About This Guide
We spent a month traveling in Yukon, it’s certainly not enough to make us experts on the topic 🙂 Our goal is simply to share our experience and our recommendations, and the content below is highly biased towards the things we love: van life, mountain biking and hiking! So make sure to check other resources as well during your planning (e.g. travelyukon.com, yukonhiking.ca, etc). Happy travels! -Isabelle and Antoine
Interactive Map Of Our Trip:
Driving To Yukon By Road
There are two highways to get to Yukon by land: Stewart-Cassiar Highway (37) or Alaska Highway (1). Both work, so choose either one of them depending on where you are coming from. Or even better: drive one on your way up and the other on your way down!
Road Conditions in Yukon
Both the Stewart-Cassiar Highway and the Alaska Highway are in relatively good conditions. It’s paved all the way, but be ready for some gravel, potholes, wildlife crossing and mountain driving (steep grades and curves) on some sections. It can totally be done with a big rig (class A motorhome), we saw MANY of them on our way.
It’s Far Out!
Both the Stewart-Cassiar Highway and the Alaska Highway are very remote (especially the Stewart-Cassiar). We thought we experienced the feeling of being “in the middle of nowhere” in Mexico and in the US desert, but it’s never been so strong when driving into the Yukon! Because it’s so remote and there’s no cell phone signal most of the time, carrying a spare tire is highly recommended.
Carrying a jerry can is not mandatory (many people do), but be aware that there are very few gas stations along the way (and some of them are sometimes closed). On our way up on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, we pretty much stopped at every single one of them to make sure (and we’re glad we did)! Before heading into the unknown, find the driving directions in Google Maps (e.g. driving directions for Watson Lake, YT) and search for “gas” using the “Search along route” feature (it’s the little magnifier icon, it appears after you hit “directions” in Google Maps app). It should look a bit like this (keep in mind these are roughly a 10 hour drive):
Cell Phone Signal
On the Stewart-Cassiar, there is no cell phone signal. That’s almost a 10 hour drive without any signal, a rare thing these days! So we recommend downloading offline maps before heading out. More info about that later on this page (under “Cell Phone Coverage” section).
We didn’t see much wildlife on the Steward-Cassiar Highway; a few occasional black bears. Wildlife seeing seems more likely on the Alaska Highway (elks, mooses, bisons, mountain goats):
Weather And When To Go
For more info on seasons (weather, activities, etc.), check out travelyukon.com/en/discover/seasons .
Cell Phone Coverage in Yukon
When traveling to, and in Yukon, be prepared to spend most of your time out of cell phone signal! The green areas on the map below show areas with cell phone coverage (Telus, as of 2021):
Tip: Download Offline Maps
By downloading offline maps, you’ll be able to search and get directions when you’re out of cell phone signal. We highly recommend it! Here is how to download offline maps in Google Maps:
Step 1: Click on your picture (Upper-Right Corner):
Step 2: Click on “Offline Maps” in this menu:
Step 3: Click on “Select your own map”:
Step 4: Select the area and click “Download”:
Note: there’s a limit on the area that can be downloaded at once, but you can download multiple maps to get a full coverage (repeat step 3 and step 4 multiple times).
Dealing With The Midnight Sun
At the height of the summer season, the sun sets just before midnight (travelyukon.com/en/things-to-do/article/midnight-sun). It’s definitely an amazing experience and a highlight, however it makes having a good night of sleep a struggle. We had a few days (week) of insomnia at first, as we would stay outside until it was time to go to bed. Being exposed to the sun, it’s like our body didn’t get any “signal” that it’s time to start shutting down… To fix this, we took the habit of going into the van, in the dark, some time before going to bed. It helped!
We highly recommend getting something opaque to cover your windows, otherwise you might suffer from insomnia too. If you have a Transit, Sprinter or a ProMaster, then we can’t recommend insulated window covers enough (Buy on VanMadeGear.com); we LOVE ours! They are insulated, they match the contour of the windows and are opaque so there is no light leak, and the magnets all around the edge make it very easy to install/remove:
Dealing With The Mosquitos
Okay, it’s time for an important disclosure. All the cool Instagram shots that we shared during our trip in Yukon, it’s mostly fake. We’re guilty of creating an alternate reality that’s much better than the real world. How? By Photoshoping all the mosquitos out of the pictures: each photo took hours of post-processing, but we were able to make it looks like you can just freely enjoy yourself in Yukon 😂
Seriously though, mosquitos are a BIG FRIGGIN DEAL in the Yukon (mosquito season is from June to August, the severity varies from year to year depending on the weather). If you pictured yourself hanging out calmly by the lake, or relaxing reading a book outside your van, sorry but that’s not how it works! Mosquitos are everywhere (it’s fine in Whitehorse actually!) and they are by the THOUSANDS. It can get very irritating and very frustrating, so come prepared with bug spray. We really don’t like spraying ourselves with that nasty stuff, but here in Yukon, we found the hard way that bug spray is not optional.
We really, really, put our Van Mosquito Screens to good use here in the Yukon. Temperature can get quite hot during the day, and the sun shines until late, so having the option of leaving the doors open really helped with venting (and our comfort). We absolutely love our Mosquito Screens (faroutride.com/mosquito-screens) and used them a lot (even out of Yukon), so that’s an upgrade we will definitely do on our next van as well:
We have a full article about Mosquito Screens, click the button below to read it!
Finding OVernight Camp Spots
The rapid rise of Van Life popularity comes with a few downsides: cool overnight spots are often full, and many towns now have bylaws to proscribe occupying a parked vehicle (the fines are steep). We kind of feel like we’re not welcome anywhere these days 🙁
In the Yukon, Van Life has that “good vibe” feeling, and we actually felt welcome! We managed to find really cool spots “down by the river” during most of our stay. Indeed, Yukon is “larger than life” and that means there’s room for everyone! Here are how we found most of our overnight camping spots:
This is our favorite app to find overnight van life spots (we use it to find fresh water as well!).
Use the satellite view to find potential spots. It’s more work than iOverlander, but it’s very rewarding!
We normally avoid paid campgrounds, but the $12 CAD fee includes unlimited firewood (you’ll need an axe to split the wood). Take my money!
Mountain Biking In Yukon
Mountain biking is pretty amazing in Yukon, but because it’s so far away, it’s hard to justify going there if mountain biking is the only activity on your agenda… That being said, Yukon is definitely a destination if it’s seen as a multi-activity destination: biking, hiking, sightseeing, etc. Here are our favorite rides and recommendations, hope that helps planning your own trip!
About Our Favorite Rides
Mountain biking is a varied sport, and that’s a good thing. Some people prefer climbing, some people prefer descending. There is no right or wrong, the only thing that matters is to have fun! Personally, we like challenging and technical descents; the steeper the better! So obviously, our favorite rides below reflect that…
Northern British COlumbia
There are a few gems on your way to/from Yukon (via the Stewart-Cassiar Highway):
The trail networks in town (Trailforks) seem to be more popular, but we had a blast at Desous (Trailforks). The trails are STEEP (you’ve been warned) and LOOSE (in a good way). “So Long” and “Prime and Endless” are long descents (850m elevation loss) that will take you down the Fraser River, loved it! You can climb back up with “Shiney Badger”, or shuttle back up with your vehicle. You can camp for free at the Desous Recreation Site Campground (here). Check out Yuka’s video for a preview of our ride (7m45 into the video):
Pidherny Recreation Site (Trailforks) is worth spending a day of riding. Yuka has a complete video about the ride we did there, it’s worth a thousand words…
Burns Lake is a small village with big ambitions! The trails are really good and totally worth spending a day or two (there is also a free campground and lake at the trailhead). Watch BCpov’s video for a good overview:
Smithers is a lovely town, so park your vehicle and have a walk downtown (don’t miss Paul’s Bakery, The Sausage Factory and Smithers Brewing Co). There are a few days of riding to be had, but again we’ll let Yuka do the work for us:
We came to Terrace in March 2019 for skiing (Check out March 2019 “Tales From The Road“), but Terrace also has excellent mountain biking! It’s a coastal town (with coastal climate), so the forest and the terrain reminds us of Squamish. Copper Mountain (Trailforks) is where you’ll find the “Enduro” trails.
A non-technical climb that will take you up Grey Mountain in the alpine. The 360 degree view is simply amazing, enjoy! Fun fact: the dream mountain biking trail is still a work in progress, and it will eventually go across the ridge all the way to Money Shot. The descent is fast and flowy. To spice things up, make a small detour into “The Gnar Wall” (short double-black trail).
We parked a van at the top (here) and another one at Chadburn lake (here). A “peak-to-lake” technical descent that starts in the alpine, but it gets easier and more XC from SFD. Enjoy the swim at the end of the ride! We had a good time exploring the blue waters for a few hours on our standup paddleboard, highly recommended!
Haeckel Hill DH
If you like steep and loose descent, you’ll enjoy this trail! We managed to shuttle the whole thing with our vans (Ford Transit RWD, and a U-Haul rental), but the road is steep and rocky.
Mount Sima Bike Park
We enjoyed Mount Sima bike park so much, we went three times during our trip! The trails here don’t see much traffic, so the dirt is absolutely amazing; where else can you get chairlift access to some excellent loamers?! It’s really worth it in our opinion, even if you’re not really into bike parks. You need to book online in advance (mountsima.com/bike-park).
Blown Away to Kid Vicious
Easy (blue) to Hard (double-black)
Another excellent adventure into the alpine; the name “Blown Away” says it all! It starts quite mellow in the alpine, then turn into a root fest (but it’s not really steep, expect having to pedal most of the way down). Kid Vicious had p-e-r-f-e-c-t dirt when we were there, it was an absolute blast (we would rate it as a black, rather than double-black). We also managed to shuttle this ride with our vans (parking at the top here), but there were some really “technical” sections…
And more from our friend Yuka:
An epic adventure into the alpine, with breathtaking views all along. Mountain Hero was definitely a highlight! Bring plenty of food and water, it’s a big ride. Most of the climb is a double-track, but the view keeps on getting better so it’s a good motivation to keep pedaling! The descent wasn’t that great to be honest, but that’s OK; it’s all about the adventure! We parked a van here (the road is really good), and the other van here.
Others (Montana Mountain)
Montana Mountain is an excellent trail network, a must-ride in the Yukon! Upper/lower Wolverine and Grizzly Bear were our favorite trails. As a bonus, Carcross is a sweet little village; the bakery has excellent food and coffee. We stayed at Tagish First Nation Campground ($12, free firewood).
Dawson city is a very special place, it’s like it got stuck in the gold-rush era… Definitely worth spending some time there. And as a bonus, the mountain biking scene is great and still getting better. The Midnight Dome is where it’s at: there’s a paved road all the way to the top (it’s worth driving up there for the view alone). Paydirt and Dome Dive are really cool tech trails, while Hammarstrand is a nice machine-built blue jump line. We were lucky to be there during the first Midnight Dome Enduro Race, two shuttles were provided during the race so we couldn’t pass on that!
Hiking In Yukon
There is incredible hiking in Yukon! Below are a few options we really enjoyed.
- YukonHiking.ca (extensive and comprehensive guide).
- All Trails app (because cell coverage is poor in Yukon, consider getting the PRO version for offline use).
Kluane National Park
A steep and loose climb (and descent) onto King’s Throne. The view is absolutely breathtaking! It’s apparently one of the most popular trail in Kluane National Park.
We personally preferred Sheep Creek over King’s Throne. We were amazed by the various landscapes; we sometimes felt like we were in Utah (desert-style landscape), then in Scotland (green round hills), then in Alaska (rugged big mountains). As a bonus, we shared the peak with a few Dall Sheep which was very enjoyable 🙂
Thombstone Territorial Park
Grizzly Ridge Trail
This is one of the most popular trails in Tombstone Territorial Park, and for a good reason. Within an hour you get a view of Mount Monolith at the end of Grizzly Valley. The trail is well established, and you can continue along the ridge towards Grizzly Lake for as long as you like.
We recently traded our winter gear (see our Winter Van Life Guide) for a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP), and we’re glad we did. Lakes in the Yukon are famous for their turquoise blue and green waters, it’s just spectacular to paddle. Amongst our favorites was Boya Lake (that’s actually in British Columbia on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway), Emerald Lake (near Carcross) and Chadburn Lake (Whitehorse).
Did you know that Carcross is home to the “smallest desert in the world”? Some locals also call it the “glorified sand pit”… Whatever you want to call it, it’s worth checking it out!
We had an amazing time traveling to the Yukon in our van, and hopefully this guide helps you planning your own trip! See you on the road 🙂
All Tales From The Road :