Go here: Mountain biking in Whitehorse
Be part of the latest rush on Whitehorse's biking trails
For a look at what a trip like this would look like, check out our photo gallery from Boreale Biking.
Where to stay: Boreale Biking runs a yurt village for cyclists right on the Grey Mountain trail network. The Robert Service Campground sits on the edge of the Yukon River a short walk from downtown. For the hotel-motel crowd, the Westmark has two downtown locations. A selection of B&Bs, cabins and other hotels can be found at Visit Whitehorse.
Where to eat: Find authentic Mexican—the burrito is huge!—at Sanchez Cantina (867-668-5858). A long way from its tropical roots, but tasting like home, Pickapeppa Caribbean Soul. Food specializes in Jamaican . For a fancier sit-down meal, make a reservation at Burnt Toast Cafe (897-393-2605). Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters has the best coffee in town.
Other things to do: As its name suggests, the 24 Hours of Light mountain-bike race takes place during the summer solstice, so no bike lights required. There’s also paddling on the mighty Yukon River. Both Adventure Tours Yukon and Kanoe People rent all the gear and provide shuttle services. And only an hour away, Kluane National Park boasts some of the best day hikes in the country. Paddle/Wheel Adventures offers guiding services.
I’ve been told that there are about 800 kilometres of biking trails snaking through the city of Whitehorse and the surrounding area. It’s a hard number to put into perspective, until hour three of my first mountain-bike ride here. I’m loving the network of trails that careen down and around benches and ridges on smooth packed dirt, but my legs are getting tired. From a perch on a bench high above the Yukon River, with a view of the mountains that stretch out around the city, I can see that I haven’t even left the city limits.
The Yukon capital is not a huge metropolis, with a population of just 22,000. But to those who live here go the spoils—300 kilometres of quality singletrack trails and 500 kilometres of dirt roads and ATV paths to enjoy during the incredibly long days of June, July and August. Almost all the trails were built by volunteers toiling under the midnight sun.
“During the summer we can go out for two rides after work, because it barely gets dark,” says bike mechanic Tristan Geisel. “On the weekend we’ll build trail and go for a ride. By the end of the summer we’re all exhausted and looking forward to an excuse to stay inside for a while.”
The city of Whitehorse takes its recreation seriously, funding trail improvements, signage and development to the tune of $1-million since 2008. The investment has obviously been worthwhile. After three days of riding—during which we barely scratch the surface—I’m convinced the territorial capital has the best network of quality, connected trails I’ve ever seen.
The majority of the singletrack is in the forest on the rolling hillside between the Yukon River and the granite slabs of Grey Mountain, right above town. On a trail map, the network looks like a confusing scribble. To make sense of it, photographer Ryan Creary and I enlist the help of Anthony DeLorenzo, a guide with Boreale Biking, a mountain-bike tour company in town.
“We’re going to do the classic Whitehorse ride,” DeLorenzo says, loading the bikes on the back of his van. “If you’re only going to do one ride here, you’ve got to do the Yukon River Trail.”
To get there, we drive to a parking lot high on Grey Mountain. From here, we link several trails, one leading into the next without any road riding. While theoretically it’s all downhill, the reality is we spend a lot of time climbing. The scenery, variety and buff trails all contribute to a fun ride—up to lookout points, down to wooded hollows, along the edge of a lake, grinding onto a ridgeline and then roller-coasting down to a bench. DeLorenzo makes navigating brainless, but with trail markers at every junction we could have managed on our own. Eventually we climb to an intersection looking down on the Yukon River.
“There’s a lot of history to this route,” says DeLorenzo as he makes the turn onto the Yukon River Trail, etched into a sandy hillside high above the blue-green waters. “This was part of the trail during the Klondike Gold Rush and before that the Tutchone would hunt along here.”
The past is everywhere in the Yukon, from street names to beached paddlewheelers to centuries-old paths turned bike trails. The locals take pride in the territory’s history of suffering and perseverance. And for visitors, it adds something to know you’re leaving tire tracks in the footsteps of the prospectors.
We bomb down a loose hill into the remnants of a place called Canyon City. Long abandoned, this is where gold rushers would prepare for the dangerous run through the White Horse Rapids (the city’s namesake) or pay to have a tonne of supplies—they were required by law to bring a year’s worth of food—towed around by horse-powered tramway.
I wouldn’t mind a little horse power right now. I’m tired and DeLorenzo says we’re still 10 kilometres from home. Then I remember a Robert Service quote: “This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive; That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the Fit survive.” I push off and follow DeLorenzo down the trail.
Mount McIntyre: At Whitehorse’s other major trail network, the paths are more technical and freeride in style, with banked corners and rolling rock drops. The newest trail, Porcupine Ridge, follows an open bench along its bumpy but scenic profile.
Montana Mountain: At the town of Carcross, an hour’s drive south of Whitehorse, they’ve converted old prospecting paths, haul roads and telegraph lines into mountain-bike trails. The trails—including an all-day epic into the alpine—pass rusting mining equipment and a road built by Sam McGee, the real-life subject of the famous Robert Service poem.