Whitehorse

Whitehorse is The Capital of the Yukon and the largest city in the Yukon. Over two-thirds of the Yukon’s residents live in Whitehorse, which has a year-round population of about 36,000. Residents enjoy unparalleled access to the surrounding wilderness and outdoor adventure of Canada’s Yukon Territory.

In the late 1800s, during the Klondike Gold Rush, the banks of the Yukon River gave way to two small settlements of cabins. The first was Closeleigh, near the present site of Whitehorse and the second was Canyon City, five miles upriver.

On June 8, 1900, the White Pass & Yukon Railway from Skagway was completed on the west side of the River and Closeleigh was moved to the present town site and became the city of Whitehorse.

Whitehorse got its name from the rapids of the Yukon River where the frothing water looked like the manes of white horses. The Whitehorse rapids no longer exist because the Whitehorse dam was built in 1958, submerging the rapids beneath the newly formed Schwatka Lake.

The sparsely populated tent-and-cabin city boomed and became the terminal for freight being transferred from railway to riverboat for shipment to Dawson City. For over 50 years Whitehorse continued in this vital role.

The second great population surge followed the agreement of the US and Canadian Governments to build the Alaska Highway in 1942, during World War II. During the nine-month construction, the population swelled from 500 to 8000. With building space at a premium, one entrepreneur began building small two and three-story log cabins, or “Log skyscrapers,” which can still be seen in town.

After the war, Whitehorse maintained its importance as a transportation and communications centre for the Yukon. On April 1, 1953, the capital of the Yukon territory was officially transferred from Dawson City to Whitehorse. Today the mainstays of this wilderness city’s economy are tourism, government and mining.

SS Klondike Museum in Whitehorse Yukon
S.S. Klondike Riverboat
Whitehorse Yukon River Front Trail
Trail along the Yukon River

Yukon Visitor Reception Centre is on Hanson St. between 1st and 2nd Ave. This is a great place to start your visit to Whitehorse as the staff are friendly and well trained. Each Visitor Center in the Yukon has something different to offer so be sure and visit all of them. There is ample parking for large vehicles on the north side of the building. 867-667-3084

www.tc.gov.yk.ca/vic.html

Whitehorse’s role as a transportation center is as new as the jet age and as old as the Gold Rush of ’98. Founded in 1900 with the arrival of the White Pass & Yukon Railway from tidewater at Skagway, the sparsely populated tent-and-cabin city became the terminal for freight being transferred from railway to riverboat for shipment to Dawson City.

Before the railway was pushed through to provide an easier mode of transportation, the bulk of the early-day stampeders came by ocean steamer to Skagway or Dyea and toiled over the White Pass (the route presently paralleled by the railroad) or Chilkoot Pass to the head of Lake Bennett. Here they whipsawed native lumber and built crude boats and scows to travel the 550-mile Yukon River water route to the gold fields.

The greatest hazards in river navigation were found in Miles Canyon and Whitehorse Rapids. To bypass these once-treacherous waters, wooden rail tramways were constructed on both sides of the canyon. On the east side of the river the wilderness gave way to two settlements of cabins. Closeleigh was near the present site of Whitehorse and Canyon City was five miles upriver, where the portage around the rapids of Miles Canyon began.

The best Things to do in Whitehorse Yukon

Yukon Wildlife Preserve

Come see the Yukon’s iconic wildlife up close in large, natural habitats. Walk, ski, bike or join interpretive bus tours for a scenic 5 km adventure. The Preserve is the best place to view wildlife in the Yukon. They have more than 11 different northern mammals that inhabit 750 acres. Only 25 minutes north of downtown Whitehorse and open year-round.

Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre

The Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre celebrates the culture and traditions of the Kwanlin Dün First Nations people. Explore exhibits, experience amazing festivals, meet Artists-in-Residence, and take a tour of their inspirational Centre with a local guide.

Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre

Discover the intriguing Beringia era through skeletal remains, interactive exhibits and riveting films. Meet Ice Age giants like the woolly mammoth or the scimitar cat that ruled ancient Beringia. There are life-size exhibits of animals of the last ice age, interactive kiosks and dioramas depicting the unique landscape, flora and fauna of Beringia. A full-size cast of the largest woolly mammoth ever recovered and a reconstruction of the 24,000-year-old Bluefish Caves archaeological site. The Centre is located on the Alaska Hwy, just south of the Airport 5 minutes from downtown Whitehorse.

Lumel Studios

This is a Yukon glass blowing facility that makes this highly artistic experience easy and accessible to everyone who visits. Guests can watch and enjoy or step forward and create their own masterpieces. Many beautiful products are available in the gallery. The community studio has been labelled ‘The Happiness Factory’ and Lumel’s is quickly becoming a national and internationally recognized glass studio.

The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad

This tour begins in Skagway, as quick 2 hours drive from Whitehorse on the South Klondike Highway. Known as the “Scenic Railway of the World” on the Trail of ’98. Passengers travel across the White Pass on a narrow-gauge railway that parallels the trail followed by the frantic gold seekers in 1898. An onboard host gives a commentary about the history and natural beauty on this journey. The White Pass was an alternative route to the Chilkoot Trail to reach Canada’s Yukon Territory.

S.S. Klondike National Historic Site

This restored Yukon sternwheeler is beached near the Yukon River at the south end of Second Avenue, is part of a fleet of 250 riverboats that once plied the Yukon. The S.S. Klondike has been designated a National Historic Site

MacBride Museum of Yukon History

The MacBride Museum tells fascinating stories of the pioneers who built Canada’s Yukon. Come face to face with a seven-foot grizzly in the Natural World Gallery, walk through the history of the Yukon in the Gold to Government Gallery, and discover the truth behind the Robert Service legend at the real Sam McGee’s cabin.

The Yukon Transportation Museum

Discover the history and evolution of travel in the Yukon. Learn about the Alaska Highway and Canol Road to the Northwest Territories while sitting in an authentic military tent! Visit the Bush Pilot Room, a photo exhibit of Yukon’s aviation history, and see a replica of Queen of The Yukon, sister ship to Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis.

Alpine Aviation Air Charters

This is a full service aviation charter company that provides year-round access to the Yukon wilderness on wheels, floats and skis. Discover remote hiking, canoeing and fishing destinations you can only reach by air.

Millennium Trail and Rotary Centennial Bridge Trailhead is at the Visitor Reception Centre. Allow 1 hour to leisurely walk the 5 km loop or 4 or 5 hours if you hike to Miles Canyon. The trail passes by Robert Service Campground, which is a great place to stop in for a coffee, ice cream or snack.

Miles Canyon and Suspension Footbridge

Six miles upstream from Whitehorse on the Yukon River is Miles Canyon, a slash in the earth where green water swirls past multi-colored cliffs of volcanic rock. You can reach the canyon and a suspension footbridge by taking a side road branching off the Alaska Highway at km 1467/mile 912. Cross the bridge and take the path to the right to reach the site of Canyon City, where gold rush stampeders off-loaded boats to portage freight around the Whitehorse Rapids.

Hydro Dam & Fish Ladder

The dam is located upstream of the Robert Campbell Bridge. It is a hydroelectric dam that provides power for Whitehorse as well as the town of Faro. The water backed up by the dam forms Schwatka Lake which has tamed the infamous Whitehorse Rapids. On the east side of the dam, you can see one of the world’s longest wooden fish ladder. In August, when salmon are running upstream to spawn, you can view the fish through a window at the side of the ladder.

The Old Log Church Museum

The building is the original Anglican Church built in 1900 by Rev. R.J. Bowen. The restored log church and rectory have been declared the first territorial historic site in the Yukon. The church houses exhibits showing the pre-contact life of aboriginal people, early exploration, gold rush, whaling, missionaries and the construction of the Alaska Highway relics, photographs and books representing early day religious denominations in the Yukon.

Fjord Express to Juneau

If you’re looking to explore the Inside Passage while travelling through Whitehorse, take the short drive to Skagway and take the Fjord Express to Juneau. This fully-narrated wildlife cruise is a great way to experience the Inside Passage between Skagway and Juneau. The journey starts by departing Skagway and then Haines in the morning and moving through the Lynn Canal, the deepest and longest glacial fjord in North America. On your way to Juneau, you may observe bald eagles, orcas, harbor seals, porpoises, and humpback whales. Stay overnight in Juneau or take the return trip on the same day.

Whitehorse RV Parks and Campgrounds

Hi Country RV Park

Hi Country RV Park is in a great location, close to airport and downtown. There are 130 scenic treed sites, with full hook-ups, 30 amp service, Wi-fi, cable TV, Laundromat, clean showers. They also have a Coin-op RV Wash and dump station.

Caribou RV Park

Caribou RV Park and Campground is only 15 min. from downtown Whitehorse. The owners speak 5 languages (English, German, French, Italian and Luxembourgish). There is a convenience store that offers what campers need, including: food, camping gear, souvenirs and fresh-baked bread 4 days a week. The park is handicap accessible and pets are welcome.

Robert Service Campground

Is situated on the banks of the Yukon River. A perfect retreat for tent campers. A 15-minute walk along the river on the Millennium Trail or a two-minute drive to downtown Whitehorse. This is the closest campground to downtown Whitehorse.

Whitehorse Yukon Hotels

Airport Chalet

The Airport Chalet has easy access hotel rooms as well as deluxe motel units that include a coffee maker and refrigerator, kitchenette or large family room. All rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable with Satellite TV, free Wi-fi, laundromat and ATM.

The Sternwheeler Hotel 

This is the Yukon’s premier hotel and conference center. The Sternwheeler Hotel is in the heart of downtown Whitehorse, within blocks of restaurants, nightspots, shopping, and government offices. Enjoy delicious and authentic Yukon cuisine at the Steele Street Lounge or a craft microbrew from a local brewery in the bar.

Best Western Gold Rush Inn

This traditional hotel in downtown Whitehorse has relaxed rooms and suites with TVs, coffeemakers, minifridges and microwaves. Upgraded rooms add whirlpool tubs and pull-out sofas. Amenities include a steakhouse, spa, hair salon and an exercise room.

Town & Mountain Inn

In the heart of downtown Whitehorse the Town & Mountain has unfussy rooms and suites feature free Wi-Fi and cable TV, as well as microwaves, minifridges and coffeemakers. Some have desks and sitting areas. There’s a low-key, warmly decorated lounge with a bar.

Northern Lights Resort & Spa

This secluded lodge and spa offers views of the Northern Lights (in season). Located off the Alaska Highway, near the junction of the South Klondike Highway. The Resort has 3 cabins and 1 lodge room in the main building. All have luxurious linens, fireplaces and en-suite bathrooms. The cabins have either kitchens or kitchenettes, and the lodge has free Wi-Fi and a fridge. Complimentary breakfast is served daily. There’s a spa with a sauna, a gym and a massage room, along with a hot tub.

Whitehorse Yukon Map

Map of Whitehorse Alaska

Whitehorse Yukon FAQS

Is Whitehorse in Alaska or Canada?

Whitehorse is the Capital of the Yukon Territory in Canada. It is located on the Alaska Highway at km 1420. It is 483 south of the Alaska/Yukon border on the Alaska Highway. It is only 137 km north of the Alaska/British Columbia border on the Klondike Highway to Skagway.

What is Whitehorse Yukon Known For?

Whitehorse is known for many things. It played a major role in the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush as a supply center for prospectors and stampeders heading to Dawson City. Now it is the Capital of the Yukon Territory and the largest city in the Yukon.

There is also a large number of activities and things to do in Whitehorse. These include:

Alaska Travel Tips

Sign up for our 4-part email series to discover critical information for planning your ultimate Alaska vacation!

Think You Know Alaska?

Take the quiz and find out...