I’ve seen rainbow crosswalks in many places — from to San Francisco to Atlanta and Philadelphia to West Hollywood. But few moved me as much as the crosswalks bearing rainbow and trans pride colors poking out from beneath the slush in tiny Whitehorse, Yukon. Whitehorse, a town of less than 30,000 people, is the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council. Located a two-hour flight north of Vancouver, it was brimming with queer pride and LGBTQ-owned businesses.
A rainbow crosswalk in Whitehorse
Air Canada has direct flights to Whitehorse from Vancouver, but there’s also a friendly throwback local airline, Air North (they actually serve free meals!). Air North connects the provincial capital to Vancouver, Victoria, Yellowknife, Edmonton, Calgary, and (seasonally) to Toronto and Ottawa.
Yukon itself has a bit of an image problem with many travelers, who confuse it as being part of Alaska. It’s most definitely not — in fact, the large Canadian territory sits directly to the east of Alaska and is roughly 20 percent larger than California. And while it may not have Alaska’s endless coastline, it does have vast mountain ranges, glaciers, wildlife, plenty of opportunities for adventure, and some of the friendliest and most open-minded people you’ll meet. (Although, if you’re looking to get away from masses of people, it’s worth noting that Yukon wins by a landslide on that count, with a mere 43,000 residents compared to Alaska’s roughly 730,000.)
I spent my first couple of nights about 40 minutes outside of Whitehorse at the stunning Inn on the Lake, a queer-owned resort on dramatic Marsh Lake. The lake was completely frozen over, allowing for push sledding, snowshoeing, hiking, and fat-wheeled biking, all while gazing at the impressive mountain ranges in every direction.
Fireweed Cottage at the Inn on the Lake
The main building here is a gorgeous log structure that includes the dining room, several hotel-type rooms, a jacuzzi suite, and a presidential suite. There are also a variety of surrounding cottages and apartments, including the adorable Fireweed Cottage, with two lakeside decks, an outdoor jacuzzi, two bedrooms, and a full kitchen. The cuisine is truly an elevated experience at Inn on the Lake, with wonderful communal dinners each evening — where guests share stories of their adventures during the day and speculate on the chances for seeing the aurora borealis (“northern lights”) later in the evening.
The aurora is what drives most of Whitehorse’s visitors in the winter months, especially from October to March. With a latitude just above 60° North, the whole area is prime real estate for seeing this wonder of nature, where charged solar particles interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. I wasn’t overly lucky on my trip, managing just one moderate greenish aurora while in town, but the excitement of the chase each evening made for a great bonding experience with the other guests. And it made me determined to return next year!
The author on Marsh Lake
Pro tip: The Base Yukon, a local outfitter, will rent you some serious arctic winter gear for your Yukon adventure, including down jackets, snow boots, insulated gloves, hats (toques in Canada-speak), and even down snow pants — this is really a smart option when those items would otherwise take up valuable space in your luggage! I booked in advance and gave my sizes, so my gear was waiting for me in a huge duffel bag when I arrived in town. Brilliant!
The glass chalets of the Northern Lights Resort & Spa
The Whitehorse area has a surprising number of accommodations for various price points. The exclusive Northern Lights Resort & Spa, located about 20 minutes outside of town, is set on an amazing piece of property. Its three new glass-fronted chalets are perhaps the most luxe way to watch the aurora — right from the comfort of your bed! In town, the Raven Innis a modern and hip addition to the scene and features bright colors and convenient keypad entry to the rooms. Or to sample a bit of goldrush-era luxury, try the stately and historic Edgewater Hotel, which boasts 33 guestrooms and several large suites, all with a modern feel.
Delightful Dawson City
One of the biggest surprises of the trip was discovering the incredibly charming Dawson City, an hour’s plane flight (or a six-hour drive) north of Whitehorse. In this picture-perfect western town of perhaps 1,500 people, I ran into multiple queer residents, all of whom raved about how welcoming Dawson is to community members. This is the Traditional Territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation.
I had an excellent soup-and-sandwich lunch at queer-owned BonTon, recently named one of Canada’s top new restaurants. I saw posters for a monthly drop-in “Gaaaymes Night” at several businesses. And at the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture’s ODD Gallery, I viewed the brilliant and thought-provoking “Queer Newfoundland Hockey League” traveling exhibit. Here, artist Lucas Morneau has thrown together traditional masculine and feminine tropes — hockey and crocheting — and produced 14 crocheted hockey jerseys for fictional teams. The team names incorporate pejoratives historically used against the LGBTQ+ community to reclaim the words.
While in town, I stayed at the hip new Dawson Lodge, owned and run by a gay couple from the U.K. who moved to Dawson City in 2017. The funky, modern boutique property features no front desk or lobby — you’re simply emailed the access codes to the front door and your room on the day of your arrival. The on-site Yukon Spa specializes in Raynor Massage, a deep tissue technique that helps release tension and tightness in muscles. Also recommended are the wonderful facials and skincare treatments, which I found particularly relaxing.
Crocheted hockey jerseys reclaim words of hate
Owner Lee Manning explained that they’ve already purchased more land in town, with the goal of opening a fully separate spa and café in the coming year, allowing for more treatment rooms and providing an alcohol-free environment (alcoholism is a significant problem in isolated communities like Dawson City). After that, they’re planning on building more housing right in the city center — something that is lacking here, especially for seasonal workers. Manning’s passion for the city was infectious, and it was wonderful to see a queer couple making such a difference in the community.
Summertime is the busier season here in Dawson, with many tour buses arriving from Alaska cruises, full of travelers eager to hear about the region’s gold rush history. But Janice Cliff, National Historic Site and Visitor Experience Manager, my queer tour guide from Parks Canada, said that the parks system is working to actively tell more stories than simply ones about the gold rush. As she showed me around the historical buildings in Dawson City, she noted that a focus is now on sharing stories from the perspective of the First Nations People (who have been here some 12,000 years, versus the handful of years that the gold rush encompassed), as well as women and LGBTQ individuals.
Dogs relaxing after sledding through the snow
Make time to visit the Dawson City Museum, which has handsome displays on the town’s history, including perspectives from First Nations people. A few blocks away, Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall is a throwback to earlier days and features a casino where all profits go back to the community. Hikers will enjoy the views from Midnight Dome, just outside of town — the hilltop provides stunning views of the whole city, as well as the point where the Yukon and Klondike Rivers meet.
Both Whitehorse and Dawson City offer myriad opportunities for both indoor and outdoor adventure, and here were our favorite activities experienced while visiting the expansive province:
• Flightseeing. We went on a one-hour flightseeing adventure with Great River Air out of Dawson City airport on a picture-perfect day, with bluebird-colored skies and not a cloud in sight. Our route took us right over the city and out to the incredible Tombstone Mountains, which evoked the spires of Chile’s Torres del Paine or Italy’s Dolomites, with their black granite protrusions sticking up almost 10,000 feet into the Yukon skies. Our pilot, Scott, pointed out landmarks to us as he expertly guided the small plane in and around the mountain peaks. On many days, he explained, herds of caribou could be seen in some of the snow-covered valleys.
• Cooking classes. A great option when the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor activities is spending a day at one of Well Bread’s fabulous cooking classes in Whitehorse. Owner Catherine (Cat) McInroy was in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police before moving into catering and cooking later in life. Today’s she’s one of only three female Red Seal certified chefs for both baking and cooking in Canada, the highest level before master chef. I learned how to make sourdough pancakes and Klondike nuggets (a cross between a beignet and an elephant’s ear), as well as had Chef Cat solve some of my own cooking issues from home — she’s a delight to chat with and a natural-born teacher whose love of cooking and cooking techniques is infectious. Her classes change seasonally and range from breads to meats to cocktail mixology.
Chef Cat works her culinary magic
• Aurora viewing. I experienced some glam aurora viewing in Dawson City with the wonderful local company, The Klondike Experience. My guide, Noby, was really passionate about the physics behind the aurora and explained how they form and where in the sky they generally appear. We drove across the city’s fascinating seasonal ice bridge to a luxurious yurt in the middle of a forested plot of land. There, a log fire was roaring, and sweets and hot chocolate were waiting. I’d been worried about the nighttime weather being too frigid, but this was the perfect mix — we could alternate between relaxing in the yurt while chatting about life and travel and aurora — and heading outside to check on the aurora. Even when the aurora weren’t active, the crystal clear skies here, miles from city lights, were simply studded with stars, unlike anything back home.
• Snowmobiling. Also with The Klondike Experience, snowmobiling (or snowmachining, as some locals call it) with owner and guide Jesse was a grand adventure. We drove the powerful machines on snow-packed roads, up and down trails through the verdant forests, and even along the frozen Yukon River. Even for someone who’d never driven a snowmobile before, I felt comfortable thanks to Jesse’s instruction, and can’t wait to try this experience again. The Klondike Experience also offers a variety of day tours in both summer and winter seasons, as well as more customized experiences, such as heli-hiking, trekking, educational, and photography tours for groups of up to 24 people.
• Dogsledding. Widely available in both Whitehorse and Yukon, this incredible bucket list item was a blast to experience. As soon as our musher, Matty, came outside, the dogs went into a frenzy of howling and barking, they were so excited about the upcoming run. The dogs weren’t huskies, as I’d guessed they would be, but a menagerie of husky mixes and medium-sized mutts that I wouldn’t have expected. Once hooked up to the sled and on our way, they were immediately quiet, focused on the task at hand. The ride through woods and fields was glorious, and Matty treated the dogs with surprising kindness as we rode. As a dog lover, I’d been a bit worried as to whether I’d feel awkward about how the animals would be treated, but I was pleasantly surprised throughout the journey. Matty explained that the sled dogs are very sensitive and need constant praise and encouragement. I had the opportunity to drive the sled myself for a few minutes, and it was exhilarating and unforgettable.