Let me show you some of the greatest things to do in Whitehorse, based on my trip there. I had an amazing time!
I really didn’t know what to expect from my trip to Whitehorse. Since first hearing about ‘the Yukon’ a few years ago, I knew I wanted to visit someday, but the details, names and places needed to be ironed out.
This Whitehorse travel guide will help you to plan your trip to the city, and reveal some of the absolute must visit spots.
– Canoeing is one of the absolute BEST things to do in Whitehorse!
Turns out Whitehorse is the biggest city in the Yukon, home to over 27,000 people (¾ of the population of the Yukon). And with 416.5 km², Whitehorse is a city with SPACE.
Whitehorse is also the top place to visit in the Yukon.
The colourful buildings and lively main street are surrounded by mountains – this is the point where the three big Yukon mountains meet. Grey Mountain to the east, Mount Sumanik to the northwest and Golden Horn Mountain to the south. And, flowing through the middle, is the wonderfully hued Yukon River.
Naturally, the beautiful surroundings draw an artistic and adventurous crowd.
There are lots of things to do in Whitehorse for these adventurous or artistic travellers. I like to think of myself as both, and so got stuck in to the Whitehorse activities ASAP with my two days in the city.
Where is Whitehorse?
Whitehorse is a 2.5 hour flight from Vancouver. It’s 1,500 miles by road from Van City, and a 28-hour drive. It’s actually closer to Anchorage in Alaska, a mere 700 miles away and 13.5 hour drive west.
Whitehorse is known as ‘the gateway to the Yukon’, and to Alaska too. The Alaska Highway was built here in 1942 as a defence in World War II, which was then never used. It also served as a stopping point for prospectors to get to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 – which nearby Dawson City is most famous for. This led to fast progress in the city, and it grew fast.
Whitehorse is the Yukon’s capital city but you’re only ever 15 minutes from the wilderness here. Once you’re actually in Whitehorse, you really don’t need to spend much to have a good time in the Yukon wildlife.
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READ THIS: Unique Places to Stay in Whitehorse
Arriving into Whitehorse
I flew from Vancouver, the day after I arrived in Canada from the UK. My early flight to Whitehorse, arriving at 10am and departing at 7:30am, was no bother thanks to the jetlag, but meant I could enjoy a full day of things to do in downtown Whitehorse.
I couldn’t check in to my hotel – the Edgewater – as it was so early, and so wandered along the front, admiring the Yukon River and taking in the fresh mountain air after the stuffiness of my long flights.
What to Do in Whitehorse
(1) There’s a paved path to walk all along the Yukon river, the Millennium Trail. I did as much as I could, until I couldn’t shake the street food van I’d seen at the beginning from my thoughts any longer.
(2) I walked back to ‘Alligator’s Gourmet‘ for a grilled cheese sandwich. It was the perfect first meal in the Yukon – sat outside the MacBride Museum (full of Yukon history), looking out to the river the city had been built around, and listening and watching the city go by.
I eagerly scanned the riverbanks for any wildlife.
Sadly there was none, but that grilled sandwich was everything.
– Check out the street art in Whitehorse, Yukon
I’d read that Yukoners liked to live outside of Whitehorse City to get away from the ‘hustle and bustle’.
On this Tuesday morning I saw only a handful of people, cars running at around 10mph (always stopping to let people past), and the sound of nature had a voice in the quiet. My definition of ‘hustle and bustle’ compared to the average Yukoners seemed to be very different.
History of Whitehorse
I’m not really one for museums but with this much history, that I knew nothing about, (3) the MacBride Museum seemed like the best place to start on my visit to Whitehorse. It’s also one of the top Whitehorse attractions on the big list.
I learned about the characters and events that led to Whitehorse City as we know it now at this National Historic Site.
Mainly, the famous Klondike Gold Rush that spawned the affluence of the area, and in fact bought people to the north, then caused some of them to leave as soon as the rush was over. I didn’t realise how much more I was about to learn about the Gold Rush up here in my next destination, Dawson City.
The Alaska Highway was the next big event in Whitehorse’s history. The construction caused the Yukon powers to move the capital from Dawson City to Whitehorse in 1953.
The Highway was built with the aim to protect the city in case of invasion during World War II. It bought a huge amount of industry to the area, very quickly. There was a whole exhibition about this at the MacBride Museum.
The Alaska Highway, and the Klondike Gold Rush, changed Whitehorse forever, and helped to make it the city it is today.
– The museums are one of the top things to do in Whitehorse
You can also learn about the importance of telecommunications up here, given that it’s so remote. Also, the transport of the day, and there are exact replicas of shops inside too. A great way to spend a few hours enveloped in Whitehorse’s history.
And if it’s good enough for Prince William and Princess Catherine who visited back in 2016, it’s good enough for us mere mortals.
READ MORE: Travelling Solo in the Yukon
For a great orientation of Whitehorse when you arrive I’d recommend (4) joining a tour with Who What Where Tours. I had the wonderful Toni as my tour leader who told me as much as she could about living in Whitehorse, in just 90 minutes.
Toni used to work as a director at the First Nations Centre, helping create policy. She was a fantastic source of knowledge to introduce me to the First Nations culture here, and how so many different people’s ideals and cultures worked in the present day.
At 50 she’d entered the local beauty queen competition for Rendezvous Festival and managed to beat all the young ones, inspiring the local older people for evermore. She was great, a real vibrant character to show me around the spots I never would’ve made it to travelling Whitehorse alone.
– What to do in Whitehorse? Experience nature of course!
(5) We went up to the stunning Miles Canyon, once a treacherous stretch of water which foiled many a prospectors’ dream of reaching Dawson City back in the Gold Rush. It’s the most photographed spot in the Yukon and was formed by a lava vent that happened 8.5 million years ago.
She showed me the new university here, where students come for the destination as much as the university.
Unemployment in Whitehorse is at an incredible low of 2.7%. It’s actually a problem that there are too many jobs and not enough people. Many of the shops in town had ‘staff wanted signs’ outside.
There’s a strong economic boom in Whitehorse and many people have more than one job to make the most of it. Hmmm, tempting!
You definitely need to add the tour to your list of what to do in Whitehorse.
The best thing to do in Whitehorse
(6) My absolute highlight of Whitehorse things to do was the canoe trip down the Yukon River. I was signed up for the Bucket List Adventure with Up North Adventures, which involved canoeing for 28km down the Yukon River, with lunch.
Yep, 28km, over six hours.
I’d only ever done a few metres before, badly.
Thankfully I was partnered with another solo traveller, Maureen, who was a keen canoer and eager to steer. I happily sat in the front and canoed where and when I was told to.
If you’re interesting in joining the best thing to do in Whitehorse (IMHO) then check out my post all about my canoeing trip.
Arty activities in Whitehorse
I’d been given a list of things to do in Whitehorse to choose from, and thought, why not choose something a bit different? Something I wouldn’t normally go for. Glassblowing?
(7) And so off I went to the Glassblowing shop to have an intro to the art.
– Glassblowing is one of the most surprising things to do in Whitehorse!
It was lovely in there, just lovely.
I had a wonderful and eye opening 20 minutes creating my bowl, and then I hung around afterwards to watch the other newcomers blow some glass. It was a hive of activity with all ages making everything from simple bowls (like me) to epic fish productions. The guys in there were super supportive and it was a great environment for all ages.
If you’re looking for things to do in Whitehorse for kids, this would be a great option.
(8) In Whitehorse there are cafes, galleries and shops selling locally made products in among the charming colourful buildings. You can spend the afternoon shopping in Whitehorse to stock up on tasty, beautiful goodies.
I’m convinced the relaxed way of life and vibe up here let’s the mind be free to concentrate on the craft. The Whitehorse street art game is strong, and The Collective Good independent shop in the precinct on Front Street has some great Yukon-themed gifts for all.
Adventurous activities in Whitehorse
There’s a lot of things to do in Whitehorse for the adventurous traveller.
(9, 1o, 11) Get up in the mountains and there are miles of biking trails. Come in season and you’ll find 24-hour skiing trails. And, with the river literally flowing through the city there’s a whole hub of fun built up around there too.
(12) For a touch of soft adventure, take a ride on the Whitehorse Waterfront Trolley that runs along the river during the summer. It’s like a tram, or a ‘heritage street car’ they call it, and travels the route of the prospectors of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Whitehorse in summer
Whitehorse is known as one of the best places in the world to watch the Northern Lights, but that’s for winter visitors. Come in July, like me, and you’ll be treated to the Midnight Sun – 23 hours of daylight permeating your window blinds.
Do NOT forget your eye mask.
I’ve visited northern Sweden during the Midnight Sun, and Tromso in Norway when the sun never rose. It’s incredible how much both play with your body clock – like intrinsically you don’t believe yourself when it’s time to get up, or go to bed.
(13) I was treated to some beautiful sunrises from my early morning jetlag in Whitehorse, and it meant you could wander the streets at night feeling like it was morning.
Visiting Whitehorse for the midnight sun is definitely an interesting experience!
– On the summer solstice the sun rises at 4:27am and sets at 23:36am.
– The record high temperature in Whitehorse was 34.4 °C set on June 14, 1969.
Whitehorse in winter
(14, 15, 16, and more) Come to Whitehorse in winter and you’ll find downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, hot pools, dog sledding and snowmobiling too.
– On the winter solstice the sun rises at 10:10am and sets at 3:48pm.
– The record low temperature in Whitehorse was -52.2 °C set on January 31, 1947.
Wildlife in Whitehorse
The Yukon has 10 times more moose, bears, wolves, caribou, goats and sheep than people. You’re more likely to find them a bit further from the city, but I did see a lynx bobcat run across the road on my Who, What, Where tour.
(17) If you want to know more about the wildlife of Whitehorse then the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre is a great place to explore. It covers the last great ice age which means the untouched areas of Eastern Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon are relayed. You can expect a history of the wooly mammoths, giant beavers, caribou and muskox of the area, tracked back through the bones and fossils found in the Yukon area.
You can also see some (stuffed) Canadian animals at the MacBride Museum on Front Street in Whitehorse. It’s incredible to see just how big they are.
If you want animal-related things to do in Whitehorse, then this is where you should be.
Another Whitehorse accolade to be proud of, is the fact they have the longest wooden fish ladder in the world.
(18) What’s a fish ladder? Well, it helps fish (salmon in this case) to travel upstream and to direct them where to go. It also gives the opportunity for us humans to tag them so we can monitor that they’re doing ok. Whitehorse’s fish ladder was built in 1959 and in its position the fish have already travelled about 4000km, with just 50 left to go.
I was told that by this point it’s been a long journey and so they’re a bit battered. Not a good time to eat them.
Views from the plane into Whitehorse
Make sure you book yourself into a window seat for the flights in and out of Whitehorse. Over 80% of the Yukon is untouched, pristine territory, and the views are incredible.
Nothing over four stories is allowed to be built in Whitehorse, so its natural beauty is open for all to see.
I’d worried about the fact I hadn’t bought a coat but just a few minutes in the air flying north from Vancouver and the sun was out, the clouds reflecting white painfully in my eyes if I sat too far forward.
Somehow I’d managed to score an exit seat. “We did well didn’t we?” I replied to my neighbour who said she appreciated the extra room. “Well I paid for it” she replied. Oops.
I got it for free. The plane gods were looking down on me that day!
(19) In Whitehorse you can actually WALK from the airport to town. As someone who normally travels from London airports, after arduous bus and train journeys, this blows my mind.
In just 45 minutes on a specially paved path you will be in Downtown Whitehorse. So the first thing to do on the list of what to do in Whitehorse, is to walk there!
Where to stay in Whitehorse
I stayed at the Edgwater Hotel. THE place to stay out of the Whitehorse hotels. It’d just had a £2.2 million makeover and the bed was absolutely delightful.
Also, it’s really well located right next to the Yukon River, so it was easy to get up for my morning canoe ride. And, it has some great restaurants just up the road. ‘The Dirty Northerner’ was a personal favourite.
The best Whitehorse restaurants
Eating is one of the greatest things to do in the Yukon, after all that outdoors goodness and exercise.
(20) Yeah, it’s basically the Canadian Starbucks, but have you been to Canada if you didn’t have a Tim Hortons?
Especially that maple syrup donut?
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Coffee in Whitehorse
(21) Baked on Main Street does great coffee, and a decadent sausage, egg and cheese croissant to set you up for your canoe ride. As demonstrated below. They were very busy in the mornings, so obviously a popular place to be!
(22) And I didn’t have time to go but my friend Macca from AnAdventurousWorld recommends the Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters, although I never quite made it over there.
Traditional Yukon food in Whitehorse
(23) I was desperate to go to Rib and Salmon in Whitehorse and tried both nights I was there. Unfortunately the queue was round the block both times and as a solo traveller in Whitehorse I decided I didn’t want to sit in there by myself.
It’s one of the top rated Yukon restaurants on TripAdvisor though, so I wanted to include it here. Rib AND salmon. Yes please!
(24) Right next to the Edgewater Hotel, where I was staying, was the Dirty Northern. A super trendy hipster style place with exposed brick and carefully curated menus, I loved it as soon as I saw it.
I sat by myself at the front and ordered an Alaskan Salmon Salad and a Yukon gin cocktail. Seriously, 5/5 for both. The menu looked great and I would’ve loved to try some chicken wings too, but I had a week in the Yukon, this wasn’t a sprint.
Wayfarer Oyster House
(25) The Wayfarer is a kinda upmarket, fancy place to eat in Whitehorse. Serving all kinds of oysters, of course, they also have pasta, seafood, meat and veg dishes too.
It was also really busy here. You won’t find many people out on the streets in Whitehorse, they’re all living it up in the restaurants and bars.
(26) “Welcome to my humble habereno”, so said the sign above the door. Inside it was all colourful tablecloths, yellow walls and jolly Mexican music in the background.
Now, I look at this photo again and I realise my capture of the flavours and look wasn’t the best, but trust me, it was better than it looks here. It was also a lot spicier.
Do NOT order ‘spicy’ at the Sanchez Cantina. It took three pints of water for me to recover from this tasty spicy prawn starter.
For mains I had a chicken quesadilla, which I’d already ordered spicy before I had the chance to take my own advice.
I was peeing all night after all the water I’d drank in there. Great food though!
Whitehorse Farmer’s Market
(27) Make sure to check out the Whitehorse Farmer’s Market while you’re there too. Every Thursday local food trucks come to Whitehorse to help you fill up on tasty produce.
The food market is set in the heart of Whitehorse. I’ve never been to a more beautiful market!
Oh and check out this adorable lemonade stand. Just 50 cents got me a lemonade, AND a blueberry muffin. Bargain.
First Nations culture in Whitehorse
(28) There are 14 First Nations groups in and around Whitehorse. All with different cultures who, by law, must be consulted for any proposed changes in the city. If you want to know more, then the best place to start would be the impressive Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.
It was built to celebrate local First Nations culture, and to teach all the Canadian, and world, communities about their practices.
(29) Just up from the Cultural Centre you’ll find the hand-carved healing totem pole, topped with its striking Raven. The 11-metre totem was erected for the students of Aboriginal schools.
My weekend in Whitehorse, Canada
I left Whitehorse desperate to come back, but next time, I’d give those ‘below 40’ winters a try, hunting for those elusive Northern Lights.
If you’re visiting the Yukon you have to go to Whitehorse, and I’m not just saying that. After all, it’s the gateway to the rest of the Yukon.
After my two days in Whitehorse I travelled up to Dawson City for the Dawson City Music Festival. And you can check out my video guide to Dawson City, right here…
Cool Things to Do in Dawson City
How to book this trip to Whitehorse, Yukon
Whitehorse is a 36-hour drive from Vancouver. You can book a car hire and do it that way, take a road trip. Or, you can look for the cheapest flights to Whitehorse instead. The closest big Canadian city is Edmonton – 1,994 kilometres away. And you have to go south to go to Alaska.
I hope that gives you an idea of how north you’ll be!
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Flights to Whitehorse
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Money and insurance for Whitehorse
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Popular festivals in Whitehorse, Yukon
Timing your trip with a festival is one of the top things to do in Whitehorse!
- Sourdough Rendezvous’ Ice Sculpture contest
- Frostbite Music Festival,
- Yukon International Storytelling Festival,
- Adäka Cultural Festival
- Out North Queer Film Festival
- Available Light Film Festival
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Interesting facts about Whitehorse
– All moving water is drinkable.
– French speaking students sued for a high school and won. All children in Canada should have a right to be taught in their own language. It’s currently being built out by the fish ladder.
– It took just 8 months to build the huge Alaska Highway, because so many people lived here. They wanted it built as fast as possible to defend the state through an invasion of Alaska.
– Whitehorse is built on the flat because of the harsh winters they have here.
They organised and planned my trip in return for my thoughts on my blog. In short: it was brilliant!