We’re just back from 7 nights of camping around the Yukon! This is going to be one long, photo heavy post, so hope you’re on fibre optic internet.
We took a week off of work and headed off last Saturday to see some of the Yukon we haven’t yet explored. We had some friends catch up to us a few days in, and had a great time!
So – where did we go? We headed south from Dawson City, and took the Robert Campbell Highway from Carmacks. We spent 3 nights at the Lapie Canyon Campground, then did the Southern Canol Road, spending a night at the southern Quiet Lake campground along the way. Then we spent the next night in Whitehorse at the Hi Country RV Park, then went out to Kusawa Lake Campground for a couple more nights before heading home.
We had a hot start to the week. Extreme fire hazard warning. Close to 30 C weather. And road construction of course! Here you can see the forest fire burning at Clear Creek in the distance.
We saw one moose, 2 bears, a coyote, and a wolf on this trip. Here’s the moose!
Neither Jeff or I have ever been down the Robert Campbell Highway, Yukon Highway #4, that travels from Carmacks down to Watson Lake (583 kilometres long). Faro and Ross River are the only communities along this road. The Yukon is having significant flooding in areas, due to the high snowpack (over 200% of normal south of Whitehorse!) and melt. The Yukon River in Carmacks was overflowing its banks and flooding over islands.
We went by some popular Yukon territory campgrounds near Carmacks, but with it being a long weekend, we pushed ahead to Lapie Canyon Territorial campground near Ross River. We pulled in around 7pm, and drove around with a bit of fear seeing people in every site, but we got lucky and found two sites open, side by side. The rest of the park seemed full of paddlers – rafts, canoes, and kayaks who must have been there to run the rapids in the canyon, down below the small campground.
Yukon’s Territorial Parks are quite nice, but not really feature rich, which is kinda perfect. There is no park staff on site, as you would expect in an Ontario provincial park. Instead, you self-serve, fill out an envelope with a tear off slip for your campground post, and put the envelope in a deposit box with your $12 nightly fee. Or, as we did, Yukon residents can purchase a season pass for $50. This fee is rumoured to be going up, maybe as high as $250 some day, which is only certainly going to ensure no one pays on this volunteer system.
The parks all offer free firewood, and excellent fire pits on each site. There is also a picnic table on each site, outhouses scattered around every park, and bear proof garbage bins.
We didn’t see any park maintenance folk for the three nights we stayed at Lapie Canyon, but someone must be emptying the garbages, eventually? The sites could also use a bit of fire safety maintenance. For being in an extreme fire hazard zone, there was spruce cones and needles thick all around the fire pit. We brought a ton of things, but a rake wasn’t one of them.
The mosquitos here though. Whoa. It was hot, and dry, gorgeous really, with a bazillion hungry mosquitos. But a quick douse of bug spray on all exposed skin, a lit Thermocell device, and a mosquito coil lit on the picnic table and they kept away. Except for on Hank. They love his eyes and nose and belly.
I don’t know if Hank really likes camping. He likes stealing the fire poker stick and chewing on it. But he doesn’t like the bugs, or being tied up.
Sometimes he’d hide under the trailer even. And he’d tip over his water bowl. And then his food bowl. Which the Grey Jay’s (camp robbers) loved, because they’d come in and steal some kibbles.
The next day, we decided to drive the 60km back to Faro, since we’d never been to Faro. It is 10 kilometres off the Robert Campbell highway, so we didn’t stop on our way by the first day, since it was getting later in the day. Faro is a neat place. Nice, clean, with a nice looking school, and a 9 hole golf course running through town, but a large number of houses, townhouses, and apartment buildings are boarded up.
Faro is a mining town, built for a lead and zinc mine. The town was started in 1969 (and the first houses constructed burned down that year from a forest fire and had to be rebuilt). The town peaked in 1982 with a population of 2,100 and now just over 300 people live there. The mine spans 25 square kilometres north of town and is the subject of an ongoing remediation process.
There was a little tourist stop with one of their first old rock trucks. It was the biggest truck in the Yukon and had to be shipped in parts, with the box of the truck coming by rail from Skagway to Whitehorse.
Like all old trucks, I had to climb up and check it out! All the dash gauges were still in place, the gears, the pedals. Really neat.
With a Covid outbreak in the Yukon now, and with cases in most communities, we didn’t stay long or go in anywhere. Although I only saw one store in Faro, a grocery/hardware store. Some communities are pretty leery of tourists or visitors from outside their bubble right now.
We headed back to our campground, but decided to go past it to see the town of Ross River, which is also 10 kilometres off the Robert Campbell highway. The road is gravel between Faro and Ross River, but really nice, more like hard smooth packed down reddish dirt than stones. Probably super slick in the rain.
Ross River has a population under 400 too. It is a community predominantly of Kaska / Dena First Nation families. The Canol Road went through here, leaving a pedestrian walking bridge behind after the pipeline was removed (the bridge was built to carry the pipeline that went along the Canol Road). There is a ferry barge here to cross the Pelly River, to access the northern stretch of the old Canol Road. It was closed when we drove up, and the town was pretty quiet. Their store is closed to people from outside of the community during the Covid pandemic, but we filled up with gas at their card lock facility before heading back to the campground.
We cooked most of our meals outside all week. Jeff packed a portable barbecue and his camp stove. We made some chicken kabobs on our second evening.
Often on our vacations, we spend so much time driving and driving. This time we purposely tried not to do that, taking time to read (me), and watching movies (Jeff) (he downloaded a bunch of Netflix movies before we left). There was no cell signal here, so we were nicely off grid and away from the world, which was so relaxing!
It was hot enough Jeff really wanted to fire up his new generator to power the trailer’s air conditioning all night to sleep. But instead, he was hot and awake until the wee hours while I slept soundly.
Here’s Jeff trying to feed the Gray Jays. We had three of them hanging around.
They didn’t visit his hand, but they did visit a stump for Jeff’s snacks. Notice how we had a super smokey fire, kinda on purpose, because the smoke did wonders for keeping the mosquitos away!
Hank wanted to eat all of the Jays and the red squirrels that were taunting him.
On our third day, our friends Liz and Tina in their motorhome, and TC in his truck camper arrived, and parked each on a site beside and across from us. Perfect!
We stayed a night all together, sitting around our fire pit, and took the hike down to the canyon a couple times after most of the paddlers cleared out after the weekend.
Hank clearly has no fear of heights, or falling in to the canyon.
The water is super swift and high here. Maybe I would have been keen to paddle this when I was a teenager, but heck no, no thanks, not now.
I think a bunch of the paddlers got dropped off on the Canol road and paddled down to this spot. At least they were gone most of the day each day, so that’s the story I’m telling myself.
On Tuesday the group of us headed out for the Canol Road. Now let me tell you a bit about this road. It was built during World War II to get oil out of Normal Wells in the Northwest Territories. It starts near Johnson’s Crossing on the Alaska Highway between Watson Lake and Whitehorse, and heads north to the Yukon/NWT border, 450 kilometres north of the Alaskan highway.
There was a 4 inch pipeline built along this long remote road, but the oil only flowed through it for not even a year before the project was abandoned and the pipeline was removed. The road that is left is passable in the southern portion, and the portion north of Ross River is apparently rougher and eventually near the NWT border, all the bridges are gone but it is still a popular long distance hiking destination.
So why not haul a motorhome, a trailer, and a camper down a mostly abandoned old road? We couldn’t think of any reason not to, so off we went!
When we first turned on to the road, it was overgrown and a bit washed out, and we were a bit worried, but it got better. It quickly had steep sections, sharp turns, and soon we got down to the other end of the Lapie canyon, which had a bridge over it. We stopped to check it out.
Clearly none of us really wanted to lean on the side.
And held together with a cotter pin.
And some old nails.
The views from the road were beautiful! Mountains, spruce forests, and some lodgepole pine areas too!
Many beautiful glacier fed creeks and rivers.
And really nothing else around. Just nature. Middle of nowhere.
With 3 or 4 of these old wooden bridges.
The road was really really dusty, and the trees were growing tight in places, tight enough to smack off our truck’s side mirrors and drag along the sides of the trailer.
There weren’t many signs of the old pipeline, but you could tell the road was once much wider. There were a few metal structures near creeks, likely to hold the pipeline up. The rest of the way, I read it just lay along the ground.
There were a few hunt cabins along the way, and some of the road signs were so old, I saw one with miles on it still. Canada switched to metric road signs in the 70’s!
The road was really slow going – mostly 20 to a max of 60 kilometres per hour. We were planning to stop at one of the two campgrounds half way along the road, on Quiet Lake, for the next night.
We stopped first at the campground at the north end of the lake. We were following the girls in their motorhome, but when we turned into the park, we saw what we first thought were two foreign tourists, with face masks, big sun hats, and sunglasses on, but no! It was the girls! They had some dust leak in their rig, and the entire unit was full of billowing dust clouds coating everything. They could hardly breathe!
We all jumped out briefly to assess the campground, which was really just a parking lot, with more mosquitos than you could even imagine. I looked over and Jeff easily had 40 of them biting the backs of his legs. And there was no firewood in the bins!
Maybe a fire ban caught up to us and they removed the wood?
At any rate, the bugs were so bad and the park wasn’t really a park, so we jumped back in our vehicles to head south to the other end of the lake.
There was a highway road maintenance shop around this lake, and we met a grader working on the road. So it is still maintained! The grader was about 20 kilometres over due, as we were getting into some really rough pot holed areas, but the next few where the grader had been were quite nice!
The southern campground on Quiet Lake was much nicer! And totally empty – no one around. And also no self-serve registration slips. And no wood!!? Was there a fire ban? Could there be? It was so so dry.
We set up our camps on the first three open sites in the middle road of the campground. Then I used our satellite In Reach communication device and messaged my brother to ask if he could look up if there was a fire ban. He said it was a high fire hazard, but there wasn’t a fire ban. Perfect! I guess these two campgrounds just aren’t well attended? No firewood at all, the garbages were full, and no slips.
No worry, we had several pieces of firewood we brought from home, in case of this very instance. And most of the empty sites has a piece of firewood or three that we snatched up.
Meanwhile, the girls borrowed the Shark vacuum that came with our trailer to help tackle their dust storm.
The mosquitos were significant here too, until we reapplied our layer of bug spray and got the smoke and mosquito coils ready. These spots were really nice, surrounded by lodgepole pines and rocks that reminded me of the Canadian shield in Ontario. Here’s a view from out behind the first two sites, looking back at our sites.
We had a short walk down to Quiet Lake to let the dogs swim.
Hank isn’t much of a swimmer, and took off a few times running wild in the woods like a typical Husky, which freaks me out, not knowing if he has any intention of returning. TC’s dogs were much better behaved and just fetched sticks in the (freezing cold) lake.
I thought this picture of Hank shaking off was funny.
We had some nice chicken stir fry and rice on the camp stove, and s’mores and banana boats after dinner.
It was a bit cooler at night, and these pines were so beautiful to look at through the window beside our bed in the trailer, and gave off a nice breeze which made for better sleeping. (No, it doesn’t get dark at night.)
The girls were packing up their site early the next morning, so we followed suit, and packed up camp. We decided we would camp near Whitehorse that night, so we could all get showered, do a bit of shopping, and catch up with the rest of the world with some cell signal.
But first we had to finish the rest of the southern Canol Road.
We stopped at a riverside picnic area, which was so gorgeous.
And you guessed it. It was home to a gazillion mosquitos. We jumped out, took some pictures, freaked out from bugs, and jumped back in and left. Luckily the girls successfully patched their dust leak and didn’t need to travel masked up!
We were always the second in line in our group, each keeping some distance to let the dust settle for visibility. We were following the dust cloud from the girls, but when we got to the stop sign at the end of the road, on the Alaskan highway, the girls weren’t there. That seemed really strange, since we always were extra careful to stop and make sure everyone was still with us. We figured they must have been really eager to get to Whitehorse to do some shopping? Or maybe had to dash to find some gas?
We waited for TC behind us, and then we turned onto the highway and headed for Whitehorse. We checked the first gas station, at the Johnson’s Crossing lodge/campground, but they weren’t there. Well sheesh, ok, I guess we’ll catch up to them later?
We stopped for gas along the highway with TC, and still no signs of the girls. We stopped again at a campground coming into Whitehorse, and then the guys decided to start calling the girls to make sure of where they wanted to meet up to camp that night.
Jeff managed to get a quick call in to Tina, who with a broken up signal, said they took a wrong turn.
What? How did that happen? Did they turn the wrong way onto the highway? No, couldn’t be?
We waited for a bit. TC went to the next campground to compare, came back, said it was nicer, reserved three spots for us, and then we moved along the highway to a rest area to wait for the girls. They had a stronger signal by this time, and told us to go ahead to the campground, they were at least an hour behind us!
As it turned out, right before the end of the Canol, the girls took a wrong fork, quickly saw some houses and knew they weren’t in the right place, and turned around and came back up on the Canol Road. During those few minutes, both us and TC had already passed. We figured they ditched us to go shopping. Instead they thought we weren’t there yet, and they sat for an hour, panicked, thinking the worst, convinced that one truck they met going the other way must have run us off the road.
At least they warned us that things always go wrong with they travel with people. I felt so bad for assuming the worst of them, yet how on earth did that happen? What are the chances they’d miss us going by.
We all hit the showers. These were fully serviced sites, so we plugged in all of the things, got everything charging up, put on clean clothes and split up to do a bit of shopping and errands in Whitehorse.
We picked up a few things here and there, and then we hit KFC and picked up a big bucket of chicken than lasted the next few days of camping. After supper we gathered back together for the evening.
Look at TC’s cute dogs stealing the girl’s lawnchair couch!
The girls and I decided to hit the store in the campground office to poke around. Somehow we decided it was a good idea to buy matching one piece pyjamas and put them on over our clothes, walking around the campground, causing some double takes from other campers!
Jeff took our picture on one of the old Alaska Highway building army trucks that were tucked in the woods of the campground.
Turns out I blended right into my lawnchair!
The next morning we packed up our sites, dumped our trailer tanks, and said good-bye to TC who had to head home.
We each made a few more stops in town, and then met up at the rest stop heading west to continue together to Kusawa Lake campground.
We headed west on the Alaskan highway, then turned south down another gravel road following the girls to the site. This road quickly turned rough, with washboard from one side to the other.
But it led along the beautiful Takhini River (also overflowing) to the campground…. which not only had a bear frequenting the area sign, but another sign about mud flows and risk. Ahh!
We headed to the second loop of the campground and found a couple spots along the lake, side by side. It wasn’t too busy, and the sites were big and these two were drive through sites.
We had a nice big site, partially in the sun, but the weather was much chillier now.
Getting to our nice beach on the lake proved difficult though. There was flooding in the woods between our site and the shoreline. And there is our missing picnic table, on the beach. Hmmm.
The girls had better access, so I went down to the lake to see the scene. How beautiful! Mountains, lake, trees, pretty clouds.
Jeff waded through our water to get to the beach. I remember he said something about it being so cold, it was like a punch to the throat. So I skipped it.
We all ended up having an early night, with the wind wiping up off the lake, and the temperatures dropping.
The next morning, I got up at 6 and headed out to make a fire. It was way too early, but I just felt like I wanted to have some quiet, early morning fire time.
I got the fire going, lit a couple mosquito coils, and sat there watching a red squirrel collect a winter’s hoard of spruce cones, birds flittering around the trees, while reading my book, and contemplating how I was going to get across that water to the beach. It was taunting me.
There were a few rain sprinkles, but the wind was light until the sun cleared the hill across the lake. Then the breeze kicked up.
I decided the best breakfast I could have, sitting here by the fire for hours by myself, was a s’more. So I cooked one up. And an hour later, I cooked up a second.
Between that first and second s’more, I remembered I had bought -40C rated rubber boots the day before in the city!! AH HA! Now I’m getting across that water!
I tip toed into the trailer and grabbed my boots while Jeff and Hank were sleeping in. I put them on and started wading through the melt water. I’m so smart. Until the water got deeper than my new boots.
After Jeff woke up, he gave me the boost of confidence I needed to just put on my shorts, take off my wool socks and wade through it.
So I did.
I was half way across when the pain from the cold was so great I wanted to scream. But I was half way across. Keep going? Go back? Surely my legs will go numb at some point?
I pressed on, and made it out to the picnic table to take these photos.
I didn’t linger too long, since I knew I had to wade back through the melt water. AHHHHHH! The pain of it is difficult to put into words.
But worth it.
In the afternoon our friend Melissa who lives and works in Whitehorse now, came out to join the girls in their camper for the night. We gathered around their fire for hours, playing Trivia pursuit, playing drinking games from an iPhone app, breaking often to put on more layers of clothing. Chilly!
At one point Melissa sat on a big coal chunk size of ember from the fire, burning both her bum and a hole in the couch chair!
Someone then pointed out the face in the trees!
The games later got a little wild and crazy and somehow Melissa ended up upside down, but all in good fun!!
Eventually we were all frozen, even sitting around the fire, thoroughly smoked from the breeze in the fire, and headed inside. We closed all our windows that night and were so close to turning on the furnace! But we made it through. First time camping without that furnace on I think?
The next day we packed up and headed back on the long road back home.
What a fabulous week! We usually just camp solo, but camping with friends is so much more fun! Also staying within the Yukon was great. Far enough to feel like you’re on a vacation, but close enough that you don’t spend the entire week driving.
We absolutely adore our trailer. It feels like a cottage with the bonus we get to take it with us anywhere we go. But half way through the second day of travelling on the Canol Road, we decided we should sell it and get a truck camper instead, the kind that sits on the back of your truck. We’d lose room and storage, but wouldn’t it give us so much more flexibility to be able to travel more of the roads and backroads? Maybe the Dempster all he way to Tuktoyaktuk? The Dalton? The North Canol? We’ll see!