North Klondike Highway Wildlife Viewing
The North Klondike Highway
Shallow Bay, Lake Laberge km 209 (mi. 130)
Land access to Shallow Bay is somewhat difficult. You will find a trail just north of the Shallow Bay road, on the east side of the Klondike Highway.
In April and May, this is one of the best sites for waterfowl viewing. Tundra and Trumpeter swans stage here by the thousands in spring and fall. It is also a hot spot for migrating shorebirds and songbirds. Watch for birds of prey like Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers that hunt in the open fields surrounding the bay.
Lake Laberge Campground km 224.6 (mi. 139)
The campground is located on a signed side road 2.9 km (1.7 mi.) east of the highway on the shores of Lake Laberge. Made famous by the Robert
Service poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” this is the only place in Yukon where Double-crested Cormorants can be reliably seen. Loons and other open water birds are common. This is one of the fisrt places in the Whitehorse area to see the prairie crocus bloom in spring (mid-April).
Fox Lake km 239 (mi. 148)
Waterfowl stop here on their spring migration. You can put a canoe in at the south end of the lake for a day of adventuring in the sheltered bay. Muskrats come to feed on the abundant aquatic vegetation and many muskrat push-ups can be seen dotting the frozen surface of the lake in winter and spring. You may be scolded by a Lesser Yellowlegs if you venture too close to its nest or its offspring.
Elk and bear viewing km 273-340 (mi. 171-212)
About 50 elk — a protected species in the Yukon — live in this area. The best time to see them is in winter and spring, when there are no leaves on the trees. Listen for elk bugling in late summer and autumn. Drive slowly and look on the exposed south-facing slopes for their distinctive cream-coloured rumps. Grizzly bears are also commonly seen here in spring and summer, feeding on the roadside vegetation and, sometimes, on the elk.
Nordenskiold River km 320 (mi. 199)
The picturesque wetlands seen from here to Carmacks on the west side of the highway are part of the Nordenskiold River system. Waterfowl stage here during spring and fall migrations and nest in the more isolated areas of the river. Watch for breeding Trumpeter Swans, Greenwinged Teal, Lesser Scaup and Ruddy ducks. Beaver, muskrat and moose feast on the lush vegetation while mink and red fox hunt along the edges of the wetland. Listen for Soras and Red-winged Blackbirds singing in the sedges. These species are locally common in the Yukon, usually indicating very productive wetlands. This is a Special Management Area under the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation Final Land Claim Agreement and has been proposed as a Habitat Protection Area due to its rich biodiversity.
Five Finger Rapids Recreation Site km 380 (mi. 237)
Five Finger Rapids was a dangerous place on the river during the Klondike gold rush and river travel eras. There is a large pullout on the west side of the highway. A staircase, perhaps the Yukon’s longest, leads down to the rapids. It takes 45 minutes (return) to walk the 850 m (0.5 mi.) trail that ends at a large viewing platform. The south-facing slope is a perfect habitat for prairie crocus, kinnikinnick, common juniper and sage, and is home to White-crowned and American Tree sparrows. This is the edge of Beringia (the area that remained ice free when the North American continent was joined to Asia) and so open slopes like these contain many unique species of plants and insects. Interpretive panels discuss historic and natural themes.
Tatchun/Frenchman Road km 383.4 (mi. 240)
A gravel road leads you to campgrounds at Tatchun Lake at km 8.4 (mi. 5.2), Nunatuk at km 33.3 (mi. 20.7) and Frenchman Lake at km 41.7 (mi. 25.9). All three campgrounds are on beautiful, clear lakes that offer great opportunities for pleasant canoe outings. The road is 46.2 km (28 mi.) long and offers some of the best chances to view mule deer. The road joins the Robert Campbell Highway about 41 km (25 mi.) from the Klondike Highway intersection.
Lhútsäw Wetlands km 442 (mi. 276)
Lhútsäw Wetlands, also known as Von Wilczek Lakes and locally known as Jackfish Lake, is an important wetland complex for duck staging, nesting and moulting. It has been identified as a Special Management Area under the Selkirk First Nation Final Agreement and, when the management plan is completed, will be designated as a Habitat Protection Area.
Tthi Ndu Mun Lakekm 449 (mi. 281)
Also known as Rock Island Lake, this lake is just beyond the northern limits of a 1995 forest fire. Water lilies and other seldom-seen aquatic wildflowers bloom in the shallow areas of the lake. American Coots, rarely seen in Yukon, along with geese and ducks, nest here. Sandhill Cranes are often seen flying overhead in spring and fall.
Meadow Lake km 458 (mi. 286)
This shallow lake is one of the “athalassic,” or salty lakes of inland origin found in the area. Notice white salts deposited on old stumps sticking out of the mud along the lakeshore. Salts accumulate over time after naturally weathering out of the rocks. Much saltier lakes may be found nearby. Such lakes are home to salt-loving plants known as “halophytes.” Look for chicken-like American Coots. This is their most northerly known nesting site. Large numbers of Horned Grebes make Meadow Lake their home in summer.
Drunken Forest km 510 (mi. 317)
This straight section of highway is surrounded by black spruce and paper birch that grow on poorly drained soil. Permafrost develops in these soils. As the permafrost melts, the trees lean in different directions appearing “ drunken.” This same permafrost causes frost heaves in the highway.
Back-country wildlife viewing: Ddhaw Ghro Special Management Area Ddhaw Ghro is the Northern Tutchone name for the area also known as McArthur Wildlife Sanctuary. Although not accessible by road, the refuge is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts. Grey Hunter Peak and surrounding hillsides support many species of wildlife, including Fannin sheep. Some private land holdings exist within the protected area. Please contact the Selkirk First Nation for more information. If you are an intrepid adventurer, inquire about retaining the services of a guide to travel into the area.
Ethel Lake Campground km 523.6 (mi. 327)
Ethel Lake Campground is 24 km (14.5 mi.) down this windy, narrow road. The lake provides fishing opportunities for Lake Trout and Northern Pike. The road passes through some high elevations where subalpine fir can be seen. This is a rich area for moose.
Moose Creek Campground km 559.3 (mi. 350)
A 2.5 km (1.5 mi.) interpreted nature trail to the Stewart River takes you into the boreal forest along Moose Creek. Allow one hour to complete this loop trail. Note the change of habitat from dry white spruce forest to floodplain willow. Listen for such floodplain residents as the Northern Waterthrush, Wilson’s Warbler and Common Yellowthroat. They feast on mosquitoes that hatch from the areas’ many small ponds. The return trail takes you along a dry ridge. Fishing opportunities are found along Moose Creek and at Stewart River.
Gravel Lake km 622 (mi. 389)
This important wetland on the Tintina Trench is a major travel corridor for migratory birds in spring and fall. Just north of the highway pullout, a dirt road goes down to the lakeshore. Waterfowl nest here in early summer, joined by rafts of ducks in late summer. Because of its location on the trench, unusual birds are sometimes seen here, including Ruddy Duck, Black Scoter and the most northerly sightings of American Coot. Yellow water lily blooms carpet the lake surface in July. Sharp-tailed Grouse are commonly seen in the open aspen woodlands.
Tintina Trench viewpoint km 655 (mi. 409)
A large rest area on the north side of the road has a commanding view of the Tintina Trench and the Klondike River. The Tintina Trench is the
largest geological fault in North America, and is one of two major travel corridors for migratory birds in the Yukon. The other is the Shakwak Trench.
Klondike River Campground km 697 (mi. 436)
A 1.7 km (1 mi.) interpreted nature trail loop takes you to the Klondike River. It offers a close look at an unspoiled section of the forest and river. In this stand of giant white spruce and riverside willows you get a glimpse of a typical forest in this area prior to the 1898 gold rush. A wide variety of plants grow along the trail. Watch for Labrador tea, highbush cranberry, prickly rose, arctic bearberry and horsetails.
Crocus Bluff Trailkm 713 (mi. 446)
A 500 m (0.3 mi.) trail leads you to a view of the confluence of the Klondike and the Yukon rivers. Lowbush cranberry, feathermoss, lichens, arctic bearberry, and arctic bluebell are only a few of the plant species that thrive on the rich black earth under the white spruce/paper birch forest of the Klondike Valley. Interpretive panels discuss nature and history themes. The trailhead is found near the cemetery on the Dome Road, off the end of King Street in Dawson City.