We went to western Canada this summer looking
for some beautiful northern scenery to carry us through to
our Arizona winter, and we were not disappointed. This portion
of the North American continent is simply breathtaking, and
we'll be captioning photos for the next several months.
Our route took us from the Canadian border north
through the Canadian Rockies to Dawson Creek, then northwest
along the Alaska Highway to Whitehorse, south on the Klondike
Highway to Skagway, Alaska, then north again to Dawson City,
Yukon - retracing the path of the Gold Rush stampeders. From
there, we drove the magnificent Top of the World Highway into
As we crossed the border at Sweetgrass, Mont., the wheat fields
of the great American breadbasket continued north unbroken,
stretching as far as we could see. The Canadian Rockies came
into view west of Calgary, and we followed the Icefields Parkway
through Banff and Jasper National Parks. The mountains appear
younger and wilder than the southern Rockies, and the crags
and cliffs were still snow-covered in June, leaving gleaming
patches of unmelted winter to crown scenes of barren rock
and green trees.
The two parks have generous wooded campsites
with hotels, food and shopping in the small towns of Banff
and Jasper. Hiking, biking, fishing and boating attract many
visitors and sightseers. At beautiful Lake Louise, for example,
you can take an easy walk along the lake, hike to the teahouse
or rent a canoe. We are hot springs aficionados, so we made
it a point to stop at both Upper Banff Hot Springs and Miette
Hot Springs, at opposite ends of the parkway. You can rent
bathing suits if you forgot yours. Jaimie rented an old-fashioned
suit at Miette Hot Springs for the fun of it!
Spotting wildlife is a thrill in these parks.
In the fall, elk wander right through the campgrounds. As
we drove the Yellowhead Highway east from Jasper to Miette
Hot Springs, we saw elk, woodland caribou and a black bear
grazing. A mineral lick along the road attracted mountain
goats with long white leggings and bighorn sheep with their
The next major stretch was the first half of the Alaska Highway,
from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Whitehorse, Yukon.
Driving the Alaska Highway is driving a piece of history.
Construction began after Pearl Harbor was bombed in World
War II. Starting in Dawson Creek at Mile Zero, the U.S. Army
and contractors cut a road 1,422 miles long, to Delta Junction,
Alaska, where none had been before.
Photos, artifacts and a video at the visitor
center at Dawson Creek show the building of the highway. Other
museums, like Fort Nelson Heritage Museum, have additional
photos and equipment. In Teslin, the film at the George Johnston
Museum shows another perspective of the road construction
- that of the First Nation tribes.
As you drive north, road damage from harsh winters
becomes a factor, but the scenery and wildlife more than make
up for the frost heaves and occasional repair operations.
Between Stone Mountain Provincial Park and Watson Lake we
photographed woodland caribou, stone sheep, wood buffalo,
moose and black bear. Buffalo especially like the wide verges
along the highway. Oh, and keep your eyes open for a sign
that reads "Cinnamon Bun Center of the Galactic Cluster,"
found at Tetsa River Services and Campground, one of the roadhouses
along the highway. Several roadhouses offer cinnamon buns
so you can do a comparison test and choose the best!
Hot Springs, in the middle of this same stretch, is a
must-stop. Liard is a provincial park with a campground. Here
the water comes into the larger natural pool at more than
107 degrees, gradually cooling to pleasant temperatures farther
away from the source. You might see a moose browsing in the
warm-water ponds below the springs.
Once we reached Watson Lake, in Yukon, we picked
up a Yukon Gold Explorer's Passport book at the visitor center.
The booklet lists 31 attractions. Getting 10 or more of the
attractions stamped during the summer of 2009 makes you eligible
for a drawing for gold! We stopped at some delightful cultural
centers and museums we otherwise might not have visited.
Whitehorse is the capital of Yukon, formerly called the Yukon
Territory, and the largest city along the Alaska Highway.
It is a good place to stock up on food, and it offers several
worthwhile attractions, including the MacBride
Museum and the Yukon Beringia
Interpretive Centre. The MacBride's new exhibit, "Gold
to Government," presents Yukon development from 1880
to 1953. The Beringia Centre brings alive the time when the
Bering land bridge rose between Asia and North America as
ocean levels dropped during the ice ages. Woolly mammoths,
bears, bison and other large creatures thrived in the unglaciated,
grassy tundra called Beringia. Humans migrated from Asia into
North America during this period, too.
We also enjoyed hiking to the remains of Canyon
City and soaking in Takhini
After a side trip to Skagway, Alaska, we drove the Klondike
Highway to Dawson City. During the 1897-1898 Klondike Gold
Rush, the majority of stampeders climbed the Chilkoot Trail
from Dyea or the White Pass Trail out of Skagway, then built
boats and floated down the Yukon River to Dawson. The highway
follows this trail. The southern portion is exceptionally
scenic. Two unusual features to look for are the smallest
desert in the world, near Carcross, and beautiful Emerald
Lake beyond that.
Our Yukon passport book included several stops
along the highway. At Carmacks, we visited the Tage Cho Hudan
Interpretive Centre, which houses displays of traditional
tools and native crafts. The First Nation docent told us an
amazing piece of local lore about the grandmother of an older
woman in the village who saw the last living woolly mammoth
- though the last mammoths are thought to have become extinct
around 1700 B.C.
Klondike Gold Rush history is preserved in historic
Dawson City by Parks Canada. Walking tours and restored buildings
(including a few buildings that are leaning because the permafrost
under them melted soon after construction) give a flavor of
the time, at the turn of the 20th century, when Dawson City
boasted 40,000 people. After the Gold Rush, the poet Robert
Service worked in Dawson City; his cabin is open to visitors,
as is Jack London's cabin, just down the street.
Top of the World Highway
From Dawson City, we crossed the Yukon River on the free ferry
and drove the Top of the World Highway to Alaska. Though mostly
gravel, the road affords 360-degree views and takes you through
boreal forest and tundra above the tree line. Photographs
do not do justice to the almost endless views.
We are looking forward
to returning through western Canada at summer's end via a
different route. Our route will include the portion of the
Alaska Highway we missed as well as the Cassier Highway. We
know we will be treated to spectacular views, wildlife sightings
and friendly Canadians wherever we travel.
Bruzenak and Jaimie Hall Bruzenak
If You Go: Some Useful Information
Crossing the border. For
information on preparing for the trip and border
crossings see "Ready
Shopping. There are restrictions
on the kinds of food items you can bring across
the border into Canada, so you will need to
do some shopping during your first couple of
days in the country. Lethbridge, Alberta, is
a good place to stock up for the trip through
the Rockies. The next large city for shopping
on this route is Prince George, though we found
most of what we needed along the way, including
some health food items. Whitehorse, the largest
city in Yukon, has a Real Canadian Superstore
and a Wal-Mart. Many "towns" along
the Alaska Highway are actually just small roadhouses
with fuel, café items and sodas for sale
and perhaps some rooms for rent.
Internet and cell phones.
More RV parks and hotels have Wi-Fi every year,
and the larger cities have Internet cafés.
Check advertisements in the local tourist papers
or ask at the visitor center if you cannot find
access. We signed up for Verizon's Canada plan
for both our cell phones and Internet service,
and it was a waste of money. The Verizon AirCard
worked only to Fort Nelson; after that, neither
cell phone nor AirCard worked until we reached
Alaska. Plus, the cost was high. Skype
is a much better deal. For $2.95 a month, you
can call a telephone in the U.S. or Canada using
your computer. If your family also has Skype,
you don't need a subscription; with a webcam,
you can also see each other on your computer
Wildlife. Wildlife sightings
are often a matter of timing and luck. However,
animals tend to be out in the cooler parts of
the day and during spring and fall, when they
are moving from one area to another. Remember,
we are visitors in their habitat. If you approach
an animal and it gets nervous, you are too close.
Close encounters are stressful to the animals,
who may come to associate roads with danger
and eventually avoid them.
Always be on the alert for wildlife
- both to avoid collisions and to have the camera
ready. Warning signs indicate areas to be careful.
Parks Canada passes. If you plan to stop
at several national parks, you should consider
purchasing an annual pass. You will need a separate
pass for national historic sites, or you can
buy a Discover
Package, which allows entrance to both types
of parks. You can purchase a pass at any park
or historic site.
Hot springs. A list of
British Columbia hot springs can be found at