No, you don’t have to rely on sled dogs to get around in the Yukon. It’s true that a big chunk of the province becomes inaccessible in winter, but otherwise, the wide-open spaces can easily be explored by auto, and the car rental agencies at the Whitehorse airport are well stocked.

Whitehorse is the capitol of the Yukon, and really it’s only city, the starting point of a loop drive that takes you through hundreds of miles of gorgeous wilderness. On your first day head north to Dawson City, driving the loop in a counter-clockwise direction.

This is about a five-hour drive, and you may meet some friends along the way – moose, caribou, bears, wolves and foxes are just some of the animals that you may see. This is why the highway here has a sizable easement cleared between the road and the forest; so you can see these guys coming.

There are plenty of black bears here, but if you’re lucky enough to see any of their larger cousins, grizzly bears, take your pictures from inside the car. Don’t pick them up if they’re hitchhiking. Seriously, give these fellows some room; you’ll want to be in one piece for the rest of the trip!

Although it has “city” in its name, Dawson City is actually a small town. It was much bigger at one time; this is where the Yukon gold rush started when the precious metal was discovered on nearby Bonanza Creek.

There’s a marker on the creek where the first nugget was found, and you can do a little gold panning there yourself if you like. There’s still plenty to be had; the road out to the spot is fully “staked” with claims and mining operations of various sizes work throughout the summer. The remnants of gold rush days are everywhere too. Giant dredges dot the landscape, now rusting away in the same place where they once unearthed fortunes.

Dawson City retains a frontier flavor with its dirt streets, boardwalks for sidewalks and historic buildings. Although the town is so small you can get anywhere on foot, there’s a surprising amount of things to do here.

During the day you can visit the Dawson City Museum where they also have an annex full of locomotives that once hauled supplies to the area. Two famous writers are associated with Dawson City – visit the Robert Service Cabin and the Jack London Interpretive Center.

Dawson City is at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, and you can take a boat tour to that spot and also see salmon-catching fish wheels and wrecked paddle-wheelers. At night, head to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s for a cocktail, a can-can show and maybe a little gambling in their casino. You can find fine dining in Dawson City and of course, plenty of places to hang with the locals and guzzle a couple Yukon Gold beers.

Heading west out of Dawson City, you take a ferry across the Yukon River to get to the Top of the World Highway; a 70-mile stretch through rugged territory to the Alaska border. There is absolutely nothing on this road (except those grizzly bears!) until you cross into Alaska and find the tiny hamlet of Chicken. Yes, there’s really a place called Chicken!

You can get gas, lunch and souvenirs here but nothing else (good place to use the outhouse!) From Chicken you’ll head south and re-enter Canada near Beaver Creek. This is a good place to overnight, and the hotel here has a dinner show that features singing, dancing and a goofy Mountie.

In the morning you’ll continue heading south toward Haines Junction. The Junction is the gateway to Kluane National Park, and in town you can find outfitters who’ll take you river rafting, or by all means not to be missed, on a spectacular airplane or helicopter ride over massive glaciers and ice fields. You may never want to leave, but alas, a couple hours out of Haines Junction you’re back in Whitehorse with a list of things to do the next time.

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