Solo travel to Whitehorse in Canada's Yukon delivered more and less than expected.
I went to Whitehorse for a number of reasons.
- It's Canada's 150th birthday and while I had already been to every province in Canada I had not visited any of the three territories.
- Like almost everyone who goes to Whitehorse in the winter, I wanted to see the drama of the Aurora Borealis, the northern lights.
- I wanted a cold destination. I have found that if I go somewhere warm in winter I return home and resent the cold for the rest of the season. If I stay in the cold I appreciate and embrace it at home as well.
On my trip to Whitehorse, two of my three reasons for going were satisfied. There was one big disappointment but also a few surprising discoveries.
The Disappointment and the Biggest Surprise
I've written before about how much I enjoy small town travel. But there are no small towns/cities as special as those that are also capitals of states, provinces, and territories. Like Whitehorse, these small towns have extra resources poured into them for culture, museums, music, and theater, for beautification with walking paths and gardens and for recreational and community resources. A large percentage of the population of Whitehorse were not born there. They chose to move there because of the city's big heart and the lifestyle it offers.
However, as a tourist, it helps if the weather is with you. For most of my week in Whitehorse it wasn't. I had a few hours of sunshine late one afternoon and half of the next day. For the rest of my six day stay it was overcast or snowing. In fact, this year there was much more snow than usual and most of March's average snowfall happened when I was there. As a result, I didn't see the Northern Lights. I was unlucky.
However, I was very lucky to discover a vibrant French community there. / Toutefois, j'ai eu beaucoup de chance de trouver une communauté française dynamique là-bas.
I was very lucky in that I got to speak French every day except one on this trip. This was a huge bonus for me as I wasn't expecting it at all and my resolution for the year is to become fluent in French. Read about it here: A Language School Experience: Solo and Very Social. I encountered French speakers almost everywhere I went. And, as with most small towns, I found Whitehorse friendly so to engage them in my struggle to become bilingual was easy. I went to a French music night in a cafe and stopped by the Association franco-yukonnaise where they hold dinners every Friday night.
6 Days in Whitehorse: What I Did and What I Spent
I arrived in Whitehorse after a very long day of flying. First it was an 8:00 am flight from Toronto to Vancouver, then a two-hour layover, followed by a two-hour flight to Whitehorse. Thanks to the time change I got in at 3:30 pm, picked up my rental car and drove to Hidden Valley B&B. I had booked accommodation outside the city for two nights with hopes of walking out the door in the middle of the night to see the northern lights. As mentioned, the weather didn't deliver that opportunity. The car I rented for two days of long drives through spectacular scenery was a bit of a waste as well as that scenery was obscured by a veil of snow.
However, all was not lost. Thanks to the car I:
- Went to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and enjoyed the 5 km walk looking for the animals. The arctic fox was particularly entertaining.
- Visited the Takhini Hot Pools which are open to the public year-round. In the same complex is a cafe, a campground, and a hostel. The latter two are not open year-round. Just down the road is Bean North Coffee Roasting Co. which I heard great things about.
- Drove to Carcross, a community south of Whitehorse that would be spectacular in sunshine.
- Drove up the Alaska Highway. Again, the weather wasn't with me but it is an iconic route and I was on it.
- Got a sense of the scale of the north. It's hard to know a place without getting a sense of the geography and the car allowed me to do this.
- Had a spectacular meal of Alaskan King Crab and Digby Scallops by chef Scott at Hidden Valley. This meal had been planned for another guest and I got to join in.
When I didn't have the car I:
- Walked the Millennium Trail.
- Visited the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. “The vision of the Centre is to revive, preserve, and demonstrate our language, practices, values and traditional way of life for the benefit of Kwanlin Dün people. We also want to share our culture with other First Nations and people from around the world.”
- Toured the MacBride Museum which tells the history of the area primarily from the time of the gold rush.
- Relaxed at a variety of great coffee shops including Baked and Midnight Sun Coffee Roast which is located in the back of a bike shop.
- Went to an international curling bonspiel at the Whitehorse Curling Club, met some people and gained a whole new understanding of the game.
- Meals. I'd recommend Baked for lunch. I had a fabulous soup there. For dinner, try Sanchez Cantina. It was delicious.
What I missed due to the time of year or weather:
- The Transportation Museum. Transportation is a huge issue for the north and the technology behind it greatly affects its history.
- Cross country skiing. You can rent skis from the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club and use their trails for $35 per day.
- The Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre. The Beringia is a 3200 km landmass stretching from Siberia to the Mackenzie River in Canada. It's of interest to archaeologists and paleontologists as it played a crucial role in the migrations of many animals and humans between Asia and the Americas.
So, to return to my one disappointment for a moment, I must say that in preparation for the Aurora Borealis, I learned how to use my camera much better. That's a bonus. I'm ready for the next opportunity.
What I Spent for 6 Days (Canadian Dollars)
Flight – $889.47
Car rental – $160.26 + $31.09 in gas
Hidden Valley B&B – 2 nights, $262.50
Coast High Country Hotel – 3 nights, $424.32 (including tax and two breakfasts)
Food – $240.00
Activities – Yukon Wildlife Preserve, $25; McBride Museum, $10