Exploring Yukon’s northern skies

By Tess van Straaten

Seeing the northern lights and watching the magical and mythical aurora borealis dance across the night sky has always been a bucket list item for me. So when I was asked if I wanted to go to the Yukon for the weekend, I jumped at the chance!

“We actually have one of the longest aurora seasons in the world, from late August until early April, so people don’t have to brave the cold for them,” explains Tourism Yukon marketing coordinator Jennifer Glyka, a rare born-and-raised Yukoner.

Flying into Whitehorse in mid-October, I ask for a window seat — eager to see the expansive and breathtaking territory for the first time. There are stunning mountains and a multitude of pristine lakes and rivers and with a total population of just over 38,000, the Yukon has two times more moose than people.

When we land, it’s snowing and the heavy cloud cover doesn’t bode well for seeing the lights on our first night. Famished, we head to The Deck Restaurant, aptly named as it has one of the largest outdoor patios in the city. It’s also famous for its gold rush era relics, quirky signs and interesting memorabilia. My friend, Andrea, and I both order the lunch special — Alaskan rockfish burgers and a spicy Creole fish soup. It’s delicious and would rival any big city eatery.

With the skies clearing, I head out on foot to explore Whitehorse. It’s a short stroll to Main Street to peruse interesting shops and the nearby MacBride Museum of Yukon History. I follow the paved Millennium Trail, a five-kilometre loop along the mighty Yukon River, back to our hotel and stop at the SS Klondike. The famous paddle steamer ran freight to Dawson City decades ago and is now a national historic site.

With the northern lights still eluding us, we decide to go on a wildlife and hot springs tour. Our guide from Northern Tales, Tom Thurmer, has been doing wilderness tours for more than 25 years and it’s clearly his passion.

“What I love most about the Yukon is the wilderness — the vast, unspoiled wilderness,” says Thurmer, who moved to the Yukon from Germany 30 years ago.

He’s taking us to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, a 700-acre preserve about 30 minutes north of the city that has more than 12 species of northern and arctic animals and guarantees sightings. As soon as we pull up at the park gate, I see a massive bison sauntering ahead of us and a big elk bull to our left. I can’t wait to get out of the van to start taking pictures.

The animals are in their own habitat, but many come close to the fence and we’re able to get very close to a bull moose sitting under a tree, a huge and hairy mountain goat, majestic elk travelling in family groups, curious mule deer chomping on orange peels, a Canadian lynx waiting to pounce on its prey and an adorable arctic fox who’s fur is turning white so it blends in with the snow. We also watch large thinhorn sheep lying in snow, showing off their impressive curled horns.

Thurmer is a wealth of knowledge and explains why a male muskox is pacing back and forth (he was trying to find a way to get to the females), shows us the difference between elk, deer and moose antlers, and points out caribou hiding among the trees. By the end of the afternoon, we’ve seen 11 different northern species.

Exhilarated — but freezing despite a parka and snow boots — we head to nearby Takhini Hot Springs. A popular spot for locals and tourists alike, the outdoor thermal mineral pool is fed by a natural hot spring. As we walk into the pool, steam is rising off the surface and snow is falling down on us, a truly magical end to our trip. And while we may not have seen the northern lights, there’s always next time.

Just Posted

Iconic Victoria rock music archivist ready to pass the torch

Royal City Music Project co-founder Glenn Parfitt wants valuable cultural material preserved

Editorial: when are Vancouver Island communities going to say no to increased taxes?

Local governments are finding it too easy to continually say “just a little more”

Big Lonely Doug protected along with 53 of his closest friends

Classic Vancouver Island tree among B.C’s largest old-growth trees now on protection list

Chinook retention begins on Vancouver Island, but amid new size limit

DFO calls measures ‘difficult but necessary’ following rockslide on Fraser River

VIDEO: Sparrows raise their chicks in Cadboro Bay deck planter

Jill Yoneda captured 11 days up close with tiny Junco sparrows

Pamela Anderson adds star power to B.C. Green Party town hall

Celebrity attended Nanaimo meeting with representatives from U.S.-based environmental group

‘Charismatic violent offender’ to be sentenced in Nanaimo drug debt tasering

Colin Damen Gary Lamontagne pleaded guilty to charges, including aggravated assault

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to make public transit announcement in Victoria on Thursday

Trudeau is speaking at a campaign countdown event in downtown Victoria

Victoria car show’s ferry event a highlight for arriving hot-rodders

Thursday’s grand opening event one of several planned for Northwest Deuce Days

Gas price inquiry questions Trans Mountain capacity, company denies collusion

The first of up to four days of oral hearings in the inquiry continue in Vancouver

Victoria Police make contact with cyclist seen clipped in dashcam video

The cyclist reached out to VicPD after the video was shared online

Will you be celebrating national hotdog day with any of these crazy flavours?

The popularity of hotdogs spans generations, cultures

‘Benzos’ and fentanyl a deadly cocktail causing a growing concern on B.C. streets

Overdoses caused by benzodiazepines can’t be reversed with opioid-overdose antidote naloxone

Most Read