While most of North America has been criss-crossed by roads and railways, 80 per cent of the Yukon remains ‘virgin territory’.
One of three northern Canadian territories, the Yukon is situated in the northwest corner of Canada’s continental mainland, directly north of the Province of British Columbia, to the east of Alaska and west of the Northwest Territories. Its northern border touches the Arctic Ocean.
As many of the world’s wilderness adventure playgrounds are groaning under the burden of inhabitants and visitors, the Yukon remains unspoiled, uncluttered and uncrowded.
A major gold strike in 1896 forever transformed the area and in the summer of that year, an adventurous group of prospectors discovered gold on a small tributary of the Klondike River.
About 100,000 fortune seekers headed to the area after gold was discovered in 1896.
However, most of the stampede of prospectors got little for their hard work.
The Klondike Gold Rush has been immortalised in photographs, books, films, and artefacts.
Tales of fist-sized gold nuggets filled saloons across North America and around the world.
Ships started sailing north from Seattle to Skagway in 1897 and on board were men and women of all ages and characters eager to strike their bounty in the Klondike’s goldfields.
With the arrival of thousands of gold seekers, a sprawling tent city sprung up at the junction of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers.
Dawson City earned the status of Paris of the North within a few years of the first gold strike.
Today, Dawson has a colourful history and a thriving artistic and cultural scene. Restored buildings and raised boardwalks line Dawson streets and vaudeville tunes are played robustly in cafes and restaurants.
You can still try your hand at gold panning and take walks with Parks Canada to view more than 30 historic sites.
The Alaska Canada Military Highway, which runs down the west coast, was built in 1942 after the U.S. and Canadian governments deemed it necessary to defend the area from the growing Japanese threat in the Pacific.
Construction started at Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and moved through the Yukon to Delta Junction, Alaska
The road was built through virgin wilderness in eight months and 12 days and is regarded as one of the great engineering achievements of the 20th century.
The region’s capital is Whitehorse, which is nestled on the banks of the mighty Yukon River, the second largest in Canada and runs for 3185km.
It has a rich history of European explorers and sternwheelers and is a popular canoeing trip as well as one of the longest routes on the continent for migrating salmon. Fort Selkirk is a restored heritage site on the Yukon River.
In winter, dog mushers racing in the Yukon Quest travel along the frozen River in their quest to complete the toughest sled dog race in the world.
Bear watchers will enjoy the Yukon as it is home to all three of Canada’s species. Polar Bears wander the shores of the Beaufort Sea, while Grizzlys and Black Bears roam vast territories of forest and tundra in search of food.
The Kluane National Park is home to Grizzlys, glaciers and wildflowers. Dall sheep, moose, wolves and mountain goats are also found in the park.
The Yukon is also the ancestral home to 14 different First Nations, speaking eight distinct Aboriginal languages.
The first people of the Yukon were hunters and gatherers who lived on the land and many continue to practice the traditional lifestyle of smoking and drying fish, berry picking and tanning hides.
The Dempster Highway is one of the world’s great adventure drives, a remote 750km all-season gravel road that traverses mountain passes, sub-arctic tundra and the Arctic Circle.
The famous highway is well maintained but can present challenging driving conditions for travellers who must be prepared for minimal services and maximum adventure.
In late summer, the tundra along the highway turns red and yellow as frosts start to nip the vegetation.
Wintertime visitors to the Yukon are often treated to the magical sight of undulating ribbons in the night sky, the incredible aurora borealis.
Swaying streamers of pale green, blue and pink light arch and dance, fade in and out and according to some even make a crackling sound.
The Northern Lights have inspired many myths and legends.
The Yukon enjoys some of the most predictable and lively displays of aurora in the circumpolar north.
Always present, the faint aurora light is most visible around midnight but hard to see during the day.
You might first see a hint of neon colour, then a jagged burst of green, and soon you’re transfixed by shimmering aurora - every appearance of the northern lights is special and unique.
Published under license from Well Travelled