By Elizabeth Frels
Northern Canada is a step just beyond the comfort zone.
Stunning, of course. Welcoming, yes. Inspiring, even more so. But well-traveled? Not so much.
That's because regions like the Yukon and the Northwest Territories value authenticity over polish, stewardship over mass tourism, and the raw over the filtered. Indeed, adventure- and community-seekers alike will find their peace in the North's remote wildernesses where welcoming locals invite reciprocal cultural exchange.
The travelers who venture North and step outside their comfort zone are promised a once-in-a-lifetime, legendary journey unlike any other, which also positively impacts the Indigenous Peoples.
Here's how to experience it all in one, unforgettable community-focused journey.
TO THE NORTH
Canada's Northwest Territories, while a key tourism destination, still feel largely undiscovered. And yet the wonders here are undeniable. The Northern Lights illuminate the skies, a highway of ice stretches deep into the Arctic, and Elders share legends and traditions passed down through generations. This rugged, unscripted land is also home to the deepest lakes, highest waterfalls, and meaningful cultural traditions that have been followed since time immemorial.
Thaidene Nëné National Park
For a proper immersion into these wonders, begin in Yellowknife where a member of the Dene First Nation greets travelers to his homeland. From Yellowknife, a private wheel plane and five-minute boat ride arrives at the Indigenous-owned Frontier Lodge.
Situated at the gateway to Thaidene Nëné – a National Park Reserve sprawling 6.5 million acres – guests of Frontier Lodge will find a trout fishing mecca as well as an adventurous paradise filled with plenty of opportunities for hiking, canoeing, and wildlife and Northern Lights viewing.
Next, venture onward to Fort Simpson, the gateway to Nahanni National Park – the world’s first UNESCO Heritage Site and home to the Dehcho First Nation. Hop aboard a local seaplane to view the majesty of the park up close: soaring through canyons, watching for the resident bears, and passing by the thundering Virginia Falls.
The highlight of Fort Simpson, however, is the chance to commune with the Dene people, who have inhabited the North for centuries. Alongside a Dene Elder, join in a land and fire feeding ceremony, listen to drumming and storytelling, learn about Dene customs and traditions, and break bread with those who have stewarded this land from the beginning.
Finally, return back to Yellowknife via Fort Providence, driving along the shores of Great Slave Lake where impressive herds of bison are known to wander.
Considered one of the world's last frontiers, the Yukon is unlike anywhere else on earth. Whether it's the silent symphony of the Aurora Borealis, the adventures awaiting against a backdrop of commanding mountain peaks, the mineral-rich hot springs inviting a soak, the aerial views of sprawling icefields, or the ancestral stories told by the warm and welcoming Indigenous Elders -- this Northern territory is anything but dull.
Kick off the adventure by following in the footsteps of historic Gold Rush prospectors in Miles Canyon, an otherworldly landscape with connections to both the famed Klondike Gold Rush and the local Kwanlin Dün First Nations heritage. In a single day, visit the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Center for insight into the past and present way of life of the Indigenous Peoples, go "behind-the-fence" at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, and indulge in a healing soak in the Eclipse Nordic Hot Springs.
Next, gain a different perspective into the Yukon at the Long Ago People’s Place, an Indigenous-owned camp that leads excursions into the wilderness while teaching guests the ways of the Southern Tutchone people. Settle in for an enlightening lunch with Indigenous Elders, complete with tea and bannock.
Kluane National Park
Then set off on a scenic drive to Kluane National Park, a place of pristine wilderness and part of the traditional territory of the Southern Tutchone people. One of the best ways to experience this vast jaw-dropping region is via a flightseeing tour over the commanding St. Elias Mountains. Should weather allow, perhaps even land on and walk around the shimmering icefield.
The adventure in Kluane National Park concludes with a stop at Shakat Tun ("summer hunting trails" in the Southern Tutchone language), where the past chief of the Champagne and Aishihik Nations will share fascinating stories of his Nation’s history, culture, and ways of life.
Finally, hop aboard a private plane for a scenic flight to Dawson City, a town frozen in time. But first, stop en route on the Yukon River in Fort Selkirk, a 19th-century town that has served as a traditional harvesting and gathering site for the Northern Tutchone people for thousands of years. Embark on a walking journey through this unique town and dialogue about the traditional First Nations way of life and the impact of colonialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Located in the heart of gold country, Dawson City is lovingly referred to as "the Paris of the North" and became quite the wealthy boomtown in its heyday. Not only does it offer dramatic views of the Klondike Valleys and Ogilvie Mountain Range, but it also plays host to the legendary Diamond Tooth Gertie's -- Canada's oldest legal casino and home to the feisty Gold Rush Girls' cancan show. There's nothing quite like embracing that bygone Klondike setting, complete with raucous singing and dancing, games of chance, and classic cocktails.
Learn about Dawson City's history from two perspectives: First, from a local gold miner who recalls how the Gold Rush changed Dawson City forever at the spot where gold was first discovered. Then, from a local Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in artist, who will provide a deep dive into the first people of the Klondike's culture, art, and history in her studio. Her interactive multimedia workshop introduces her unique style which is tied to her people's singular history.
It all culminates with an exhilarating heli-hike through the Tombstone Territorial Park with its colorful lichen, shrubs, wildflowers, birds, and wildlife. Embrace the views and isolation of this atmospheric place, all the while giving thanks for the courage to step outside that comfort zone into the wild northern reaches.
While in Dawson City, head to Downtown Hotel for a taste of the infamous Sourtoe Cocktail, a Dawson City tradition. Beware: a real human toe may or may not be involved!
-- Catherine Brown, Designer
Travel to Northern Canada with Ker & Downey
Northern Canada Luxury Tour
Travel to the Yukon and the Northwest Territories on this unique 14-night Northern Canada Luxury Tour. Wild and free, these two regions invite travelers to step outside of their comfort zones and immerse themselves in unparalleled adventure, authenticity, and natural beauty.See the Itinerary
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