Hit the Road

From Pedals to Paddles: Canoeing the Yukon

This summer we decided to leave our bikes at home and instead take to the water on an 8 day canoe trip down the Yukon river in northern Canada. Flying into Whitehorse, we paddled the 260 miles from Carmacks to Dawson City.

Why Canoe the Yukon?

Several people asked us where we got the idea to canoe paddle the Yukon and to be honest I’m not too sure. It seems like one of those phrases that is synonymous with remote adventure. We wanted an experience which would test our mettle and give us a new challenge so the notion of following the gold rush pioneers’ path down this vast river seemed a million miles away from our usual activities and therefore something that must be experienced.


I didn’t get the feeling that the Yukon was crawling with wildlife like some more temperate forests are, but there’s certainly no shortage of stunning wildlife encounters to have. Stick close to the shore and cliffs for a chance to see bald eagles, peregrine falcons, porcupines and black bears!


We had a number of encounters with black bears, most of them at a safe distance. I was surprised to see how frequently they brave the swim across the wide and fast flowing river. There were a couple of occasions when we spotted a bear swimming across the river in front of us and had to divert our course to make sure we didn’t get in front of it.


Our closest bear encounter came at breakfast time one morning. We were camped on the end of an island facing upstream and we spotted a log floating down the river towards our beach. As the log got closer though we realised that it wasn’t a log at all. It had ears and was in fact a black bear! It must have smelled our breakfast from the other side of the river and come over the investigate. realising we were on an island with no escape, our only option was to try and scare the bear away. We sprung in to action, running to the water’s edge with pans and logs, banging them together and shouting at the bear in the most menacing manor we could manage. The bear soon spotted us and decided he had more than he’d bargained for on our island so diverted his swim back to the shore he’d set off from. The poor thing must have been knackered by time he made it back to where he’d started from. And he still didn’t get any breakfast.


We didn’t see any signs of wolves, apart from possibly some prints. We had though these were bear prints at the time, but when we got home we looked up some animal tracks and decided these must have been from a big dog. Perhaps a large dog, coyote or wolf? Take a look at this print and see what you think? Leave your comments a the bottom of the article.



We used an outfitters in Whitehorse to supply all out paddling equipment and some of the camping gear that we didn’t want to travel with. It’s difficult when moving from bikes to canoes to plan how much gear you can take with you. The truth is you can take lots more, and it’s quite a luxury! Here’s our basic packing list:

Cabin Fever Rental Camping Clothing First Aid Kit Electrical
17 foot river canoe Tent Towel Bug spray Torch
Canoe Barrel Sleeping bag Waterproof shoes Sun cream GoPro
axe Roll mat Outdoor shoes Plasters Camera
saw Compass Waterproofs Antiseptic cream Garmin
grill Signal mirror Convertible trousers Bandages
Dishes and Utensils + pot set + frying pan + coffee pot etc. Knife Hat Tweezers
2 burner Coleman stove Maps Waterproof hood
folding camp chair Lighter Gloves
tarp with ropes Fishing tackle
115 liter dry bag Waterproof rucksack
Bear Spray Trowel
Fishing Licenses

The Route

We flew in to Whitehorse via Vancouver and met with our outfitters, Cabin Fever Adventures. They set us up with our equipment and drove us the 100 miles or so to the tiny hamlet of Carmacks where we set off on the river.

Eight days of paddling took us 260 miles downstream to Dawson City. We spent a couple of days exploring Dawson, dropped off the equipment and flew back from Dawson via Whitehorse and Vancouver.

The town of Dawson is an amazing place, bursting with history and plenty of colourful characters. Be sure to plan to spend a couple of days there at the end of your trip to explore the gold mines, saloons and walking trails.

Dawson City

Recommended Reading

We took two guides with us, each contains a description of the route, history of the area and detailed hand-drawn maps. The maps can be hard to follow at times because of the changing shape of islands and geology over time. The historical notes are very interesting and really help bring the journey to life and take you back to a time 100 years ago when the river was bustling with gold rush pioneers.


  • Work out how many miles you need to travel each day to meet your schedule, then pay close attention to the maps to work out how many miles you cover each day.
  • Be prepared for 5 finger rapids on your first day. Keep to the right and keep calm. They are the only white water on this stretch and they aren’t too difficult as long as you approach them correctly.
  • Take plenty of food, paddling can be hard work at times and there’s nowhere to get more supplies on the way.
  • If you’re going to fish you need to purchase fishing licenses each and use only barbless hooks. Salmon fishing is currently banned, but you may catch greyling or pike. You’re best chance of catching fish is upstream before the water gets too silty.
  • If it gets too windy be prepared to stop and wait for it to pass. Weather changes quickly in these parts and paddling in windy conditions is tiring and dangerous.
  • Learn how to spot good camping sites with sheltered tent pitches, firm and dry beach, easy landing points and no signs of recent animal activity.
  • Take camping chairs. They may seem like a luxury, but you’ve got tonnes of space and it’s so much nicer than sitting on sandy, rocky and wet ground all day.



Peter • Dawson City, Yukon, Canada • 14th August 2014

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