Kluane National Park
The lofty ice-capped mountains of southwest Yukon, overflowing with glaciers and flanked by lower ranges rich in wildlife, have been set aside as 21,980-square-kilometer (8,490-square-mile) Kluane (Kloo-AH-nee) National Park.
Although the Alaska and Haines Highways, which run along the fringe of the park, make it accessible, Kluane is a wilderness hardly touched by human hands; once you leave the highways you’ll see few other people. No roads run into the park itself, so to experience the true magnificence of this wilderness you must embark on an overnight hike or take a flightseeing trip.
The St. Elias Range, running from Alaska through the Yukon to British Columbia, is the highest mountain range in North America and the second-highest coastal range in the world (only the Andes are higher). Mount Logan, at 6,050 meters (19,850 feet), is the highest peak in Canada. The ranges you see from the Alaska Highway are impressive enough, but only through gaps can you glimpse the fantastic Icefield Ranges lying directly behind.
These peaks are surrounded by a gigantic ice field plateau 2,500–3,000 meters (8,200–9,800 feet) high, the largest non-polar ice field in the world, occupying a little more than half the park. Radiating out from the ice field like spokes on a wheel are valley glaciers up to 60 kilometers (37 miles) long, some very active.
Such is the importance of this area that—together with Wrangell–Saint Elias and Glacier Bay National Parks in Alaska, and Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park in British Columbia—Kluane National Park has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Although more than half of Kluane is ice, rock, and snow, the remainder includes habitat that holds large populations of wildlife. Some 4,000 Dall sheep—one of the world’s largest populations—reside on the high open hillsides northwest of Kaskawulsh Glacier and elsewhere in the park. Many can be seen from the highway in the vicinity of Sheep Mountain. Kluane also has significant numbers of moose, caribou, mountain goats, and grizzly bears.
Flightseeing over Kluane National Park is available from the Haines Junction Airport. The one-hour flight affords a spectacular view of Mount Logan plus several glaciers and is highly recommended if you happen to be there on a clear day. Contact Sifton Air (867/634-2916). Prices with Trans North Helicopters (867/634-2242) start at $180 per person for a 30-minute glacier tour. Trans North is based beyond Haines Junction around Kilometer 1,698.
If you’re not comfortable exploring the backcountry without a local guide, consider using Kluane Ecotours (867/634-2600, www.kluaneco.com), which offers day and overnight trips on foot and in kayaks and canoes, including a paddling/hiking combo to King’s Throne.
Easily accessible 27 kilometers (17 miles) south of Haines Junction and within Kluane National Park is Kathleen Lake Campground (867/634-7250, mid-May–mid-Sept., $16), with 39 sites between the highway and the lake. Amenities are limited to firewood ($9 for a fire permit), drinking water, and pit toilets, but it’s a delightful spot that is a popular launching spot for kayaks and canoes. It also has a short interpretive trail and is the starting point for a five-kilometer (3.1-mile) trek up to the King’s Throne, so named for its sweeping views across the park; allow five hours round-trip.
In Haines Junction, the Kluane Visitor Reception Centre (867/634-2293, www.pc.gc.ca, mid-May–mid-Sept. daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m.) has a relief map of the park and an excellent 20-minute sight-and-sound slide show presented every half hour.
On the Alaska Highway 72 kilometers (45 miles) north of Haines Junction, Tachal Dhal Visitor Centre (867/734-7250, mid-May–mid-Sept. daily 9 a.m.–4 p.m.) has a spotting scope to look for Dall sheep on nearby Sheep Mountain (late Aug.–mid June is the best time of year for sheep-spotting).
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition