Everything you need to know to complete one of the best Yukon road trip itineraries in the territory – the Golden Circle Route.
Known for its vast expanse of jagged peaks, snowy icefields, turquoise lakes and Arctic tundra, the Yukon in Canada’s far north is the kind of off-the-beaten-path destination that you come to once, and never want to leave.
While most travellers head to more popular places like Banff in the Rockies, those with a sense of adventure will seek out the country’s more remote frontiers, and this is where the Yukon shines brightly.
There’s nothing quite like a Yukon road trip. Whether it is for a week or a month, the freedom of having your own vehicle in such a wild place will ensure you have a plethora of amazing views and intrepid experiences all to yourself.
With a limited amount of time though it can be tough to narrow down the perfect itinerary that will encompass all that the Yukon has to offer.
We had only 7 days to discover the perfect route, and today we want to share it with you.
The Golden Circle Route Yukon Road Trip
The Cabot Trail. The Icefields Parkway. The Golden Circle Route.
These are just some of Canada’s best road trips, and while the first two are deservedly popular, and which we have had the pleasure of driving when we lived in the country, it’s the third one that truly left us humbled.
Circling the far south of the territory, and crossing briefly into British Columbia and Alaska, this journey incorporates some of the legendary highlights the Yukon is famous for.
Conducted as a loop starting in Whitehorse, this trip is perfect for travellers of all ages and styles, from family vacationers to grey nomads, adventurous couples and groups of friends .
If you’re looking for the best Yukon road trip itinerary, this is the one.
From Whitehorse head to Haines Junction, bordering the Kluane National Park and home to the world’s largest non-polar icefield.
Continue to the pretty town of Haines in Alaska, which is much more than just a popular dock for cruise ship passengers.
Those with their own vehicle can get out to the rugged peninsula, make the most of the incredible hiking opportunities, or even have one of the planet’s most remarkable wildlife encounters!
Head across the waters to Skagway to dive into the region’s gold rush history, with a trip along the famous White Pass and Yukon Route train ride that helped shape the economy of the Yukon.
The last spot is Carcross, the location of what’s known as the world’s smallest desert, and proudly showcasing a multitude of First Nations art.
It really is a wonderful adventure, and after completing the trip ourselves, we’re thrilled to put together this Yukon road trip itinerary for the Golden Circle Route.
Day 1 – Whitehorse, Yukon
Whitehorse, the capital of the territory, is the perfect place to start your Yukon road trip!
The Erik Nielson Whitehorse International Airport is decently connected with a few major cities in Canada, including Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, meaning that travelling to the Yukon is getting easier if you aren’t planning on driving from your home.
Once you land in Whitehorse you can pick up your rental car from the airport. We used Driving Force, which are the most popular rental company in town.
Depending on what time you land, we recommend spending the night in town so that you can leave bright and early the next morning.
Things to Do in Whitehorse
For a town with less than 30’000 residents, Whitehorse is surprisingly buzzing, and you’ll easily fill a day by hanging out in town (and much longer if you head out into the wilderness on Whitehorse’s doorstep).
No trip to Whitehorse is complete without paying a visit to the SS Klondike, the large steamboat resting on land next to the Yukon River in town.
When the Gold Rush kicked off in the late 19th century, it brought with it immeasurable wealth for many citizens, and as such a luxury travel industry emerged.
The SS Klondike was part of that – a decadent steamboat experience that would sail the Yukon River, giving rich prospectors and their families a marvellous holiday.
As time went on though the demand for such travel died down, and so today this iconic boat has been turned into a museum.
Where to Stay in Whitehorse
We stayed at the Coast High Country Inn, and it was a perfect place to rest our heads after the connecting flights to the Yukon.
Centrally located just a few blocks from the main intersection of town, the Coast High Country Inn has rooms to suit every style and budget.
We got lucky and were upgraded to a suite when we checked-in, and it was like stepping back into the time of the SS Klondike.
Incredibly spacious with old-fashioned yet tasteful decorations matched with a modern flair such as a stereo and electric fireplace, it was the kind of room that we had to drag ourselves out of to ensure we didn’t end up making it a permanent home.
The included breakfast downstairs in the restaurant was adequate, but the outdoor beer garden was a real highlight in the late afternoon sun.
Best of all there was free parking onsite, so we could leave the car overnight and not have to stress.
Day 2 – Whitehorse to Haines Junction (154km)
After an early breakfast it’s time to load up the car and hit the road. The drive to Haines Junction can be done in two hours, but if you have nice weather it’s going to take you a lot longer!
You’ll be taking the famous Alaska Highway, a highlight of any Yukon road trip, all the way to Haines Junction.
Once you get out of the city you’ll start to enter the mountains of the remarkable Yukon Ranges, with majestic snow-capped peaks and dense boreal forests.
But it’s not just the mountain scenery you have to enjoy – It doesn’t take long out of Whitehorse to come across your first two main attractions.
Turn right at the Klondike Highway, and shortly afterwards there’ll be signs and a turn-off to visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and the Takhini Hot Springs
The Yukon Wildlife Preserve is a 700-acre property that has been segregated into different habitats to highlight some of the territory’s iconic animals.
Here you’ll see moose, elk, wood bison, arctic foxes, woodland caribou and a range of other wildlife that call the Yukon home.
While there’s always a chance you could see some of these animals out in the wild, if you want the best possibility to catch a glimpse of them and learn more about each species, this is the place to do it.
A bit further along on the same road is the Takhini Hot Springs, and if you love soaking in a hot pool then you’ll be in your element here.
These natural hot springs are funnelled into man-made pools and housed in a family-friendly complex. The water ranges between 36 to 42 degrees, and is filled with minerals.
Once you’ve had your soak, it’s time to return to the Alaska Highway and continue heading towards Haines Junction.
The further west you get, the grander the mountains become, and on a clear day you’ll be rewarded with views over large lakes, turbulent rivers and glaciated valleys.
Take as many stops are you like as you go, as the drive really is about the views rather than activities.
It will probably be mid-afternoon by the time you arrive in Haines Junction, and at this point you can either head straight to your accommodation and relax for the afternoon, or head out on a drive to check out some of the nearby lakes.
It was pretty misty and wet when we arrived, so we decided to spend the afternoon driving up the Alaska Highway and check out the different scenery as we went.
We recommend spending at the very least two nights in Haines Junction, with one day checking out a few of the things to do below.
Things to Do in Haines Junction
The more time you have in Haines Junction the better, as you could very easily spend up to a week here hiking, fishing, riding mountain bikes and driving around.
In fact, even though this itinerary just has you there for one full day, we recommend staying at least three days.
With its location right on the edge of the Kluane National Park there’s plenty of outdoor activities to make the most of, and here are just a couple of the things to doin Haines Junction that we did on our Golden Circle Route.
Kluane Glacier Air Tours operates daily flightseeing tours over the national park (weather permitting), and after taking part in a 75-minute flight, it proved to be one of the most memorable experiences of our entire time in the Yukon!
The Kluane National Park is home to the largest non-polar icefield in the world, and the best way to view it is from the air.
Taking off from the Haines Junction Airport you’ll fly over the twisting rivers of the park before heading deep into the mountains, and eventually to the icefield.
Glaciers appear in every direction, and jagged peaks pierce the sky. Seeing the expanse of the park from this angle is a truly phenomenal experience, and something that will stay with you for years to come.
No trip to the Yukon is complete without learning all about the fascinating First Nations culture and history.
The indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest have been a part of the region for thousands of years, and thankfully up in this territory their roles and culture have been fully embraced.
The Da Ku Cultural Centre in Haines Junction is a tribute to their story, and the exhibitions are incredibly well done.
You’ll find artefacts, beautiful pieces of art, interactive exhibits and a wealth of information, allowing you to get a better understanding of the First Nations people of the area.
It’s completely free to visit, and is located right next to the Haines Junction Visitors Centre.
When we swung by the Haines Junction Visitors Centre and asked the park ranger what her favourite hike was in the area, she responded without hesitation that it was the Auriol Trail.
The trailhead to this hike is just 7km south of Haines Junction, off the side of the highway, so in terms of accessibility it’s pretty perfect.
The 15km loop is fairly easy, with very little elevation gain, but the views you are treated to are awe-inspiring.
Once you pass through the forest you hit a large plain, with the peaks of the national park rising up in the distance. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Haines Junction!
The hike only takes a few hours, so it’s something you can fit in after taking the flightseeing tour. Make sure you stop by the visitor’s centre for up-to-date information on the trail conditions, and bring bear spray.
Where to Stay in Haines Junction
The accommodation options in Haines Junction are quite limited, and for the most part they are fairly standard abodes, but there’s one place just outside of town that is well worth stopping off at for a few nights!
10 minutes out of town along the Alaskan Highway, the Mount Logan Lodge is redefining what comfort and hospitality is in the Yukon.
The traditional log cabin lodge is set in a picturesque spot, with pine trees surrounding the property and spectacular mountains forming the backdrop.
They have a number of various accommodation options available, including a yurt (yep, a real yurt!), a bus converted into a guesthouse and a number of bedrooms in the main lodge.
If you want something elegant and spacious, or are travelling as a small family, go for the suite upstairs. It’s huge with lots of sitting areas and plenty of windows and a balcony giving magnificent, elevated views over the region.
The owners, Roxanne and David, are amazing people as well, and offer what might just be the best service in Haines Junction.
Breakfast is included every morning, and if you’d like you can join them for a home-cooked meal every night. Roxanne is a phenomenal chef, often using ingredients she’s grown herself on the property, so you’re guaranteed to have a meal to remember!
While they are a bit more expensive than other places in town, you can’t compare the level of quality and service that Mount Logan Lodge gives.
Day 4 – Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska (238km)
Once you’ve explored the best that Haines Junction and the Kluane National Park has to offer, it’s time to continue your Yukon road trip!
The next part of the Golden Circle Route will take you across the border to the United States, and to the pretty seaside town of Haines.
As to be expected on pretty much every mile of this journey, the scenery is outstanding, so you should leave early and give yourself plenty of time to stop off and make the most of the landscape.
Once you get out of Haines Junction your first stop will most likely be Kathleen Lake. The viewpoint from the road is lovely, and you’ll get an amazing perspective of just how large this lake is.
More lakes will keep appearing, and the further you drive you’ll start to notice the landscape change as you slowly lower in altitude.
You’re bound to be amazed at how lush the terrain is as you approach the international border crossing into the United States.
Entering the country is fairly straightforward. You drive past the Canadian border patrol and continue onto the US office. You stop your car at the gate and chat to the customs and immigration officer.
As Australians we were asked to park the car and come into the building for final processing. The guys were surprisingly friendly, and it was just a matter of formalities to be let into the US.
Welcome to Alaska!
Continuing on your drive, you soon join the Chilkat River, which is absolutely stunning and home to huge number of bald eagles.
Be sure to pull over at all the parking lots on the side of the road to jump out, check out the views and see if you can spot these majestic creatures.
You twist and weave between deep valleys, with the river widening on your right, until you head into the beautiful town of Haines, Alaska.
It should be around lunchtime now, so stop into a cafe or restaurant for a meal (we had some sandwiches at the Rusty Compass Cafe, which were lovely), then get out exploring!
Things to Do in Haines
Haines is a small town, but there’s quite a few things you can do, depending on how much time you want to spend here and your interests.
We’re going to level with you…This was the number one thing we wanted to do in Haines!
A short drive from town is the Chilkoot River, flowing out of Chilkoot Lake and spilling into the Chilkoot Inlet. While the beauty of this region should be enough to bring you here anyway, there’s something else that makes this spot truly incredible.
During the autumn months the river fills with spawning salmon, and this attracts a large population of grizzly bears who come to feed on the abundance of fresh food.
As you drive along the road to the lake, keep an eye out on the river to your right, and you might get lucky and spot a hungry bear (or 12!) fishing for salmon.
You can park your car and walk right to the edge of the river to admire this powerful creatures feeding, but please keep in mind that these are EXTREMELY dangerous wild animals.
Do not get too close to the bears, do not get anywhere near a bear cub, and do not do anything to draw attention to yourself.
Stay close to your car at all times, so if a bear gets spooked or approaches, you can quickly retreat to your vehicle.
With those precautions in place, this is a thrilling place to see grizzlies up close in the wild. The best time to see them is early in the morning or at dusk.
The peninsula that juts out between the Chilkoot Inlet and Chilkat Inlet is a spectacular drive, and you’ll be given lovely views of the mountains on both sides of Haines.
You can head out to Mud Bay and go for a short hike, or simply drive to the end of the road and admire the beauty of the spectacular inlet.
If you give yourself a full day in Haines then you should definitely look at booking a sea kayaking tour.
These trips last from 4 to 7 hours and let you get right into some epic little coves. If you’re really lucky you might even get the chance to spot some of Alaska’s big wildlife, such as bald eagles, grizzly bears and maybe even whales.
Where to Stay in Haines
Haines remote location and the frequency of cruise ship visitors hitting town in the summer makes it an expensive town, so trying to stay here on a budget will either come down to parking up at the campground or finding a spot to park your RV.
If you don’t have your own gear to set up camp, you’ll have to opt for one of the basic guesthouses in town. Note that a lot of these are only open in the summer time.
Day 5 – Haines to Skagway, Alaska (The Ferry)
Have a bit of a lie-in and leisurely breakfast, because the morning is more-or-less yours to enjoy. But if you are an early riser, we recommend heading back to Chilkoot River to see the grizzlies again!
Otherwise you can spend the morning walking around town, checking out some First Nations art and exploring the waterside.
Once the afternoon comes around it’s time to continue the Golden Circle Route, and the best way to do that is to take the car ferry from Haines to Skagway.
This particular trip is quite short (lasting only an hour), but has to-be-expected magnificent views as the boat navigates through the inlets towards the popular cruise ship destination.
Most of the ferries leave around lunchtime, which means you’ll get to Skagway with the afternoon to hang out and learn more about the Klondike Gold Rush history that this region is famous for!
Things to Do in Skagway
Skagway is a beautiful town, and if you’re interested in learning more about the Klondike Gold Rush, then you’re in the right place.
When gold was discovered at Bonanza Creek near Dawson City in 1896, thousands of prospectors made their way up from the US and southern Canada with the hopes of striking it rich.
The most direct route was through the Inside Passage, finishing the boat journey in Skagway before continuing overland into the Yukon.
As such Skagway become an enormous transport hub for people both coming, and going, from the gold-rich creeks further north.
Today the town feels like it’s still stuck in the ‘golden’ era, with timber buildings and old saloons to grab a drink at. If you’re into the Gold Rush, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Skagway.
By far the number one attraction in Skagway is the White Pass and Yukon Route train ride up the Chilkoot Pass.
When prospectors flooded into Skagway they were confronted by harsh mountains that blocked their journey further north.
They had two options to push deeper into the Yukon – Either take the steep and challenging Chilkoot Trail to the summit of the pass, or take the longer White Pass Route.
Both trails were fraught with danger, and so in 1897 George Brackett built a toll-road through the mountains using his own money. The toll gate was largely ignored by the prospectors, and he fell into financial despair.
In 1898 two railroad investors, Sir Thomas Tancrede and Michael J. Heney, travelled to Skagway and developed the idea to build a railway through the White Pass.
They leased Brackett’s failed road off of him for $110’000, set to work on the arduous and expensive construction of the rail, and by the beginning of 1899 the passenger train journey to the summit of Chilkoot Pass was completed, opening the flood gates to the north.
Fast forward to today and the train still makes its once perilous 20-mile journey from Skagway to the top of the pass, but this time transporting tourists rather than prospectors and cargo.
It’s a spectacular train ride, offering unrivalled views of the valleys and mountains above the town. You travel in an old-fashion coach with large windows so none of the scenery is missed.
The whole journey takes just under 3 hours, and is the number one thing to do in Skagway!
Make sure you book this ahead of time though, because it you happen to be in Skagway on a day that a cruise ship is in, you might have a hard time getting a spot.
With so much Gold Rush history in the area, one of the best things you can do is simply wander around the streets and learn as much as you can.
The best place to this is at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center, but once you’ve finished stocking up on information there, just check out the other cool spots in Skagway.
Where to Stay in Skagway
Skagway has a number of accommodation options, but they are quite few and far between to be honest, just like Haines across the water.
If you’re not in your own RV then you might want to look at the places on Booking.com to make sure you get a place to stay.
Day 6 – Skagway to Carcross, Yukon (105km)
It’s time to keep moving on the Golden Circle Route and your Yukon road trip and actually return back to Canada!
Once you leave Skagway you start climbing up through the mountains, in much the same way the train did the previous day, until you hit the Canadian border crossing.
Hopefully another quick and painless process, and then you’ll be on your way into some of the most unique scenery of the entire trip!
After days of dense forests and snow-capped peaks, it now appears as though you’ve driven into another planet.
The lunar landscape between the US/Canadian border and Carcross is a sight to behold, with bare, layered rocks stretching out to dirt-covered mountains.
Glistening blue lakes shimmer brightly in the sunlight, nestled amongst the rugged terrain. Make sure you’re camera batteries are charged, because you’ll be stopping to take a lot of photos.
Along the way is another big attraction you can stop off at – the Yukon Suspension Bridge.
Rising 20m above the rapids of the Tutshi River, you can walk across this swaying 60m long suspension bridge, and if you have a slight fear of heights it’s bound to get your heart racing.
At CAD$18 (plus tax) per person though, it’s a pretty expensive excursion for what it is.
And considering it’ll only take up a few minutes of your time if you don’t visit the museum, we recommend saving your money and skipping it, unless you have a thing for suspension bridges.
You’ll eventually break through the rugged mountains and into the Southern Lakes region, which brings on a whole new beauty in itself.
Stop by in Carcross to check out the First Nations art (more on that below), and then head to your accommodation for the night in Tagish.
Things to Do in Carcross
Carcross is actually one of the oldest towns in the Yukon, and despite its tiny size, you could easily spend an hour or two walking around the village.
With its strong First Nations history, one of the best things to do in Carcross is simply head downtown and wander around the Carcross Commons.
This cute collection of souvenir stores and cafes surrounding a purpose-built square are adorned with marvellous First Nations art, which you can’t help but be amazed by.
Besides the large paintings on the walls, the main focal point in the Carcross Commons is the totem poles.
These intricately-carved wonders have been expertly created by some of the region’s best artists, and each one has a story to tell.
Make sure you read all the plaques about the First Nations history!
Often referred to as the ‘world’s smallest desert’, the Carcross Desert is one of the more unique things you’ll see on this Yukon road trip.
If you took away the mountains and pine trees in the distance, and instead focused on the rolling dunes and sand plains that make up the 1 square mile block, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the Sahara or the Gobi.
The truth is though that it isn’t actually a desert, it’s just a series of dunes. Don’t let that stop you from stopping off and wandering around the place though.
Where to Stay in Carcross
The town of Carcross itself is quite limited with its accommodations, so instead head out of town and stay at the fabulous Southern Lakes Resort.
This amazing collection of log cabins is set on Tagish Lake, about 30 minutes from Carcross, and you’ll be hard pressed to find another place that quite compares to it on Yukon’s Golden Circle Route.
The resort itself has a huge lodge high on a hill and overlooking the lake, so you can kick back at the end of the day with a craft beer in hand and enjoy amazing views.
If you’re a foodie then you’re in for a real treat too, as Bruno, the head chef, serves up some absolutely incredible meals every night!
He focuses on adding a unique flair to traditional dishes, and often with locally-sourced ingredients. Even if you’re not staying here, it’s worth stopping by for a meal!
The accommodation is also phenomenal. Large, spacious log cabins with vistas over the lake ensure you’ll feel like you’re in a natural wonderland.
The beds are comfortable, and you can monitor the temperature with an electric thermostat, so you’ll never get to hot or too cold, despite the weather outside.
If you love being active as well it’s a great spot to hang out, as you can rent kayaks and canoes to paddle off from their private dock and explore the glorious Tagish Lake.
One of the real highlights of Southern Lakes Resort is the chance to see the Aurora Borealis. We were very lucky and saw the Northern Lights on both nights we were there, and this was in September when they’re not actually at their peak!
If you’re looking for an excellent place to stay in Carcross during your Yukon road trip, we recommend driving a little bit further to Tagish and hanging out at Southern Lakes Resort.
Day 7 – Carcross to Whitehorse (73km)
The final leg from Carcross to Whitehorse will mark the end of your short Yukon road trip along the Golden Circle Route, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see along the way!
You can either leave Tagish and head towards Jake’s Corner, then drive up the Alaska Highway towards Whitehorse, but we recommend heading back the way you came and taking the Klondike Highway to see another awesome spot.
Not far past Carcross you’ll drive right between two of the most beautiful lakes you’ll ever see – Emerald Lake and Spirit Lake.
There’s a large carpark to the side of the highway so you can pull over and marvel at these turquoise gems in the shadows of large mountains.
We have to admit that these two lakes were our favourites on the entire road trip!
Once you connect back up with the Alaska Highway it’s a pretty straight forward drive all the way into Whitehorse, so you’ll probably make it back in time to have lunch and enjoy a well-earned beer.
After spending 7 days driving the world famous Golden Circle Route, we can safely say that it was the perfect way to explore the territory on our first ever Yukon road trip.
It provided a fascinating diversity in not just the mountainous terrain that this part of Canada is famous for, but also gave the opportunity to dive into the history of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Add it to your bucket list!
Best Time to Drive the Golden Circle Route
The tourist season in the Yukon is usually limited to summer, unless you’re the kind of person that loves cold weather, deep snow and winter activities like skiing, dog sledding and snowshoeing.
The typical time to drive around the Yukon is from April to November, with the peak season being June, July and August.
That being said though, we believe that there really is only one perfect time to drive around the Yukon. Autumn.
In September and October the trees start to change colour and are filled with deep violets, oranges, reds and yellows, giving the already spectacular scenery a life of its own.
You just cannot beat Canada in the Fall, so that’s why we recommend that if you’re planning your epic Yukon road trip, especially around the Golden Circle Route, that you explore the region in September and October.
Tips for a Yukon Road Trip
There’s a few tips we want to share with you to help you get the most out of your Yukon road trip.
Rent an SUV
The roads along the Golden Circle Route are pretty good, but there’s plenty of times that you’ll want to veer off the main highway and check out some of the harder-to-reach places.
For this we recommend renting at the very least an SUV, and if you can afford it getting a large truck.
It’s also much safer in case you have a collision with an animal, which in this part of Canada is entirely possible.
Never Let the Fuel Drop Below Half-Full
You can go quite a long way between fuel stations, so do yourself a favour and fill up whenever you see your fuel tank getting close to half and you come across a station.
Book Accommodation and Tours Ahead of Time
Even though the Yukon is a fairly remote place and doesn’t receive a lot of visitors, outside of Whitehorse there just isn’t a huge number of accommodation options.
If you have your own RV or camping gear, then you don’t have to worry. But if you are travelling around like we were, with a vehicle and relying on guesthouses, you should book things ahead of time.
This is so you don’t show up in a town like Haines Junction and find all the good places (ie Mount Logan Lodge) are gone, leaving you with a run-down highway motel.
The tours can also book out a few days in advance, so if you know you’re going to be somewhere give the operators a call and see if you should make a reservation.
You Can Do the Trip in Either Direction
Even though we drove to Haines Junction first and did the loop counter-clockwise, the truth is you can drive this trip in either direction and you’ll still have an amazing time.
Don’t Forget Your Passport
You’ll be crossing the border into the US, so don’t leave your passport behind!
Don’t let the relatively short distances fool you – there’s a good chance that any one leg could take you all day with all the stops you’ll be making as you go.
Make sure you start your days early, and have some snacks with you to keep you energised on the road.
Outside of the big towns don’t expect to get much phone signal. That means you’ll have to post your Instagram pics that night!
Don’t let that scare you though in terms of safety. If you breakdown you’ll probably only have to wait 10-15 minutes max before an overlander or friendly local drives by.