14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Whitehorse
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Whitehorse, like Dawson City, owes its existence to the Klondike Gold Rush, which began in 1897. Having survived the arduous and sometimes deadly journey from Skagway over White Pass, gold prospectors had to negotiate the Miles Canyon and Whitehorse rapids before descending the Yukon River to Dawson's riches.
From the first arrivals, a small settlement grew up on the river's right bank, opposite the present town. The seething, foaming waters of the rapids, rearing like white steeds, gave the settlement its name – Whitehorse. The rocks that caused the rapids are still there but are now peacefully submerged beneath the waters of Schwatka Lake, created when the river was dammed in 1958.
Home to 25,000 people – more than half the total population of Yukon – Whitehorse has grown into a major center for arts and culture in recent years. The small but lively territory capital is a hub of the north, standing at the intersection of the Alaska and Klondike Highways, and only about 80 kilometers north of the provincial border with British Columbia.
Find the best things to do in this small but fascinating city with our list of the top tourist attractions in Whitehorse.
See also: Where to Stay in Whitehorse
1. Tour the SS Klondike National Historic Site
The sternwheelers on the Yukon River remained the region's most important mode of transport for decades after the gold-rush. The SS Klondike II was the granddaddy of them all, the largest sternwheeler of the entire fleet.
It was not until 1955 that the SS Klondike II, built in 1936 from the original's engines, boiler, and other parts in 1937 after it sank, gave up carrying ore from the silver mines in Mayo to Whitehorse for onward shipment by road.
Today, the restored and refitted stern wheeler is a popular tourist attraction, welcoming visitors on the Yukon embankment in the town center. Guided tours are available and for those choosing to go on their own, be sure to grab a self-guided tour booklet.
Address: 10 Robert Service Way, Whitehorse, Yukon
Official site: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/yt/ssklondike
2. Explore Miles Canyon
Miles Canyon was once a treacherous portion of the Yukon River before a hydroelectric dam tamed the waters. Located where the river cut through a section of basalt rock, the rapids were a choke point for gold prospectors, and many supplies and lives were lost trying to pass the turbulent waters, a problem only solved after the building of a section of railroad that bypassed it.
Today, hiking trails and a scenic setting make the area a delight to explore. Also fun is visiting the site's 25-meter-long suspension bridge, built in 1922 and offering great river views. Best of all, this attraction is just a few minutes' drive from downtown Yellowknife.
3. See Native Animals at Yukon Wildlife Preserve
At the Yukon Wildlife Preserve just 30 minutes' drive from downtown Whitehorse, take a guided tour to see some of the many wonderful creatures that call the region home. These include moose, muskoxen, mountain goats, wood bison, mule deer, woodland caribou, elk, and two species of thinhorn sheep (Dall's and stone's sheep).
Covering more than 350 acres, the preserve has distinct habitats ranging from wetlands to cliffs that allow the animals to live–and be seen–in their natural environments. The preserve has also made a name for itself as a wildlife rehabilitation center.
As an alternative to the guided bus tours of the preserve, those interested in a great five-kilometer hike can make use of the trail network that loops around the site. It's especially fun to visit in winter, when many of these same trails are used for snowshoeing and cross country ski adventures.
Traveling with kids? The preserve hosts a variety of fun programming, including summer camps and nature workshops.
Address: Kilometer 8 (mile 5), Takhini Hot Springs Road, Whitehorse, Yukon
Official site: www.yukonwildlife.ca/
4. Watch the Northern Lights
If you're able to time your visit to Whitehorse for the months of January through to early April, you won't even have to leave the city to witness the spectacular Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. That said, for optimal viewing of this remarkable cosmic display, it's best to try to leave the city lights behind you and head for the hills.
One of the best ways to do this is as part of an organized evening aurora viewing in Whitehorse. This fun four-hour adventure includes pickup at your hotel as part of a small-group guided tour experience that takes you to a remote viewing location in the wilderness, far from artificial light, to maximize your viewing pleasure. Drinks and snacks are provided.
5. Whitehorse Fishladder & Hatchery
Once the ice has begun to break up in the spring, Chinook salmon hurry upstream from the Pacific Ocean to their Yukon River spawning grounds. Some even journey as far as Whitehorse, taking about 60 days to cover the 3,000-kilometer trek. Visitors can watch this amazing spectacle as these magnificent fish climb the Whitehorse Fishladder and Hatchery, provided for them to bypass the Whitehorse Rapids hydroelectric dam.
The longest such structure in the world, the site also has an interpretation center that offers plenty of info regarding the fish and their journey, as well as an underwater window and viewing platforms to enjoy the experience.
Located just a short distance away, the fish hatchery was established in 1984 and plays an important role in protecting and replenishing the Yukon's stocks of Chinook and other fish species including arctic char and rainbow trout. Afterwards, seafood lovers can also enjoy a wide variety of salmon delicacies at local restaurants in Yellowknife.
Address: Nisutlin Drive, Whitehorse, Yukon
6. MacBride Museum of Yukon History
The MacBride Museum of Yukon History has a large collection of relics and photographs from the gold-rush days, as well as displays relating to the Yukon First Nations. Notable exhibits include a log cabin belonging to Sam McGee – about whom Robert Service, the "Bard of the Yukon," wrote a famous ballad. There are also numerous bits of old machinery and implements, as well as an interesting display on the wildlife of Yukon.
Of special interest is the original Whitehorse telegraph office, forever a part of the newer museum building, which was literally built around (and over) it. If visiting in the summer months, be sure to look into scoring tickets for the museum's popular music festival.
Part of the MacBride's collection, the MacBride Waterfront Trolley is a fun family-friendly attraction that appeals to all ages. The star of the show is a fully-restored 1925 trolley that, nearly 100 years after being built, is again taking passengers for a ride along the Whitehorse waterfront.
Address: 1124 Front Street, Whitehorse, Yukon
Official site: http://www.macbridemuseum.com/
7. Old Log Church Museum
Erected in 1900 and one of the first Anglican churches to be established in Yukon, the Old Log Church Museum offers an insight into the establishment of the Christian faith in the territory. Highlights include displays and artifacts focusing on the pioneer days and the role of religion during this period, with guided tours provided daily throughout the summer.
Tours typically follow a variety of themes, including the history of the Anglican Church in Yukon, and the contributions of women during this period of time. Special kids tours are also available.
Address: 303 Elliott Street, Whitehorse, Yukon
Official site: www.oldlogchurchmuseum.ca
8. Yukon Transportation Museum
The Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse displays examples of early means of transportation in the region, including snowshoes, dog sleds, stagecoaches, boats, aircraft, and vehicles used during the construction of the Alaska Highway.
One of the highlights is the sister plane of Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, the Queen of the Yukon. Also of interest are the personal stories of Yukon ingenuity and self-sufficiency. Excellent 40-minute tours of the museum are available with advance booking, and kids programs are also available. There's also an on-site gift shop.
Address: 30 Electra Crescent, Whitehorse, Yukon
Official site: http://goytm.ca/
9. Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre
Beringia is believed to be the route traveled by the first people who entered North America from Asia, and was known to have been a region of giant animals and large open plains. At the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, the area's history, geographical events, and culture are illustrated through fossils, First Nation exhibits, murals, and dioramas.
Free 30-minute guided tours are available, and are highly recommended, and offer an overview of the facility, its collections, and research–those wanting a longer and more in-depth tour can also be catered to.
Address: Kilometer 1423 (Mile 886), Alaska Hwy, Whitehorse, Yukon
Official site: http://www.beringia.com/
10. Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre
A visit to the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (KDCC) offers visitors a chance to learn more about the first people to have settled the area, the Kwanlin Dün. In addition to serving as both a meeting spot and a place to celebrate the Kwanlin Dün First Nation's rich cultural heritage and history, the facility also serves as a convention center.
Of note here for visitors is the sizeable collection of rare Kwanlin Dün cultural artifacts, along with the opportunity to experience performances of traditional music, dance, and storytelling. Indigenous art is also on display, with rotating exhibits from a variety of local and other artists from across Canada.
Address: 1171 Front Street, Whitehorse, Yukon
Official site: http://kwanlindunculturalcentre.com
11. Enjoy a Soak at Takhini Hot Springs
Located just a short drive from downtown Whitehorse, the Takhini Hot Springs are worth visiting and are a popular attraction for visitors and locals alike. Known for their therapeutic and curative traits–as well as being odorless–the hot springs have been used by humans for centuries.
These days, the experience is quite refined, with guests having a choice of two pools to relax in, each at different temperatures. The hot pool features water at 42 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees cooler than when it reaches the surface), while the cool side boasts a comfortable 36 degrees Celsius. To make the most of your visit, consider a stay at the on-site hostel or on the campgrounds located here.
The hot springs have new management and a planned reopening in 2021 after significant renovations.
Address: 10 KM/ Mile 6 Takhini Hotsprings Road, Whitehorse, Yukon
Official site: http://www.takhinihotsprings.com
12. Take a Town Tour
Whitehorse is full of history dating back to the gold rush days, and much of it is just waiting to be discovered. Fortunately, the Yukon Historical & Museums Association provides information on three self-guided tours. Choose one of the three, or all of them, and just download the audio program to your mobile phone. If you have a printer, be sure to print off the accompanying map.
If you don't have a way to print the map, swing by the office, and they'll provide one to you free of charge. The program will guide you throughout the city providing interesting insights along the way.
Other options for touring the city are by bus, horse-drawn carriage, or aboard the M.V. Schwatka to Miles Canyon and Schwatka Lake.
Address: 3126 Third Avenue, Whitehorse, Yukon
Official site: www.heritageyukon.ca
13. Yukon Arts Centre
The Yukon Arts Centre (YAC) in Whitehorse is a multi-use arts facility that features arts events, local performing groups, dance and theater companies, as well as local and traveling art exhibitions. Over the years, the Yukon Arts Center has collected over 100 works by local and other Canadian artists, from painters to musicians, can be seen in the facility's permanent collection.
A fun series of kids' programming is presented throughout the year, and is worth looking into for those traveling with kids.
Address: 300 College Drive, Whitehorse, Yukon
Official site: http://yukonartscentre.com
14. Yukon Government Building
Decorated with tapestries and paintings produced in Yukon, the Territorial Government Building is well worth a visit if you're undertaking a self-guided walking tour of Whitehorse (it's often included on guided tours). Much of what can be seen by the public can be enjoyed as part of a brief stopover. Of particular interest is the lobby-long mural of stained glass, a feature that's particularly worth seeing.
The building is located across the street from the tourist information center, so it's easy to pop in for a look.
Address: 2071 Second Avenue, Whitehorse, Yukon
15. Emerald Lake
If you are heading south towards Carcross, or are just looking for an afternoon outing on a sunny day, be sure to stop in at Emerald Lake. This spectacular lake is the most amazing color green on a calm day. Photographers will be in their element trying to capture the reflections of the surrounding hills in its clear waters. To get the most ideal picture, be sure to go early in the day.
Emerald Lake is just over 60 kilometers down Highway 2; it should take about 40 minutes to get there. The lake will be on your right if you are coming from Whitehorse.
Where to Stay in Whitehorse for Sightseeing
For those planning on visiting the top attractions in Whitehorse in Yukon, we recommend these centrally located hotels as a convenient base to see this fun northern city's top sights and points of interest.
- Don't be deceived by its rather plain exterior: the Edgewater Hotel is a classy boutique-style luxury hotel boasting a great central location in the heart of Whitehorse. In addition to being close to the city's top attractions, rooms and suites offer Yukon River views, modern décor, feather bedding, and wonderful staff.
- Within walking distance of Whitehorse International Airport, the appropriately named SKKY Hotel features chic modern rooms, granite bathrooms (plus heated floors), along with a number of larger suites with expanded living areas and fireplaces.
- Although it's not in Whitehorse–it's a 20-minute drive to the southeast on Hwy 1–the Northern Lights Resort & Spa offers great luxury accommodations in its custom-built log cabins, each with kitchens, fireplaces, and access to a spa with a sauna and outdoor hot tub.
- Although the Coast High Country Inn verges on the luxury accommodation side of things, it offers great mid-range pricing and excellent customer service, an option of updated rooms with kitchenettes and Jacuzzis, plus a free airport shuttle.
- Also worth checking into, the Best Western Gold Rush Inn features comfortable rooms, an Aveda hair studio and day spa, plus a fitness room.
- Topping the list of favorite affordable accommodations in Whitehorse, The Town and Mountain Hotel is set in a convenient location with clean rooms and ample free parking.
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