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Northern Lights in the Yukon

Rocky Mountaineer and the Yukon: Canada’s most iconic pairing

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2 October 2019 by Rachel Mostyn

The Northern Lights, the Rocky Mountaineer, the Yukon…they all have one thing in common. For me, it’s that sense of the iconic: experiences that are truly unforgettable and once-in-a-lifetime for most. I was lucky enough to experience all three on my late-summer trip to Canada. Find out more below.

After a nine-hour day flight I landed in Jasper, with just enough time for a stroll around the alpine village and soak in the hot tub at my hotel, the Crimson. As an alternative I'd also recommend starting in Calgary – the Rocky Mountaineer has several different starting destinations – giving you a leisurely couple of days to enjoy its Western brashness and honky-tonk bars, as well as the gateway to exploring Alberta's beautiful Yoho National Park and Lake Louise.

Spirit Island, Maligne Lake, Jasper

Spirit Island, Maligne Lake, Jasper

The next day it was time for me to board. Filled with anticipation, it all started wonderfully as I was greeted with that famous Canadian hospitality, all warm smiles and helpful introductions as I was served complimentary snacks and drinks. The dramatics began instantly with the Rockies' emblematic peaks and rolling hills, the driver helpfully slowing down at particularly evocative moments. Today's journey finished in the forested city of Quesnel, but not before we spotted a whole herd of elk – higher numbers than usual due to their mating season. What's more, between April and October, we were told, there are also chances to spot the likes of bears, moose, wolves and lynx.

GoldLeaf service, Rocky Mountaineer

GoldLeaf service, Rocky Mountaineer (Credit: Rocky Mountaineer)

After a night in Quesnel, the next day's journey began with a delicious breakfast in the split-level dining cart before we traversed across the vastly-changing landscape that switched from dusty desert-like terrain to verdant fields dotted with traditional farmhouses. The highlight for me, though, was skirting past the aqua-blue of Seton Lake before arriving at Whistler – made all the better when I descended to the open-air viewing platform to take it all in. Bear in mind this feature is only available in GoldLeaf level, but SilverLeaf's wide domed windows provide more than enough chances for taking in the scenery, too. I’d highly recommend the Peak 2 Peak Gondola on arrival in Whistler, where you can sweep above the alpine village for wonderfully panoramic views.

Passing Seton Lake on the Rocky Mountaineer

Passing Seton Lake on the Rocky Mountaineer (Credit: Rocky Mountaineer)

My final morning on the train saw me head to Vancouver along the Sea to Sky Corridor, a route characterised by its gleaming blue lakes and forested slopes. Again, the train appropriately slows down at just the right moment, allowing me to test my photography skills as I captured plummeting canyons, huge peaks and waterfalls, with many of the latter actually only accessible by train. I also have to comment on the dining which was superb throughout, particularly the ribs and cinnamon buns – all finished off nicely with a selection of open-bar drinks. After a few final canapés on board, I said my farewells – the staff were truly excellent throughout and really added to my experience, explaining in immense detail about the area's wildlife, scenery and history of the towns and cities – and disembarked at Vancouver for a drink by the waterfront before an early night for my journey to the Yukon the next day.

Dining, Rocky Mountaineer

Dining, Rocky Mountaineer (Credit: Rocky Mountaineer)

An early start saw me head north to the Yukon – and, while my trip had so far certainly been very special, it was this part that perhaps had me most excited. The Yukon is imaginably vast – I learnt there are just 0.07 people per square kilometre – and bigger than Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands combined. So, even though Whitehorse is itself a city, I was pleased to find it still felt as wild and remote as I had hoped. I'd recommend taking the time to explore Whitehorse, where ancient buildings and museums showcase the city’s gold rush history alongside chances to head on hunting and fishing expeditions – and, of course, don’t miss out on the craft beer scene!

Miles Canyon near Whitehorse, the Yukon, Canada

Miles Canyon near Whitehorse, the Yukon, Canada

I then embarked on the short drive to just outside of Whitehorse to arrive at the Northern Lights Resort and Spa. Set in the picturesque Yukon River Valley and backdropped by the McClintock mountains, the resort is located on 160 acres and dotted with alpine chalets built of massive Douglas firs. There's also the option to stay in the stunning Aurora Glass Chalets for a special upgrade, with panoramic glass walls for glimpses of the aurora without leaving your bed. I opted for the log cabin cottages – complete with cosy fireplaces – before being greeted by the wonderful hosts for the first of my included meals. I particularly enjoyed the Arctic char, washed down with some great craft beer.

Northern Lights above the Northern Lights Resort & Spa

Northern Lights above the Northern Lights Resort & Spa

After fuelling up, I took a seat in the outdoor hot tub, drink in hand – and it's here I saw my first glimpse of the Northern Lights. Whilst not my first time, there was something seriously special about taking it all in in such a vast wilderness. Northern Lights viewing – when the clouds allow it – is hosted every night at the resort, but there are also included trips to other viewing sites, combined with storytelling, refreshments and your own cabin to keep warm in between viewing opportunities.

Main lodge, Northern Lights Resort & Spa

Main lodge, Northern Lights Resort & Spa

Remember that in August and September the aurora rarely shows before midnight, so I'd perhaps not advise going to the Yukon during late summer/autumn for families with young children. Instead I'd recommend a winter trip with chances to head on snowmobiling, dogsledding or ice-fishing excursions.

Kluane National Park, Yukon

Kluane National Park, Yukon

And, while the Yukon is known for its long winters, I'd highly recommend a late summer visit, one of the benefits being that you can enjoy the outdoor facilities such as the hot tub and hiking routes, as well as the unspoilt natural world of the Yukon, without having to wrap up too warm and get the snow shoes on! As the Rocky Mountaineer season draws to its final months (it doesn't operate from November-March), the Northern Lights start to get going in Yukon, and I think it makes for the perfect combination. Experience it for yourself with our itinerary:

Rocky Mountaineer and the Yukon itinerary

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