I am any Canadian Tourism Board’s worst nightmare: a Canadian born and raised. According to the tourism statistics, travel within my own country has always been an after thought. Besides, it’s too expensive and we’d rather hit a sunny beach or a cobblestoned street in Europe, right?
Though I’m certain there are a great many of us exploring our home and native land, the majority of Canadians are setting their sights abroad. I sure I did. That is, until an unexpected adventure in the Yukon Territory got me out of the international departures line and into Kluane National Park and Reserve.
First of all, that’s a bad attitude. Canada’s national parks are beautiful, precious and unique. Second, Kluane National Park and Reserve makes up a huge part of the largest protected landmass on earth.
Spanning a wild and open 21,980 square kilometers Kluane is part of larger system of national parks stretching through Alaska and British Columbia to create 97,000 square kilometers of protected land. It also holds the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site – you know, just like the Great Barrier Reef or Athens. That’s even better than a Canadian Heritage Minute commercial.Still not interested? Kluane National Park is home to Canada’s highest peak Mount Logan (so big that it has its own weather system), the world’s largest non-polar ice caps and is a human free sanctuary to thousands of species of wildlife. Extra bonus feature: there are no bugs or reptiles.
Don’t be so lazy! It’s not like you have to ride your bike there (though you wouldn’t be the first). Visitors can experience hundreds of kilometers of trails, paths, lakes and rivers on foot, by bike, by boat or raft and even engage in cultural activities. If you’re still unsure how to spend your time, here are some activities to help get your planning started.
The Glacial Lake 100 Metre Dash
Visit the Tachäl Dhäl (Sheep Mountain) Visitors Centre to learn about the park’s activities while viewing view mountain sheep, bears and other wildlife from a telescope lined deck at the base of the mountain.
Then run across the way to glacier-fed Kluane Lake, take off your shoes (or all your clothes) and run through the invigorating crystal blue water. When you’re done, fill your water bottle from the lake and drink it. It’s that clean.
Call Brent Liddle (below), master hiker, wilderness guide and 30-year veteran of Parks Canada to Sherpa you (and your bear-aware friends) on a spectacular mountain hike. While you make the steep climb, Brent will teach you about the parks’ vegetation (“you can eat that plant”), wildlife (“a bear was rubbing on this tree”), geological activity and history (“that valley glaciers around the mountain are always on the move”).
Wildlife Viewing—No Zoo required
Kluane National Park and Reserve is home to thousands of species of mammals, birds, fish and vegetation. Because the park is protected the ecological integrity of their habits remain intact ensuring their long-term survival.
Not only is it incredible to see an animal in its natural setting, it brings me tremendous comfort to know that somewhere on this earth there is a place where humans simply aren’t allowed to destroy everything around them. While touring the park we saw beaver, fox, moose, caribou, mountain sheep and bald eagles, all completely wild and totally free.
A Mountain Flight
You simply cannot be in the park without a constant awareness of the immense mountains. Huge ranges separated by massive ice fields dominate the landscape and demand your attention. And you should give it to them — I did. For a couple hundred bucks, visitors can board a plane to take in 10,000-foot panoramic views of the snowy peaks and rippling glaciers — not something everyone gets to do.
Fellow Canadians: put down the all-inclusive resort brochures and start exploring your own beautiful backyard. It’s a disgrace that most tourists I met in Kluane National Park & Reserve were visiting from Europe. Unlike some of our European neighbours, we Canadians may not have 6 weeks of government-mandated vacation (thanks for nothing, Stephen Harper) or ample pay cheques to get North — but it’s worth saving both time and money to make the journey.
Special note: A big thanks to Travel Yukon for subsidizing this trip!