Alsek/Tatshenshini: The Alsek and Tatshenshini rivers are two of the Yukon’s most iconic river trips. The Alsek meanders through Kluane National Park and meets with the Tatshenshini in British Columbia’s Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, flowing on through Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park. Trips are available on both, depending on your time frame. The Alsek flows southward from its source at the confluence of the Dezadeash and Kaskawulsh rivers, through large glaciated valleys of the St. Elias Mountains home to grizzly bear and mountain goat. Look for Arctic plant life clinging to a stark landscape freshly removed from being entombed in ice. Breathtaking views of such glaciers as Lowell and Fisher highlight this trip of a lifetime. Six-day trips end at Turnback Canyon, formed by massive Tweedsmuir glacier, while four-day trips end at Lowell Lake, avoiding the majority of the whitewater. Info: Nahanni River Adventures; Tatshenshini Expediting.
Teslin: This 370-km trip (including 170 km on the Yukon River) starts at Johnson’s Crossing on the Alaska Highway, where the Teslin River makes its way to its confluence with the Yukon. Perfect for novice canoeists, the Class I-II trip includes a stop at Shipyard Island to see the remains of the steamship Evelyn and ample opportunity to view such endemic wildlife as moose, caribou, wolf, bear and eagle. During August and September, you’ll also see thousands of salmon spawning and making their way upstream as you canoe down. Camps are along alder-lined riverbanks or on gravel bars, with meals (likely featuring fresh Arctic grayling, salmon or northern pike) cooked over an open fire. Side hikes also abound before the tour ends in the settlement of Carmacks on the Yukon River where a van whisks you back to Whitehorse. Info: Up North Adventures; Cabin Fever Adventures; Taiga Journeys; Ruby Range Adventure Ltd; Yukon Wide Adventures; Sea to Sky Expeditions; Cedar and Canvas Adventures
Big Salmon: On this perfect beginner-level trip you’ll canoe over 300 km in 15 days, becoming a true northern sourdough. Filled with wildlife and spectacular Yukon scenery, the Big Salmon starts as a tiny creek before traversing large scenic lakes and picking up flow. The journey begins on aptly named Quiet Lake, before you wend down the Big Salmon through the Salmon Mountains to the Yukon River. Visit historic sites and enjoy numerous hiking options on a trip that has quickly become a favorite of local guides. You’ll end your tour at the settlement of Carmacks where you’ll cartop your canoes for the short, two-hour drive back to Whitehorse. Info: Up North Adventures; Taiga Journeys; Cabin Fever Adventures; Nature Tours of Yukon; Ruby Range Adventure Ltd; Yukon Wide Adventures; Cedar and Canvas Adventures
Nisultin: For the perfect introductory trip to wilderness canoe paddling Yukon-style, consider the Nisutlin. Great for those new to canoe trips or families with kids, you’ll count more moose and meanders than you will whitewater rapids, with still all the wilderness solitude and splendor of its more adrenaline-addled cousins of the North. Located near Whitehorse, the trip can be done in five days for those with a short vacation window, while still offering the chance to get fully immersed in the Yukon backcountry. The 130-km trip is a great option for beginners new to both moving water and wilderness, from the put-in to the village of Teslin on Teslin Lake’s Nisutlin Bay. Info: Up North Adventures; Ruby Range Adventure Ltd; Yukon Wide Adventures.
Bonnet Plume:If you want whitewater with your wilderness, boat the Bonnet Plume. One of North America’s last true frontiers, the Bonnet Plume winds through the majestic Peel Watershed along the Mackenzie Mountains into the heart of the Yukon wilderness. One of the premier whitewater wilderness rivers in Canada, it’s the region’s most technically challenging river, particularly from Bonnet Plume Lake to Knorr Creek, where you can expect Class II-III rapids with occasional Class IVs and even Vs to portage. Watching your runs will be such sub-arctic wildlife as caribou, moose, bear and wolf. Part of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, the waterway offers great camping, scenic alpine day-hikes, wildlife, fishing and (did we mention?) whitewater. Just try to save up enough energy after each day’s rapids for the side hikes. Info: Ruby Range Adventure; Tatshenshini Expediting.
Wind: Part of the Peel River watershed and only accessible by air, the Wind River lies west of the Bonnet Plume and Snake rivers and offers Yukon wilderness at its best. Your trip begins with a dramatic floatplane flight over the Wernecke Mountains to McClusky Lake, where, after a short gear portage, you begin a meandering float on water as clear as the northern sky. Perfect for entry-level paddlers, the Class I-II waterway is characterized by riffles and tight corners, as well as ridges perfect for hiking and viewing sheep, goats, caribou, elk, beavers, wolves, eagles, falcons and more. At the confluence of Peel River at Taco Bar, you’ll meet your floatplane for the return trip home. Info: Cabin Fever Adventures; Nahanni River Adventures; Ruby Range Adventure Ltd; Sea to Sky Expeditions; Cedar and Canvas Adventures; Nature Tours; Up North Adventures
Pelly: When Hudson’s Bay Company trader Robert Campbell crossed the divide from the Liard River drainage to the headwaters of the Pelly River in 1842, it marked the Yukon Indians first contact with white men. You can explore the history of the wild Pelly by canoeing 185 miles from the Faro to Pelly Crossing. On it, the St. Cyr Mountains and the Glenlyon and Anvil mountain ranges mark the river’s borders. Look for grizzly and black bear high on the alpine grass fields, historic cabins and more as you navigate such namesake Class II rapids as Little Fish Hook and Big Fish Hook, both on sharp bends. En route you’ll gain flow from such tributaries as the Tay, Earn and South MacMillan rivers before navigating Granite Canyon and floating by the 60-foot spire, Needle Rock. Then it’s 20 sluggish miles to your take-out at Pelly Crossing. Info: Cedar and Canvas Adventures; Sea to Sky Expeditions; Nature Tours of Yukon
Firth: Want the true north? The Firth River is Yukon’s most northerly river, running from the British Mountains through Ivvavik National Park before emptying into the Arctic Ocean in the Beaufort Sea. One of the oldest rivers on the continent and traditional territory of the Inuvialuit people, it cuts through whitewater-filled canyons and mountain-lined tundra fields adjacent to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, all on the migration route of the famed Porcupine caribou herd. Home to the most northerly herd of Dall sheep in the world, it also offers the chance to see everything from moose and muskoxen to grizzly, wolves and wolverines. To top it off, the Firth offers world-class hiking through wildflowers. This fly-in and fly-out rafting trip often includes a side trip to Herschel Island on the Beaufort Sea. Info: Nahanni River Adventures.
Yukon:The Yukon is one of the longest rivers in North America, with an equally long history as the main aquatic highway of the Klondike gold rush. While it’s the site of the Yukon River Quest—the world’s longest canoe and kayak marathon from Whitehorse to Dawson City—it’s also perfect for paddling adventures of all walks. Trips of varying lengths let you experience everything from such historic sites as old telegraph stations, wood camps and paddlewheelers to wildlife, camping under the northern stars and dining on fresh salmon straight from the river. Some trips even let you visit the restored settlement of Fort Selkirk. Info: www.yukonwild.com
Snake: Renowned for its spectacular hiking and filled with generous Class I-II rapids and the occasional Class III, the Snake River is a wilderness run ideal for intermediate canoeists (note: your canoe will likely need a spray skirt to keep splashes at bay). Accessible only by floatplane, this stunning trip begins with a flight through the mighty Mackenzie Mountains before landing for your put-in at Duo Lakes. From there begins a 500-km, three-week paddle through as dynamic a wilderness as you’ll find anywhere. En route expect to encounter bears, wolves, moose, Dall sheep, caribou and more either from the water or on side hikes though the dramatic landscape. You’ll also enjoy a visit to historic Fort McPherson and an excursion to Dawson City before returning to Whitehorse. Info: Cabin Fever Adventures; Nahanni River Adventures – Raft or Canoe; Ruby Range Adventure Ltd; Up North Adventures
More from C&K
—Photo Essay – Living on the Wind: A family canoe adventure down the Yukon’s Wind River
—Yukon’s Peel Watershed: Threatened Paddling Classics
The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak
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