It offers the easiest paddling with all the stunning, wide-open mountain scenery typical of the region. The water is clear and clean, the wildlife abundant, the hiking opportunities endless. “We pulled over on a gravel bar to watch a stand-off between a wolf and a straggling caribou,” says Rebecca Alderson, an Ottawa-based canoeist. “As I sat there and watched, I was breathless. It was like time stood still."
The river is fun to paddle, with only occasional Class I and II rapids, and is dotted with perfect gravel bar campsites along its length. Pick any ridge – the river is mostly above the treeline – and hike up as far as you wish: every step offers an even more jaw-dropping view across this scenic, expansive landscape. Yukon Wild guides are experts at making your trip comfortable and safe – plus will share stories about the culture and history of the area, including a visit to the site of the tragic “Lost Patrol.”
Trip Type: Canoe or raft.
Duration: 2-3 weeks.
When to Go: June to August.
Skill Level: Intermediate – you need to be comfortable canoeing Class II rapids. Beginner for rafting trips.
Getting There: Guides will pick you up in Whitehorse in the morning and shuttle you to the float plane base in Mayo, a four-hour drive north. From there, enjoy the spectacular 110-km flight into McCluskey Lake, at the top of the Wind River.
Getting Back: The Wind ends where it joins the larger, silty Peel River. You will paddle one full day on the Peel until you reach Taco Bar, a large gravel bar where your floatplane can land to pick you up.
Don’t Forget: Eye mask. You’re now in the far North, and the midnight sun can make it hard to get some winks at night.
TRIP 3: THE SNAKE RIVER
With exciting fun whitewater, and abundant, close-up wildlife, taking a trip down the Snake River transports you far from civilization to a powerful, magical place where unique mineralization causes rainbow-coloured mountains.
With plentiful class II rapids to navigate, plus a few class III sections you can choose to portage, the Snake demands increased attention and skill from the paddler – but also ups the fun factor. Hiking here is out-of-this-world with endless ridges beckoning you from the river’s edge. Most groups take a day or multi-day trip up into the fantastical Mount McDonald area.
In the heart of one of the largest unprotected wilderness areas left on the planet, the Snake offers up some truly life-altering wildlife sightings: from caribou herd river crossings to Dall sheep licking salt on a cliff above your head. “The wildlife sightings on the Snake were incredible,” says Torontonian tripper Scott McCormack. “We were watching a Northern Dipper singing and fishing in a waterfall when someone pointed out a wolverine scurrying across the alpine tundra. And this, just the day after wolves howling near our tents waking us up in the middle of the night.”
Trip Type: Canoe or Raft.
Duration: 2-3 weeks.
When to Go: June to August
Skill Level: Intermediate (can you paddle class II rapids?) for canoeing. Beginner for rafting trips.
Getting There: Guides will pick you up at your Whitehorse hotel in the morning and shuttle you to the float plane base in Mayo, a four-hour drive north. From there, enjoy the spectacular flight into mountain-rimmed Duo Lakes.
Getting Back: Paddle a short distance on the Peel River to Taco Bar to meet your floatplane. Guides will shuttle you back to Whitehorse from the base in Mayo. Longer trips are offered that continue along the Peel River for another week, ending in the small village of Fort McPherson at the top of the Dempster Highway.
Don’t forget: Binoculars. With such wide-open views and abundant wildlife, “field glasses” increase and enhance your sightings.
TRIP 4: THE YUKON RIVER
The Yukon River is North America’s third longest river and, until roads were built in the 40s, it was a travel corridor for First Nations, gold rush stampeders and early settlers. Along the way, your guides will share historical adventure stories and show you old cabins, boat wreckages, gold dredges and other storied relics along the river’s edge.
But it’s not just one long history lesson: The Yukon River offers rich wildlife sightings against a backdrop of rolling mountains and tall sandy cliffs. It’s also a flat, fast-moving river, making it appealing to beginners or those wishing to paddle it in a kayak. “Group trips on the Yukon are popular because there’s something to please everyone,” says guide Chris Pigden. “Beautiful scenery, perfect campsites, easy paddling, great history, culture and storytelling and tons of wildlife.”
All trips offered by Yukon Wild operators end at Dawson City, home of the great Klondike Gold Rush. Trips start at either Whitehorse, Lake Laberge, Carmacks or Minto Landing, depending on how many days you want your trip to be. Day trips out of Whitehorse are also popular.
Trip type: Canoe, kayak or raft.
Duration: 1 to 20 days, but most trips take a week.
When to Go: June to August. Skill Level: Beginner.
Getting There: Most trips start in Whitehorse, but your guides might shuttle everyone upriver if you choose a shorter trip.
Getting Back: Your operator will transport you back to Whitehorse from Dawson City down the Klondike Highway.
Don’t forget: Pierre Berton’s classic book Klondike.
WHILE YOU’RE UP HERE
Extend your stay and tack on another fun adventure to your paddling trip. The Yukon is packed with amazing stuff to do!
- A guided excursion on world-class mountain biking trails.
- Hiking mountains big or small: the options are endless.
- Boating the gorgeous Southern Lakes or fishing a mountain stream.
- ATV and 4x4 tours in the alpine.
- Trotting along a scenic trail by horseback.
Go with the experts. Yukon Wild operators know the best spots, have the top gear and save you time and hassle.
TRIP 5: THE BIG SALMON
The Big Salmon is the perfect trip for beginners or paddlers new to wilderness tripping who want to play it safe – but still has all the excitement, beauty and wilderness you’d expect. It’s also one of the most affordable wilderness canoe trips in the Yukon as there are no floatplanes involved.
It starts as a cozy, winding little river, traversing a series of large scenic lakes connected by fun fast-flowing sections. The river changes with every bend, from a quick section of fast water to clear views of the Pelly Mountains to sightings with moose or black bear. Day hikes are included in some tours, and if you’re into fishing be sure to bring a rod. The Big Salmon boasts excellent Arctic grayling and pike fishing – salmon too, if you time it with their spawning run. “If there’s an angler in the group, dinners on the Big Salmon almost always involve fish – even if it’s just for yummy appetizers,” says canoe-guide Kaelin Shea.
Trip type: Canoe.
Duration: 10 to 18 days.
When to Go: June to September.
Skill Level: Beginner, but fun for all levels.
Getting There: Guides will shuttle you from Whitehorse to the put-in at Quiet Lake, just off the scenic South Canol Highway.
Getting Back: After the Big Salmon merges with the mighty Yukon River, there’s a full-day paddle downstream before you arrive at the village of Carmacks. Hop on the shuttle van for the two-hour drive back to Whitehorse.
Don’t forget: Your fishing rod.
TRIP 6: THE TESLIN RIVER
A wide, fast but gentle river, the Teslin offers beautiful scenery, excellent campsites and plentiful moose and wolf habitat. As one of the Yukon River’s largest tributaries, canoe trips start at the river’s upper reaches, at the end of Teslin Lake where the Alaska Highway crosses the river. Once a route of the Klondike gold rush, your guides will tell campfire stories of the gold seekers’ misadventures and point out historical relics they left behind.
Don’t be mistaken: nature still reigns on the Teslin. You’ll be awed as it flows past tall sandy cliffs, gravel bars pock-marked with moose and wolf prints and many islands and sloughs favoured by moose. Keep your ears tuned for wolves howling. It’s a soundtrack to match the river’s haunting beauty. “I loved the number of animal tracks we saw on the Teslin,” says Terry Creamer, a paddler from Yukon. “Every time we pulled over, we would go looking for tracks, and try to figure out what story they told.”
Trip Type: Canoe.
Duration: 7 to 9 days.
When to Go: June to August.
Skill Level: Beginner.
Getting There: A short hour-and-a-half drive from Whitehorse, your put-in is at historic Johnson’s Crossing on the Alaska Highway.
Getting Back: Trips end either at Little Salmon Village or at Carmacks on the Yukon River. Guides will shuttle you back to Whitehorse via the Klondike Highway.
Don’t Forget: Your ID books for tracking or bird watching.