The elusive Aurora Borealis. It’s a phenomenon that almost everybody would love to see in their lifetime. When we say Northern Lights most people think that they have to go to Iceland to have a chance of witnessing the magic of the sky lighting up – but there is another destination which will give you the opportunity to witness the spectacle. Canada.
Situated in the northwest of Canada is the Yukon Territory. With the smallest population of any territory in Canada, only one city – Whitehorse, and a landscape of breathtaking mountains, lakes and rivers, the Yukon Territory is a truly beautiful part of Canada to explore. This part of the world offers travellers iconic and scenic drives, an array of wilderness and wildlife and an insight into interesting heritage and cultures. However, it is also one of the prime locations in the world to see the elusive Northern Lights.
Adventure World offer some great options for travelling to the Yukon and experiencing the Northern Lights, including self drive itineraries. So we thought who better to ask about this incredible experience than one of their experts who has had the experience themselves. We sat down with Travis Graham, Industry Account Manager for Adventure World, to find out what was so special about witnessing the Aurora Borealis in the Yukon.
Tell us a little about your experience travelling in the Yukon?
I travelled to the Yukon in September last year, specifically to chase the Northern Lights. I hired a F350 4WD camper van to get around, a behemoth of a beast, but very comfortable. After flying into Whitehorse we picked up the monster camper and headed north past Dawson City with a side trip on the Dempster Highway, or should I say mud track, turning around 200 kilometres shy of the Arctic Circle as we were unsure of whether our fuel amount was reliable. Then we crossed the ‘top of the world highway’ into Alaska via the most northern border crossing between USA and Canada, through the fantastically named town of Chicken and then followed the Alaska Highway back to Whitehorse covering 2017 kilometres over 7 days and 6 nights.
We camped remotely and in government camps for a small fee, which included firewood! It was some of the most spectacular driving I have done with the timing of my trip coinciding with the “Fall colours” so as we rounded each corner we had to stop for another amazing photo opportunity. One of the great things with this style of travel is that you are free to explore and stop whenever you want. I would recommend keeping an eye out for the Brown tourist signs and break your drive regularly by short walks. The Yukon tourism board was a wealth of help in Whitehorse helping to plan the trip. One of the highlights was flying into the 3rd largest ice field in the world on a ski-plane and landing on a glacier.
Why would you recommend Canada as an option for viewing the Northern Lights compared to Iceland?
I would recommend Canada for a few different reasons; firstly the number one spot to see the Northern lights is in Yellowknife as it is right in the optimum viewing belt, second ease of access from Australia – you only require two flights to get to either Whitehorse or Yellowknife. Also there are no language barriers and the natives are friendly folk and the cost is also much less prohibitive.
What time of the year is the best time to travel in hope of witnessing the Northern Lights?
There are two seasons that increase your chances of seeing this phenomenon. In September and October the nights start to get darker, while still being relatively clear. In November and December the winter storms hit making it less likely to see, before clearing again in January, February and March. I would recommend 7 nights to give yourself an optimum chance of seeing them just in case of cloud cover.
September- October coincides with the beautiful fall colours and January- March you will have deep snow, so it depends what experience you are after.
What was the average day like while you were trying to get a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights?
During the day we took our time getting from point A to point B making sure that we stopped at lookouts and viewpoints and wandered into the bush with our bear spray (just in case!) There are well marked hiking trails everywhere. There were lots of great things to see and do, including hot springs where you can soak your stresses away. Make sure you have a sour toe cocktail when in Dawson City (it’s a shot of whiskey that has a preserved human toe in it), visit Dawson lookout for incredible panoramic views, try your hand at gold panning, fishing and there are lots of winter sports to keep you occupied such as dog sledding and snow shoeing if you go later in the season.
At night, we relaxed by the camp fire enjoying a few local beers or wine. Then we set our alarms every hour and took turns going outside and looking North to see if the lights were visible. There are some great apps that help, the one I liked was Aurora Forecast however as the network coverage is very limited it wasn’t reliable while we were in the sticks.
Were you lucky enough to see them? If so, what was that experience like?
We were fortunate enough to see them three times during our 6 night stay, the first time it was a faint green glimmer in the sky where I wondered if I was missing out on something and what the big deal was, the second time they were bright and looked very exciting but alas were hidden by cloud cover and finally on our last night in the bush we had an amazing display from 1am til 3:30am near Kathleen Lake. Where all the alarm setting and getting out in the cold was certainly worth it. Truly amazing.
Can you tell us about the Northern Lights Resort and Spa and Inn on the Lake, which are two of the accommodation options Adventure World offers travellers?
For those that don’t want to rough it in a luxury 4wd camper the size of a house these two resorts are amazing. They are both rustic log cabin style accommodation but very comfortable.
The Northern Lights Resort and Spa offers 4 chalets and a main building, with full spa facilities. Dining is amazing with fresh local ingredients where the chef will share her recipes with you. You can relax or do as much as you like with fully customised stays, whether you want to learn more about photographing the Northern Lights or get beaten by a birch branch in a Swedish massage, the staff go above and beyond to make your stay unique and memorable.
The Inn on the Lake has 5 guest rooms, plus two apartments and a cottage which is great for a family. Dining is a set 3 course menu designed by the chef daily. Lots of outdoor activities are available including dog sledding and the option to hire winter clothing.
The real benefit of both of these places is that you don’t have to set an alarm every hour to wake yourself up because there is a local who will sit out in the cold and as soon as the night sky lights up they will wake you for the best viewing opportunities.
What other activities can travellers experience while in the Yukon other than the breathtaking views?
The Yukon is still quite wild and remote so most of the activities feature the great outdoors both in the warmer months and in the middle of winter. Some, but not all, include hiking and trekking, fishing, white water rafting, gold prospecting, dog sledding, snow shoeing, ice fishing, wildlife watching, golf, snow skiing, snow mobile trips, sleigh rides plus much more. You also have some great breweries, cooking schools and of course there is an array of health retreats and some even have natural geothermal hot springs.
I have tried and can recommend the hot springs, scenic flights and several of the hikes. The correct outdoor gear can be hired in several locations.
If travellers wanted to extend their stay through this part of Canada what other Adventure World Experiences would you recommend that would fit in well with this?
Canada is a huge place and as Adventure World has products in every state and province, the options are endless all year round. I would however recommend a stay in Vancouver as it is a fantastic city to explore, the Rocky Mountains are not to be missed and if you ski then you are in for some awesome snow. The two longest dog sled races in the world are an interesting option if you time it right. If you travel in Autumn you have a few more activities, but the best viewing time for the Northern lights is Winter so be prepared for the cold and pack your Winter woollies.
As you can see the Yukon is a truly magical destination. If this is an experience you would love to see for yourself please contact us and we’ll happily help you put together the perfect tailor-made itinerary, along with our friends at Adventure World, to make sure you get to experience all that is on your wish list.
All images supplied and taken by Travis Graham.