Small town escapes: Whitehorse, YK

With everything a transplanted southerner could want, Whitehorse is a genuine tourist mecca in the warmer months.

Yukon River near Whitehorse

Whitehorse didn’t exactly jump out of the gate as a hotbed of outdoor leisure, taking shape as it did in 1897 as a muddy put-in at the foot of a rapid on the Yukon River, where weary prospectors would get back in their boats and head on to the Klondike. But the building of the Alaska Highway brought the city the services, stability and accessibility needed to make it an eminently livable place. Who wouldn’t want to reside in a town built on a braided northern river between two mountain ranges, awash in 24-hour summer sunlight? Because of its somewhat transient population, Whitehorse is accommodating to all types of lifestyles. You can choose to live off the grid in a cabin on the edge of town or enjoy high-speed Internet in a condo downtown. You know you’re in Whitehorse when the woman in front of you in the line at the bank is in a homemade composite fur and hide coat and the guy behind you is wearing lululemon yoga pants.

Outdoor lowdown

Kayaking: Playboaters now cruise the same Yukon River the gold-rushers once cursed. Spin Wave, right in town, allows for all but the most aerially ambitious moves. About 45 minutes away, the 12-kilometre Wheaton River run provides class II thrills.

Paddling: Canoeists can commune with the ghost of Sam McGee on Lake Laberge, whose 50-kilometre fetch is only 45 minutes from town. Sea kayakers will get their tidal fix two hours away at Skagway, Alaska. Hiking: It doesn’t get any better than Kluane National Park, just two hours away. Closer to town, there’s also the Golden Horn and 6,561-foot Mount Lorne.

Mountain biking: From the Grey Mountain trailhead near town, hundreds of kilometres of varied singletrack fan out above the Yukon River. Mount McIntyre offers less technical trails even closer to town.

Skiing: Also on Mount McIntyre, a world-class Nordic recreation centre with 60 kilometres of skinny-ski trails to help Yukoners make it through the winter.

About town

As the capital of the Yukon—and a genuine tourist mecca in the summer—Whitehorse has pretty well everything a transplanted southerner could want. When it comes to eating out, Giorgio’s Cuccina draws crowds for its authentic Italian, and the Klondike Rib and Salmon has people lined up around the block for BBQ. At night, locals and tourists head to The Discovery Bar, Lizard’s, Sam McGee’s Bar and Grill or The Kopper King, packed on Thursdays for $2.50 pints. In the winter, Whitehorse still rocks with The Frostbite Music Festival and the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, a February festival celebrating the North’s colourful history. And as the largest town on our list, Whitehorse also has the most movie theatres: two.

Other factoids » Whitehorse is the smallest city to have held Canadian Idol auditions » the plane that serves as a wind vane at the international airport actually flew during WW II » the city gets its name from the White Horse Rapids, said to look like the mane of a horse, until they were tamed by a dam