Check-in at Toronto Pearson was a disorganised mess. Lots of self check-in machines but too few staff. It’s winter, lots of people checking in ski gear and barely anyone giving directions on what to do or where to go. It was chaotic.
We’d booked a “special” connector fare with Air North which is a flat C$99 when tagged on to an Air Canada flight. The added bonus being that bags are checked through to the final destination. In the madness of Toronto Pearson Airport, I managed to speak a member of Air Canada staff about checking the bags through only to be told that hadn’t been in place for 6 months (I booked 3 months ago) so we’d have to collect our bags at Edmonton and check them back in for the flight to Whitehorse.
We only had 2 hours for the connection in Edmonton and our flight left Toronto nearly 30 minutes late so I was pretty worried about collecting bags and checking back in. Nonetheless, I tried to relax and watched a couple of movies in the 4.5 hour flight. I paid about C$4 for the headphones which I was quite happy with.
With this being a domestic flight within Canada, we at least didn’t need to go through passport on arrival in Edmonton and managed to get collect the bags and get checked in for the next flight in good time. Although I did create a security alert by trying to bring a metal canister full of water through security because, you know, this is the first time I’ve ever been to an airport!
The Air North flight from Edmonton to Whitehorse was actually excellent. I couldn’t tell you the last time I flew a short haul economy flight and got 2 rounds of free drinks, a decent sandwich and a warm chocolate chip cookie. On a 2.5 hour flight, I thought that was pretty impressive. And they had an inflight magazine, remember those?!
Considering the aircraft only sat about 125 people and we counted at least 3 other gay people, excluding us; the LGBTQ community felt well represented! One of the reasons we’d chosen The Yukon for our trip and not somewhere like Alaska, is because The Yukon is known for being very LGBTQ friendly.
The other half had always wanted to do an outdoorsy, log cabin type winter holiday but being a same sex couple, we do have to plan and be careful about where we travel to. He’s been obsessed with the Alaskan Bush People TV show for years but I wasn’t convinced that Alaska would be a good choice for us. When researching LGBTQ friendly destinations, Whitehorse came out top and one of the worlds most northerly cities with a thriving community and even an annual Pride.
We arrived at Whitehorse and headed outside to grab a cab to the hotel, slightly disappointed that the sun was warm and the snow melting to slush. Despite a flight just coming in, there were no taxis. One lady said she’d once waited 2 hours for a taxi whilst another lady called and ordered 6 cabs to come and collect everyone waiting.
In the end, we didn’t wait long and were at the hotel within about an hour of landing and were warmly greeted by a young guy from Blackpool who picked up on our northern English accents as soon as we opened our mouths. I can’t imagine they get that many British tourists here, especially northerners.
We went for a little mission to explore the streets around the hotel and buy some water before heading to the hotel restaurant for dinner.
It was happy hour and the place was buzzing with a lovely atmosphere. We ordered the famous Canadian delicacy of Poutine to share as a starter which was incredible, but who doesn’t like cheesy chips and gravy?! I had a bison burger with onions cooked in sherry with a side or even more Poutine and the other half had a shaved beef rib baguette with skin on fries. All of it was delicious and the usual portion size one expects in North America. I was stuffed.
We had a free morning in Whitehorse before being picked up to be taken to the Southern Lakes Resort so headed to the visitor centre for a quick orientation and get details of the Millennium Trail, an easy 5k route along the banks of the Yukon River. The walk is nice and flat and starts and ends at the SS Klondike Museum, which was closed during our visit otherwise that would have been on our list to explore too.
We had wanted to see some of the other museums in town, like the MacBraid which details the history of the gold rush and the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre which is all about the First Nations people, but as we were nearing town, we came across an old guy, Frederick, who was struggling to maintain his balance on the trail. The other half jumped in to action and took Frederick by the arm and helped him to his feet. We then took a slow walk with him back to his car as he told us about his move from Germany to the Yukon about 40 years ago and how he worked as a guide for tourists.
After helping Frederick back to his car, we only had time to grab a sandwich before Rick picked us and another couple up from the Gold Rush Inn for the 2 hour drive out to Southern Lakes, but not before trying to spot the rainbow and trans flag crossings peaking through the snow. Considering Whitehorse has a population of less than 40,000, and where it is placed on the planet, its incredibly inclusive. We even saw a flyer for a drag show!
We made some stops along the way and it was pretty cool to drive along a section of the Alaska Highway, a 2000 kilometre road built in just 7 months by the US military. It was in better shape than most roads at home; not a pothole in sight!
Visiting the little township of Carcross was a bit of an eye opener as to how small some communities are in the Yukon. Only a few hundred people live there with just the basic of amenities such as a little church, library and shop.
The last bit of drive down 10 Mile Road is every bit of dramatic as I’d read! To call it a road is a stretch, it’s a snow covered dirt track which takes a bouncy 30 minutes to drive down. You get a real sense of how remote you are when you’re thrown around down that road!
We arrived at the lodge and was instantly in awe at the immense view over the frozen lake and mountains from the restaurant windows.
Bruno, the head chef, checked us in and Rick took our bags to our cabin, warning us to be careful with the lock as everyone seems to lock themselves out of cabin E4, at least once during their stay.
The cabin is everything you could wish for from a Yukon wilderness retreat. No TV, no wifi and barely any phone signal. This place is proper off grid. The heat comes from propane gas fires in the living room and bedroom and they do a brilliant job at keeping you toasty warm and warming the water for the shower. Electricity is from the little solar farm set towards the back of the resort. If ever there was an excuse for sitting back with a puzzle or a good book, now was it.
Dinner is served between 1700 and 1830 so we settled for a bit before heading back to the main lodge for a dinner of pork schnitzel and chnopfli, a type of Swiss pasta cooked in flower and butter. The Swiss chocolate mouse for dessert was amazing.
Hoping for some northern lights, we headed back to the lodge for an after dinner nap, planning for a late night watching the sky. Despite it being cloudy, we thought we saw some movement in the sky and headed outside at about 2230. As soon as the door to the lodge clicked shut, the other half realised that the key was still inside. Great.
A late night resort this is not, so in a slight panic and temperatures way below zero, we started banging on windows of the staff quarters hoping someone would come to our rescue. Thank god it wasn’t later at night, I don’t think the staff had been in bed very long!
Despite all the excitement, no northern lights.
After a breakfast of fruit and croissants, we met with the General Manager, Oliver, who was going to be our guide for snowmobiling. Having been on them before in Lapland, we knew what to expect and were excited to be giving them a go again. Whereas in Lapland we shared 1 skidoo, we had 1 each this time so were able to get the full experience.
It was just us and Oliver so we headed out over the frozen lake to the south of the resort. Oliver took it steady to begin with and didn’t really get above about 30 kph whilst we got used to the machines and he could judge our ability. We stopped a couple of times for Oliver to tell us a little about the area and point out some of the mountains, one of which is actually in Alaska, only about 70km away.
Seeing that we were pretty competent riders, Oliver took us in to the forest where we could follow some trails through the trees and have a play around on the machines. It was all great fun until we tried to climb a steep incline which I couldn’t make it up, despite 2 attempts! Oliver had to rescue me both times and said that I was too light and the machine wasn’t able to get traction in the snow. The view from the top of the hill was amazing and the journey back down was much easier!
We then headed to a clearing where we could have a play around in some deep snow and take the machines off piste. This didn’t work out too well for me as, again, being so light, I wasn’t able to weigh the skidoo in to the snow and fell off the thing several times in to waist deep snow! I let Oliver drive me back to the trail and decided to stick to the road from then on!
We did a loop back to the resort but as we still had some time on the clock, Oliver offered to take us back out on the lake for a hair raising spin around the headland. We hit speeds of 90 kph which felt bloody awesome and a little terrifying! The rush of adrenaline as we bombed along the snow was amazing!
After returning the skidoos, but not before I skidded off road and ploughed in to a snowdrift, we swapped them for a more leisurely activity – snowshoes. But first, we fuelled up on a lunch of carrot and coconut soup and a Cuban sandwich.
We’d never snowshoed before and it took a bit of getting used to. You have a tendency to walk with your legs really far apart but you can actually walk pretty normally in them.
There’s a couple of trails of varying lengths around the resort but we took a short one as it was already after lunch and we didn’t want to stray too far.
We followed the signs up the steep hill to Porcupine Bench for a great view of the resort and lake before heading to Moose Meadow, a further 15 minutes or so up the track. The whole route took about an hour and, man, you could feel it in your thighs! The shoes are brilliant at allowing you to walk in deep snow and explore the wilderness. You can rent the shoes tor up to 3 days for a set price and you can also hire a guide for a 90 minute tour, although we didn’t do the tour. There’s map at reception if you want to explore on your own.
After a steaming hot shower in our luxury cabin, we headed for dinner of sockeye salmon and Thai veggie curry, both were delicious! The prawns actually came with the salmon but as the other half doesn’t like prawns, they made their way to my plate! I’m not sure why we were given a choice of main tonight and weren’t the night before but the food was good nonetheless. The salted caramel cheesecake was the dessert of our stay, for sure!
Despite the sky being completely clear of clouds and being able to see more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life, still no northern lights. The other half is a self confessed space geek so he was happy spotting constellations and marvelling at being able to see the Milky Way.
Similar to when we went to Lapland, our strategy for keeping watch for the lights was an early night after dinner with alarms set throughout the night to check the sky. We slept with the bedroom curtains open so we could see the sky from the bed and just open 1 eye when the alarm went off. Regardless of our strategy, the lights just didn’t want to play ball.
At least the cloud had stayed away by the morning and seeing low fog over the lake as the sun came up was simply spectacular. No warmer than 10 below freezing, this is what we had come to the Yukon for. Extreme cold with bright blue skies is incredible, especially as our guides arrived with the huskies, appearing through the fog.
Sophie, one of on the guides, gave us an introduction to the sled and how it worked and some basic health and safety stuff before our guide, MC, got us acquainted with our sled and dogs. The other half took the drive for the first part of our journey, across the frozen lake, and I was coddled all warm and cosy in the front sled.
A much more sedate pace than the skidoos from the day before, the scenery was even more spectacular in the bright morning sun and it was great to be able to sit back and enjoy the view.
After about 45 minutes, we headed in to the forest and swapped places so the other half could get warm and I drove the sled. I say drove, MC was really in control, I just had to not fall off. Which I mostly managed!
Following the twists and turns through the forest was just magical and as we entered a clearing we spotted a moose in the distance. As we got nearer, we noticed that it was a mamma moose with 2 juveniles, about a year old. The moose crossed the track right in front of us and one of the dogs which was loose chased after them through the trees. We didn’t get to see them for long but it was incredible to get so close.
We stopped at a spot for a lunch of hot tea, chicken wraps and s’mores. We were starting to feel the cold so it was good to warm up. I did some laps of the clearing to get the blood pumping.
After lunch, we headed back to the resort which was about 45 minutes away. The other half took the first half as musher and we swapped half way. We spat out of the woods back on to the frozen lake and back to where we started.
Taking the opportunity to warm up, we relaxed in the cabin reading books and doing puzzles before heading for dinner. On the menu tonight was stuffed chicken breast and vegetables. The prawn gyoza starter was very good and they made the other half a salad instead of the gyoza since he doesn’t eat prawns.
The meals were good at the lodge but as we were booked on the half board option, we weren’t given a choice of meal on 2 of the 3 nights we were there. I understand why some hotels offer a fixed menu but considering there were a max of around 10 guests at a time, and it’s a fairly small menu anyway, they could offer a choice.
We set out with our northern lights strategy one last time but still no lights. There was a definite glow in the sky and very little cloud, but nothing like we’ve seen in Lapland or Iceland. At about 2am, when checking the sky, I noticed a black creature snuffling about in the snow. With short, stumpy legs, I, at first, thought it was a badger but then I noticed its massive bushy tail and wondered if it was a wolverine. We watched the animal come right up to the end of our terrace before heading back towards the frozen lake. The next morning, we spoke to the resort staff and googled pictures of animals found in the Yukon. As I thought, it was most likely a wolverine. Very rarely seen, when Rick took us back to the airport he’d said never seen a wolverine so we felt incredibly lucky.
Whilst we didn’t get to see the northern lights, we still loved our stay in the Yukon and at the lodge. There’s a couple of things that could make the experience better, such as a choice of main at dinner times and a drying rack for wet clothes, but it’s otherwise brilliant.
Whilst certainly not a cheap holiday, the activities were good value, as was the half board dining plan. The bar prices were comparable to the UK, about C$10 for a glass of wine or G&T up to C$15 for a cocktail (that’s about £6-£9, so not expensive).
If you are considering a stay here, I would definitely recommend bringing pyjamas and thick socks or slippers to wear in your cabin. The rooms warm nicely but the floors stay bloody cold! Also make sure to bring books or games that don’t require wifi or power and enjoy being off grid. Whilst most of the cabins don’t have kitchens, there is a kettle so bring some pot noodles or snacks to help save money at lunch times. I’d also recommend bringing ear plugs. The resort is silent but the heater in the bedroom is not and will easily keep you awake!
Date of trip; March 2022
Price paid; C$1400 per person for 3 nights half board at Southern Lakes Resort, including the 2 hour guided skidoo tour, the 4 hour huskies tour with lunch and transfers from/back to Whitehorse booked direct with Southern Lakes Resort. The 1 night stay at the Gold Rush Inn in downtown Whithorse was free as I cashed in a hotels.com reward night.
Points earned; None but earned 0.5% cash back for paying with the MBNA Horizon credit card (closed to new applications).