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Among the numerous majestic spaces in the wilderness wonderland that is Canada’s Yukon Territory, Kluane National Park stands out with its breathtaking landscapes and a variety of adventures just waiting to be embarked upon. With its dramatic glaciers, towering mountains, and thriving wildlife, this sprawling park offers an array of unforgettable experiences.
As you might know, I grew up in Alaska – but my family spent several summer vacations on the shore of Kluane Lake and exploring Kluane National Park. It holds a special place in my heart, the way a lakeside cabin or beach cottage might for you. That’s why I was excited about the opportunity to return to the Yukon and spend time at Kluane National Park during a trip in the summer of 2023.
Based on my memories and my recent travel experiences, I’ve put together a list of things to do in Kluane National Park. It might be beautiful but not look like much while you’re traversing the park’s western border – the Alaska-Canadian Highway or Alcan –, but this vast area of undeveloped wilderness rivals the best national parks in Alaska. And there are some truly unforgettable things to do in Kluane National Park that merit a day or two on your journey through the Yukon.
Ready to explore Kluane National Park and all the wonderful wilderness it holds? Let’s dive in!
In this post, I promote travel to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
1. Stop by the Visitor Center(s)
There are two visitor centers for Kluane National Park, and both are essential stops if you want to get oriented and introduced to what makes Kluane so special. (If you are traveling south along the Alcan from Alaska, you’ll experience them in a slightly different order but both are still worth a visit!)
The primary Kluane visitor center is in Dakwäkäda (Haines Junction), the small Yukon community that could be considered the “gateway” to Kluane National Park (much as Seward, AK, is the gateway to Kenai Fjords or Baker, NV is the gateway to Great Basin).
The Kluane National Park and Reserve Visitor Centre (its formal name) is located in the Da Kų Cultural Centre, and includes two primary areas: a large hall with exhibits about the park where you can easily spend an hour or more learning about the park and all it holds, and the other, smaller galleries that highlight the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Dän (people). It’s free to visit, has tons of parking, and has a beautiful panoramic view of the St. Elias Mountains beyond Haines Junction.
The other Visitor Center is located at the south end of Kluane Lake; it is called the Thechàl Dhâl’ (Sheep Mountain) Visitor Centre for its neighboring mountain. This is the base from which a number of easier trails in Kluane National Park set out (more on hiking below!).
2. Explore Haines Junction
As the Gateway to Kluane National Park (that’s what we’re calling it now!), Haines Junction is the best base for visiting the park – but there are other activities to enjoy in Haines Junction itself!
In addition to the Kluane National Park visitor center and Da Ku Cultural Centre – plus visiting Kluane National Park, of course – there are numerous hiking trails, lakes, and rivers to help you enjoy the Great Outdoors beyond the park boundary. One popular spot in the summer is Pine Lake which locals flock to for boating and swimming on those rare Yukon summer days when it’s warm enough for such things!
Haines Junction also has a good number of hotels (ones that are clean enough to merit staying at!) as well as restaurants and bars to fuel up for all those adventures. I’m planning to write more about Haines Junction at some point soon and will add links here once I do!
3. See Silver City
Aside from growing up in Alaska, you might wonder: how the heck did Valerie end up visiting Kluane Lake as a kid and spending so much time there? To go deeper into the story, my family drove the (then-fully-unpaved) Alcan to Alaska in 1992, and along the way stopped at a small B&B on the shores of the lake: Kluane Bed & Breakfast was then located in the ghost town of Silver City on the southern end of Kluane Lake.
During visits, the owner Josie would make huge pancakes for breakfast each morning, and any leftovers were offered to kids staying at the property to go out and feed the huge colony of ground squirrels that had taken over the ruins of former homes and businesses.
Silver City was originally founded after gold was discovered in 4th of July Creek in 1903; some 2000 claims were eventually made though only $40,000 in gold was ever pulled from the region. Today it’s the largest ghost town in the Yukon, and many buildings still stand in various states of ruin. Kluane B&B is now Yukon Lake Cabins and no longer serves pancakes (boo!). You can drive the (easily missed) road down into Silver City and walk around before turning back up to the Alcan.
4. Go Hiking
Kluane National Park has 15 official trails and 8 hiking routes (routes seem to generally be longer, usually requiring 1+ days, and more technical, but that’s not a hard and fast rule). If you love hiking, it’s definitely one of the things to do in Kluane National Park that should be on your list. Just be prepared though: even the easier hikes generally have elevation change and trails are more technical than you might be used to. (Unless you were just hiking in Alaska, which is quite similar!)
Here are some of the most popular trails in Kluane National Park:
- Sheep Creek – This 10km (6-mile) trail has some serious elevation gain (1500ft) but rewards you with incredible views down the Slims River toward Kuskawalsh Glacier. The trailhead is near Thechàl Dhâl’ Visitor Centre and usually takes 2-4 hours; it kicked my butt but was totally worth it!
- Soldier’s Summit – Also located by the Visitor Center, this trail is much easier (1km/300ft elevation) and has decent views over Kluane Lake.
- Dezadeash River Trail – This short, flat trail can be either 3km or 5km depending on how far you go, but offers lovely views and is close to Haines Junction.
- Rock Glacier – South of Haines Junction, this short (1km) trail climbs up a Rock Glacier with lovely views of Dezadeash Lake.
- St. Elias Lake – One of the southernmost trails in Kluane National Park, this trail is a bit longer (7.6km) and has a bit of elevation (400ft) to climb up to a lovely little lake away from the crowds. (Kidding, there are no crowds in Kluane!)
There are much longer, harder, and more scenic trails than these, but if you’re like me and love easy-to-moderate trails to get a sense of the park without needing a ton of gear or camping, these are good options to get you started.
If you’re a bit uncertain about hiking in bear country on your own (as I was since I was traveling solo on my last trip), Yukon Guided Adventures is a great option; my guide Lionel was an absolute delight to hike with and was fully prepared to help us stay safe on the trail.
5. Take a Flightseeing Trip
Just like with Denali National Park, there are two great ways to explore Kluane: on foot and on the wing. While we’ve already covered hiking generally, you should also plan the time to take a flightseeing trip into Kluane National Park if you have the time and money – just like with Denali, it’s absolutely worth it and one of the best ways to get a true sense of the scale and wilderness of this area.
There are a couple of operators who fly into Kluane; I went with Icefield Discovery based out of Silver City. Our pilot Raphaël was a total pro: the flight was smooth, well-narrated, and utterly stunning – watching the patchwork of the landscape in this part of the world is probably my favorite real-life screensaver. I couldn’t hardly choose ust a few photos to include since it was so incredible.
6. Make a Glacier Landing
Most flightseeing companies offer an option that includes a glacier landing – just as with Denali, you should absolutely book the glacier landing tour if you can. There’s no guarantee you’ll end up making a glacier landing depending on weather and other conditions, but stepping out of the plane onto one of the world’s biggest icefields and gazing at glaciers and mountain peaks in every direction… well, better writers than I have barely managed to describe it!
Most glacier landings take place at the icefield that feeds Kaskawulsh, Logan, and Hubbard Glaciers, it’s one of the best places to see Mount Logan, the highest mountain in Canada (19,551ft) and the second-highest peak in North America after Denali (20,310ft). During a glacier landing, you’ll have 20 or so minutes to get out and take pictures – it’s one of those opportunities you don’t want to miss and photos that will be a highlight of your trip!
(Seriously, you’re already paying for flightseeing – upgrade to the glacier landing!!)
7. Visit Kathleen Lake
Last but certainly not least, Kluane Lake is not the only lake of merit in Kluane National Park; Kathleen Lake is admittedly much smaller but a popular spot for Haines Junction locals and visitors who want a bit more lake access.
In addition to trails that work along the southern shores (the easy Kokanee walk, moderate King’s Throne ascent, and multi-day Cottonwod trails), you can put in motorized boats, canoes, and kayaks to explore the lake or go fishing from the water. (There are no kayak rentals in Haines Junction, but you could rent from Haines in Alaska; I did find one company that appears to offer guided canoe trips on Kathleen Lake.)
This is also a popular campground if you’re traveling that way and won’t need to stay in Haines Junction.
Bonus: Explore Kluane Lake
You might be surprised to learn that the huge shining gem of Kluane Lake is actually not within the borders of Kluane National Park; this is in some ways a benefit to visitors since it allows us to enjoy a lot of what the lake has to offer without park regulations. (Always a catch-22 though as poor resource management can affect the lake and fishing stock!)
Luckily, Kluane is about as well cared for as its federally protected neighboring land, and is a prime spot to explore if you have the resources and right equipment. When my family used to visit Kluane Lake, we would bring our boat and go out fishing; boating is permitted on the lake but astonishingly uncommon. This is perhaps because there are no motorized boat, canoe, kayak, or SUP rentals at Kluane Lake! (Good thing I included this one only as a bonus!)
Bonus: Float the Tatshenshini/Alsek Rivers
The Alsek River actually has its headwaters in Kluane National Park, being formed where the Kuskawalsh, Dusty, and Dezadeash Rivers meet (the first two being named after their respective glaciers), while the Tatshenshini starts just south of the park border and together forms Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park.
I had the chance to spend 12 days on the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers on an incredible floating journey with Oregon-based Momentum Expeditions in the summer of 2022, and I consider it one of the best adventures I’ve ever had in this part of the world – which is ripe for unforgettable experiences. Most companies (including Momentum), put in at Dalton Post and float down the “Tat” from there to meet the Alsek further south in British Columbia.
While I wouldn’t consider this trip instead of visiting Kluane National Park and the Yukon, it can be an incredible experience in addition to, especially if you’re up for a true adventure.
Hopefully this inspires you to do more than just drive by Kluane National Park – it’s well worth at least a few days to explore this incredible wilderness. Have any questions about the best things to do in Kluane National Park or the surrounding area? Let me know in the comments below.