Whenever I tell someone where I’m from (Yellowknife!) when traveling in Canada, for some reason, they think I’m from the Yukon. Later in our conversation I correct them as I hear them telling others that I’m from Whitehorse. Ask anyone from Yellowknife- we all encounter this problem when we tell people where we are from. I’m sure it has something to do with the colours in both names of the cities- and perhaps that the Yukon and Whitehorse are a little more well known than Yellowknife. The funny thing is, while everyone else thinks I am from the Yukon, until last month, I’d never even been there! I’ve been geographical neighbors with the Yukon for over 25 years and yet, until this past November I had never set foot insider her borders – it was simply too expensive to fly and too far to drive. The north isn’t like the South you see, with massive highways connecting everyone and everything. Up here, the highways are smaller, more meandering, less maintained, and half the time are actually just dirt roads. Because of the Canadian Shield and the Mountain ranges, the roads have to work around nature, rather than take a straight line through it. You also have to take gas in a jerry can with you on the road, as gas stations are few and very far between. And if you break down on our highways there’s a chance you may not see another person for quite a long time, so without a wonderfully reliable car, it’s not a trek you should venture to take lightly.
But alas! A new airline- Air North- began operating flights to connect the North with its neighbors at very affordable prices. I would have been looking at close to $800 for a return trip to Whitehorse from Yellowknife before Air North came around. In August I snagged a seat sale for $260. The flight schedule is a quick in and out- you arrive Friday at 4pm and head back home Sunday at 2pm, but it’s the perfect amount of time for a quick weekend getaway into the mountains. My two friends, Anthony and Marie Claude and I, booked our tickets in August and eagerly awaited our November getaway. When you live in Yellowknife you need to have little getaways to keep you sane or else the isolation, winter and darkness really start to wear you down and you begin to feel the strong pressure of cabin fever creeping into your veins. November is a great time to leave Yellowknife- winter has set in in full force and you’re only getting 5 hours of sunlight each day. Even if your getaway is just over to the West into the mountains of the Yukon, or to Edmonton in the South- it makes a world of difference and rejuvenates you, alleviating the cabin fever madness.
We decided to make it a cheap trip (I was strictly saving for my world tour after all) and so we chose to stay in the Bees Kneez Backpackers hostel which ran us each $30 a night. The hostel was great- we booked in advance just to be safe, and it paid off, as the hostel completely filled up. They have two rooms, one with four beds and one with 6, all bunk beds. We got there a little late and so all of us had to take to the top bunks, which wasn’t so bad after all. We didn’t see too much of the other folk staying at the hostel (they were largely out in evenings, late, looking – unfortunately unsuccessfully – for the Northern lights). The hostel was a gem- however, it’s also only the first one I’ve ever stayed in, so perhaps I’m a little biased! The host was super friendly, accommodating and had lots of tips on where to eat in town. The hostel also had a dog named Bertha, a retired sled dog champ, who was absolutely adorable and made the stay at the hostel feel safe since they don’t lock the front door, so you can come and go as you please (there is always someone on site so no randoms walk in). I recommend staying in the bedroom with 4 beds as it is further from the stairs and will be much quieter. There is laundry for a fee, 2 showers, 2 single bathrooms and a main shared sink. The place was really clean and they ask everyone to be out for two hours in the afternoon so they can clean the whole place each day. The linens smelt fresh and clean as well. We just left our packs on our bunks when we left the hostel, feeling safe. I wouldn’t recommend this at many places, but I felt being in Canada, in Whitehorse, we were pretty safe.
Anthony’s friend picked us up from the airport when we arrived and took us to a pop up vintage clothing sale that was happening – they had some really neat stuff, including a corset from the 1940’s! After that we headed home to drop our bags and then headed out for dinner to the Burnt Toast Cafe. We had the Curry (which was lacking serious flavour), the mojito edamame beans (life changing!!!), the truffle fries (best and crispiest fries I’ve ever had the pleasure of ingesting!) and the calamari (delish!), while Anthony went for the kobe burger. The food was amazing (minus the curry) and I highly recommend eating there at least once. Then we headed over to the new Kwanlin Dun Cultural Center, where there was a land and water celebration focused around progress made in the anti-fracking movement within the territory. They had the Dakhka Khwann dancers perform traditional (and new) song and dance with their beautiful clothing and masks – it was truly a sight to see and hear and I felt so blessed to have had the opportunity to see their indigenous culture brought to life before us through song and dance. There was loads of free food (entry was by donation), great local MC’s, and some live music. One of the townspeople made a short speech on the progress the Territory has made in the anti-fracking movement (which put my home territory’s progress – or lack there of I should say – to shame) and then they carried on with the celebrations. We left before the end as we were getting tired from the already long day, and decided last minute to skip the bar and just head back to the hostel as we wanted an early start. Alright, let’s be honest, we were all just in a bit of a food coma from our over indulgence at dinner!
We walked back to our hostel, which was only about a 20 minute walk across the town- thankfully we had remarkably beautiful weather, hovering around the -5C mark the whole trip. When we left Yellowknife it was in the -30C’s so it felt like paradise to us! In the morning we walked back downtown with one of the hostel mates and stopped at Baked Cafe for breakfast. You HAVE to get their cinnamon buns- they will blow your mind!
I also had the quiche which was delicious, but both was far too much food for one person. We set up a rental car from Driving Force and they sent a courtesy shuttle to grab us from the cafe which was really convenient. Once we had the car, we piled in, cranked our music (theme song of the trip!) and drove the beautiful drive out to Carcross, which is only about an hour away. It was cloudy at first, but as we made our way Southwest, it began to clear and the beautiful mountains were exposed to our eager eyes. We stopped at all the turnouts to take pictures and have impromptu photo shoots (with miserably failed timed group jumping photos!).
Carcross is a stunning little riverside community nestled between the mountains, a lake and a river- it really doesn’t get much more picturesque! It was practically a ghost town- we only saw two other people there. Apparently it’s a bustling little town in summer, but we were there in low season. But there was something special about having the place to ourselves to explore- it felt as if it was there just for us, and no one else. We drove on a little further to a beautiful turn out and took some more pictures (the panoramic at the top) and just stared in awe at the beauty of this incredible land. I wasn’t constantly baffled that all my time in the North and I had never explored the bounty my neighbouring land had to offer.
After nearly wearing our batteries out in our cameras, we headed back to Whitehorse to get ready for our evening. We picked up another friend of Anthony’s, grabbed our swimsuits and drove the 20 minutes out to the Tahkini Hot Springs- a must! While these are not your rugged natural hotsprings that reek of sulfur, they are more like a very large, very hot pool- the water heated by the geothermal energy- and the smells are more reminiscent of chlorine than sulfur!
We soaked for over and hour and a half in tepid waters, goofing around, being a little obnoxious with our laughter and conversations, and having an amazing, relaxing time. We hopped in the showers back at the hostel to wash off the hot springs and got ready to head to a house party. We went to Anthony’s friends house for a little hang out and then off to the house party where we saw a few people who were also a part of the Land and Water celebration. We spent the night talking and mingling with the locals who were are really amazing, kind people. I got such a strong sense of community, and of pride in their home. We made a quick pit stop at Tim Hortons for 2am snacks as nothing else was open in town, and then made our way back to the hostel. Two other guests were just returning, sorely disappointed, from their last attempt at seeing the elusive Northern Lights. We promised them if they came to Yellowknife for a few days they would see them – we get far less cloud cover then Whitehorse after all! We got up early the next day to catch breakfast at Burnt Toast (hello croissant french toast and croque madame!) and then popped into a few stores downtown. We all bought a few things (an adorable pair of pale blue geometric fox earrings, Tahitian vanilla and Egyptian chamomile maple syrup, Claire Ness album (local artist with a knack for catchy folk songs)- you know, the usual. We had to have the car back by 11am, so we dropped it off and had their courtesy shuttle take us to the Beringia center as it was within walking distance from the airport where we had to be in a couple of hours. We took the full tour of the center which covered the history of the Beringia landbridge, which used to connect Russia with North America in the last ice age. It was a beautiful center with great displays and loads of information. We had some fun taking pictures with a stuffed Ptarmigan for a competition at work called Travelling Ptarmi (staff take a Ptarmi on their travels, take pictures and submit them- the most unique pictures wins!)
After our tour, we walked the quick five minute walk over to the airport to get checked in for our flight home. Whitehorse truly stole our hearts. It’s hard to get to know a whole town in just two short days, but Whitehorse really took us in and showed us a great time. It was so easy to find things to do in town, it all sort of fell in our lap. This trip was just a taste of what this incredible little northern community has to offer, I’m sure. I would love to venture back in the heat of summer to hike through the mountains and explore the beautiful land and waters. If you ever have the chance to go to Whitehorse, please don’t pass it up- you won’t be disappointed! I mean what kind of an awesome place has hand knit scarves tied to lamp posts with notes that read” Are you cold? Take this scarf!” This pretty much sums up Whitehorse: a friendly, bustling, beautiful land full of stunning scenery, warm people and so much to do and see.