Kathleen Lake, Yukon

In September 2023 I went on an adventure. I have always wanted to visit the Yukon and also Alaska since it's so close to the Yukon so a few years back I made a plan and 2023 was going to be the year I go. I have never traveled the Alaskan highway before, I mean the furthest north I had been was Fort St. John in northern BC. Now technically the Alaskan highway starts in Dawson Creek, BC at mile 0 and ends at Delta Junction, Alaska so I had been on it a short distance.

I have a small travel trailer that I hauled behind my truck and I camped in campgrounds along the way. This worked out perfectly for my travels and my small trailer made the journey very comfortable for me. You can definitely do this trip with a vehicle and tent it but I really enjoyed having a fridge that kept all my food cold as I was going to be traveling for two weeks straight.

For me I found the landscape got more interesting and beautiful after Fort Nelson in northern BC. The mountains started to come out and the forests were more rugged. There was lots of wildlife as I headed further north like big horn sheep, black bears, moose and a herd of wild buffalo. In September there isn't too much traffic north of Fort Nelson so it was a nice drive with lots of scenery. I wasn't too sure about the frequency of gas stations so I made sure to top up when I came upon a gas station that way if I had to do a long stretch I didn't have to worry about gas. For the most part there are several gas stations along the way although there are stretches where some stations are either closed permanently or for the season so topping up came in handy.

Toad River had a great small campground and gas station but I only fueled up with gas there and looked around. My main goal was to get to Liard Provincial Park Campground which has the Liard Hot Springs. The hot springs are all natural and unlike other very commercialized hot springs, this one is much smaller and has a pebble bottom. They did upgrade these hot springs and created stairs with railings that go down into the pool and further down stream there's a small waterfall. This place was amazing! I really enjoyed camping here for a few nights and went to the hot springs like three times a day. The campground is surrounded by an electric fence so you have to exit this fenced area and walk down a man made wooden boulevard to get to the hot springs but don't worry it's a short walk. In the fall when I went it was cooler outside so the hot springs created lots of steam and mist which gave a surreal atmosphere to the entire place.

The most amazing encounter was seeing a mother moose and her calf grazing in the hot springs marsh along the walkway to the hot springs. The steam from the hot water filled the air and the moose were so content just eating away. They did not seem too bothered by the people walking by but it's always important to give any wildlife great respect and keep a distance. I have a long lens so I got some great photos of these two and even witnessed them cross the wooden walkway. This is an amazing place to stop and visit along the Alaskan Hwy.

After spending some relaxing time at Liard I made my way along the northern BC and Yukon border heading west on highway 97. There were so many black bears eating grass and probably berries along the highway. I probably saw like 9 bears as I drove and stopped to take some pictures always from a safe distance using my long lens from the side of the road. Lots of wildlife along this road so stay alert and keep an eye out especially for the buffalo which travel this stretch of highway. I saw the herd on my way up north and my way back and they were always close to the highway.

I made it to Watson Lake which has a tourist site where there are signs from all over the world on posts. Thousands of signs all over a small area right on the side of the highway so you can't miss it. I stopped and took a few photos. It's a neat place to check out if you have time.

Liard Hot Springs to Whitehorse, Yukon is approximately an 8 hour drive and that was my next destination. I enjoyed the peaceful drive along the Alaskan Highway especially with all the fall colors on the trees starting to appear. I reached Whitehorse late in the afternoon and camped at Hi Country RV Park. It's an ok spot to just crash the night but the RV spots are super close and packed together. This campsite does have power, water, an RV dump, a store and showers so it's got everything you need to get recharged for your journey. I only stayed one night here to recharged my RV batteries since it had mostly been overcast so not much sun for the solar panel.

     I visited the Yukon Wildlife Preserve near Whitehorse which has buffalo, muskox, sheep, deer, a moose, caribou and even wild foxes running around. The enclosures are very large and even though there is a bus I chose to walk around which did take hours as it's an immense place but very peaceful and beautiful area. There are picnic tables and you can stop, relax and have a snack while walking around which was quite nice. It's worth a visit to see and learn the Yukon's different wildlife.

     One of the most beautiful places I stayed next was Kathleen Lake just south of Haines Junction in the Yukon. The campground at Kathleen Lake is high up from the lake, but very clean and there is separation with trees in between each site so you have space from your neighbors. It was not very busy when I was there in September but there were a few people camping. There are no hookups but there are picnic tables, firepits and firewood in each site. It's a short walk down to the lake or a quick drive. I really enjoyed visiting this area though it's very windy it's also very beautiful.

     The mountains are epic and seem endless as you gaze upon them over the lake. You feel like your in a distant land on the edge of an unexplored and endless wild territory. The waters have constant waves that crash against the rocky shores that create an open space amongst the peaks and dense forests. At sunrise these waters reflect the golden light and contrast the distant blue mountains.

     I met up with a photographer friend, Flora, and we explored around the lake and surrounding areas. In the morning I did some hiking and explored more of Kathleen Lake with all it's natural beauty. I would love to return to this campsite again in the future. It's peaceful, enchanting and wild. Definitely worth checking out or staying a few nights if possible.

     Next I drove west to Kluane Lake where even the drive over was gorgeous and filled with mountains, creeks, lakes, forests and truly epic landscapes. I met up with my friend Flora again on the way and we stopped at a little pull out next to a creek. With all the fall colors it was a wonderful place to spend some time exploring, having lunch and taking photos. It's just west of Haines Junction (which is a small town that has gas stations and you can get cell phone reception) on your way to Kluane Lake on the south side of the highway right after a small bridge. Now the bright fall colors were really starting to show even in the grasses along the creek. This drive has a few pull over places each with unique views and different landscapes so take your time and explore along the way.

     Kluane Lake is like another world. It has mountains, wilderness, an island, mud, sheep, and sand storms from the south west. The landscape is expansive and stretches for miles. I stayed at the Yukon Cabins which is not a campground it's a private property with a few small cabins and one large group cabin that you can stay at if you rent the entire place as a group. If you have a group of people it's worth booking a stay here otherwise there are some small campsites along the highway around the lake. Since we were meeting up with a group and this was all pre-arranged I was able to park my trailer on their property which is right on the lake with the most amazing view. I stayed five days there and explored the area even getting a chance to do some paddle boarding on the lake, taking lots of photos and I made an awesome campfire right on the lake which was so awesome. The south end of Kluane Lake has lots of beach and from the south west side there is an immense sand field with captivating sand dunes that blows towards the lake creating large sand gusts. Sometimes the sand blows so high and swirls around like a tornado only to fall onto the corner of the lake where a small island sits. On the west side there are Dall Sheep that roam around looking like little white freckles on the mountain side and sometimes they will come down to the lake to get a drink of water. Overall Kluane Lake has lots of beauty and great views. It was amazing to visit and spend some time here. This is another place I would love to re-visit again and now that I know the area a little better I can't wait to return.

     Now since I was going to be so close to Alaska by visiting the Yukon I knew that I wanted to take a quick visit into the States so I made sure to bring my passport with me because yes you will be making a border crossing from Canada to the USA. I only had a couple days and originally I was going to head more west from Kluane Lake into Alaska but after talking with people out there they all said that the drive down to Haines, Alaska (which is south of Haines Junction, Yukon) was much prettier and more interesting. So I pivoted and after leaving Kluane Lake I went south past Kathleen Lake and headed towards Alaska. This was definitely a great decision as everyone was right and the drive south was absolutely stunning. Before heading south on highway 3 make sure to fuel up in Haines Junction as there are no gas stations until you reach Haines, Alaska.

     As you head south you will pass Dezadeash Lake which is naturally warmer and shallow compared to other lakes. They regularly have swans that frequent here and I was able to see a couple when passing by. You will also start to climb in elevation and I reached a high point pulling my trailer to Haines Highway Summit at 1070M. Near this point it was raining and very misty out making all the fall colored foliage really pop! I felt like I was driving through the clouds as large clouds drifted by and blocked my view of the distant landscape. Crossing the border was not too bad. They asked a few simple questions and I was on my way driving the winding road that parallels the river where eagles will congregate during certain times in the year for the salmon run. The road ends in Haines, Alaska where I found a great campground right in town called Haines Hitch-Up Alaska. It's a Good Sam campground, super clean, with showers and full hook ups like power, water, sewer and wifi. It's a great place to park you RV and then venture out from there. Haines is a small town with a few restaurants, gas station and cute souvenir shopping stores right on the ocean (well an inlet that leads out to open ocean).

     I used this campsite as my home base while in Haines for a few days. It was a short drive along the Lutak Inlet river that leads into Chilkoot Lake which is where all the salmon run through to spawn so you'll find the grizzly bears and eagles feasting on these salmon in the river. There's a mother grizzly that's well known to the area and returns to this river every year catching fish and feeding her cubs. I got to see one of her cubs playing with a raven on the river which was super special and the image is above.

     You have to park in the designated stalls along the road and walk along the river's edge to photograph the bears always making sure to keep a safe distance. Sometimes the bears come up to where the people are standing or the vehicles are parked so keeping an eye out and keeping a distance is important. This momma bear and her cubs moved up and down the river catching and eating fish. It's really amazing to see them just doing their thing. There were quite a few eagles around as well sunning themselves and relaxing in the trees. The river ends up at Chilkoot Lake and there is a turn around here but many people also park and go boating on the lake. I even got to see a seal in the river which was a first for me. I've seen seals in the ocean but never in a river. He was swimming up side down probably looking for salmon.

     The inlet is surrounded by magnificent mountains that reach for the sky creating stunning landscapes I really enjoyed photographing. Haines is truly a wild place!

     Leaving Haines, Alaska I headed back north the way I came. Most people will take the ferry and head north east but I hadn't booked in time. I didn't mind as the drive north was so beautiful and I was able to stop at a few places on the way back I didn't heading down like Million Dollar Falls which looks like another great camping area if you get the chance. I didn't camp here but instead walked around taking photos of the falls and enjoying the forest. I had to make my way back home and I only had a few days to do it so my trip back was a little more rushed than my trip up although I knew I wanted to camp at Liard Hot Springs again.

     On my way back the fall colored trees where so vibrant with golden yellows, reds, oranges, and lush greens. With the rainy weather it really made the colors pop and I pulled over several times to photograph the landscapes. Just after Liard Hot Springs I got to see wild Cariboo. There were a couple of moms with their little ones and that was a great experience. They were timid and on alert but I was far enough away, though when a big truck came by it scared them off deeper into the forest. Further down I saw a few more. I felt so privileged to see so much wildlife on this trip and got the opportunity to photograph them all even a quick snap of a couple coyotes as they crossed the Alaskan Highway and some big horn sheep near Muncho Lake. Next time I'd like to spend more time in this area of Muncho Lake, Toad River and Summit Lake. They all have campgrounds and are nestled right into the mountains so this would be a few great places to explore.

    This trip was truly epic! I had taken two weeks off for this trip but wish I had taken even a third week so I would not have been as rushed on the way back. On my way up and back there were threats of wildfires and I tried my best to keep informed of the road conditions. Heading north at the beginning of my trip they had highway 77 which veers towards Yellowknife closed due to wildfires but luckily I was heading west so I had no problems. On my way back I did have to drive through thick smoke near Watson Lake as they were having wildfire issues but thankfully the highway was still open just very smoky. Wildfires will unfortunately be more prevalent as our weather does not produce as much precipitation as it used to and everything is so much drier especially in our forests. Once I reached the Yukon the air was much cleaner and fresh as I got further away from the wildfires.

     I hope you will on day also drive the Alaskan highway and get to experience it's beauty. Take your time and visit all the cool little places along the way and see as much as you can. I saw so much but I know I didn't even scratch the surface of all there was to see and visit. I definitely want to go back to this wild place and explore more areas and see more wildlife!

Photo of me at Kluane Lake courtesy of my friend Flora van Wageningen.