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Yukon is the westernmost and smallest of the three territories in Canada, the others being Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Yukon has existed since 1898, though up until 2003 its official name was Yukon Territory. The capital and largest town is Whitehorse, which holds about two thirds of the territory's 33,000 inhabitants.
Long before the arrival of Europeans, central and northern Yukon escaped glaciation as it was part of Beringia. The volcanic eruption of Mount Churchill near the Alaska border blanketed southern Yukon with a layer of ash which can still be seen along the Klondike Highway. Coastal and inland First Nations already had extensive trading networks and European incursions into the area only began early in the 19th century with the fur trade, followed by missionaries and the Western Union Telegraph Expedition. By the end of the 19th century gold miners were trickling in on rumours of gold. This drove a population increase that justified the establishment of a police force, just in time for the start of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. The increased population coming with the gold rush led to the separation of the Yukon district from the Northwest Territories and the formation of the separate Yukon Territory in 1898. Sites of archaeological significance in the Yukon hold some of the earliest evidence of the presence of human occupation in North America. The sites safeguard the history of the first people and the easiest First Nations of the Yukon. More information is found in the Yukon Archaeology Program.
Yukon is slightly less than half a million square kilometres big, making it the smallest of the three territories in Canada. To the west, Yukon shares its border along the entire length with Alaska, while to the east is the Northwest Territories and to the south and southeast is the province of British Columbia. Yukon has the highest mountain in Canada and the second highest in North America (after Mount McKinley in Alaska, USA). Mount Logan towers 5,959 metres in the air and is located in the wild and beautiful Kluane National Park and Reserve.
Weather in Yukon, just like neigbouring Alaska and Northwest Territories, is characterized by short summers from June to August and long, dark and cold winters from October to April. Temperatures during winter can drop below -40 °C, while summer days can enjoy temperatures as high as 30 °C. Still, variation is huge, as summer frost at night is possible, while during the winter months occasionally the mercury rises above zero, even in the northernmost regions. Precipitation on the whole is not that high, and mostly comes in the form of snow during winter. Some heavy thunderstorms might occur after some warmer summer days.
Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport (YXY) is the main gateway by air, with flights from Whitehorse to Edmonton, Fairbanks, Calgary, Inuvik (Northwest Territories), Old Crow and Vancouver with Air North and to Vancouver with Air Canada. Air Canada Yazz has seasonal flights to Calgary as well (summer). There are even seasonal flights (summer) with Condor to Frankfurt, Germany!
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There are no trains going as far north as Yukon on a regular basis, but in the summer season the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad provides trips from Skagway, Alaska, as far as Carcross in Yukon, with coach connections to Whitehorse.
The most important routes include the Alaska Highway, the Klondike Highway (between Skagway and Dawson City), the Haines Highway (between Haines, Alaska, and Haines Junction), and the Dempster Highway (linking Inuvik, Northwest Territories to the Klondike Highway), all paved except for the Dempster Highway. Another less popular route is the Stewart-Cassiar Highway from northwest British Columbia that joins the Alaska Highway.
Alaska Direct Bus Line has services to Tok in Alaska (8 hours, 3 times a week) via the Alaska Highway and Haines Junction (2 hours).
Greyhound Canada has buses going south towards Dawson Creek with connections further towards British Columbia and the rest of Canada.
Yukon Alaska Tourist Tours has daily buses from late May to early September to Skagway (4 hours).
There are flights between Whitehorse and Dawson City and between both places and smaller communities throughout Yukon. Check Air North's website for more information about flights to these communities.
Having your own car or a rental car is the best way of seeing as much of Yukon as you can and gives you maximum freedom. You can drive across Yukon by rental car from other parts of Canada or from Alaska, but within Yukon the only rental cars available are in Whitehorse and these can be expensive. Book well ahead in summer, especially July!
Some of the options to rent a car include the following companies:
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