Discover why a stop at Kluane National Park is a must. Read the thrills of driving the Yukon and Alaska Highway, and why it’s not for the faint-hearted.
As our car hit the dirt road, the screech of tires signalled the start of our five days, 2,500 kilometres drive across Yukon and Alaska. Our adventure began in Whitehorse, a frontier town, much like a scene from the old western movies.
Kluane National Park
Leaving Whitehorse, my travelling partner and I camped at Kluane National Park. Kluane is home to Canada’s highest peak, Mt. Logan and the country’s most massive range, the St. Elias Mountains. Located on the extreme southwestern corner of the Yukon, the 21,980 square kilometres park is one of Canada’s treasures.
Kluane National Park and its reserve combined with British Columbia’s Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Provincial Park and Glacier Bay/Wrangle-St Elias national parks in Alaska, form the largest United Nations World Heritage Site in the world
covering some 109, 000 square kilometres, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. The region has the largest non-polar icefield in the world and illustrates some of the world’s longest and most magnificent glaciers.
We tented by the shores of Kathleen Lake. As night drew near, the howling of wolves and coyotes was a reminder that we were in the wilderness – a prudent move to store our food in the car away from wildlife, like roaming bears and grizzlies. At the early hours of dawn, I woke up to a pool of water next to my pillow. The heavy summer downpour had seeped through our tent floor. We ended up sleeping curled on our tight car seats.
From Kluane, we continued to Fairbanks with the goal to reach the Arctic Circle, which we never reached. Dusk was falling and despite my attempt to hurry, our car could only travel at a limited speed. Unbeknownst to us, a state patrol had trailed our vehicle for a while before pulling us over. Thank God he only gave us a warning and not a hefty speeding ticket.
Driving the Scenic and Treacherous Highway
With 48 hours left to return to Whitehorse, we opted to turn around at Fairbanks, headed south to Tok Junction – travelling on Top of the World Highway. En route, we stopped at two Klondike gold rush towns – Chicken in Alaska and Dawson City in Yukon.
This scenic but treacherous dirt road portion (Canadian side) of the highway winding through the mountainous terrain – with its sharp, blind curves and switchbacks – are notorious for puncturing tires and chipping windshields. Definitely not recommended for the fainthearted, ill-prepared drivers. The highway is only open from May thru September. Gas refueling is only available at Chicken or on arrival in Dawson City.
Maneuvering our compact car through a convoy of recreational vehicles (RVs) on the narrow dirt road was an exhilarating experience. Our adventure shifted from fourth to first gear.
There were hairy moments for two of us ladies when our compact car edged the ravines to accommodate oncoming RVs.
Thoughts of plunging down the steep ravines were real
On arrival at the Canadian immigration checkpoint, the border officer received us with a warm ‘Welcome Home’ greeting. It was a sigh of relief we made it back safely to home turf.
Splendid Northern Landscape and Wildlife
Postcard sceneries, historic First Nation communities, Klondike gold rush sites, and wildlife habitats peppered the highways that cut through the Northern wilderness. Sighting herds of mountain sheep, goat, caribou, and moose with antlers spanning six feet wide – in the wild against breathtaking natural backdrops was unreal.
It was a surreal experience seeing the world from the Great North – summer nights felt like dusk as the sun never set due to the tilting of the earth on its axis. Driving the Top of the World Highway was an adrenaline raising experience on certain sections, but the spectacular views of the Alaskan and Ogilvie Mountain Ranges made it all worthwhile.
The adventure was a rare feat. I would do it again in a heartbeat, but be more prepared the second time around. Yukon and Alaska are definitely must see destinations to add on any travel bucket list.