The beauty of a canoe is you can transport it by many means and paddle it almost anywhere. You can put in on any river in the Yukon and paddle right across North and South America. It is a feat that has been done more than once before. We are blessed here in the Yukon with a great many places to paddle. We have lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers and access to the ocean. We have it all right in our backyard.
Around Whitehorse, we have a great variety to suit your fancy or paddle style. Make sure you match your paddle location with the skill set you have, so you can enjoy yourself in safe manner—build on success and you will be on the right path.
A good place to start paddling your canoe is at the top of the South Access at Ear Lake. Turn at the flashing amber light before you get to the Alaska Highway, and follow the gravel road down around the cement plant. There are two small parking lots right beside the water. Ear Lake is a very small pothole and it really warms up once the sun starts to beat down. It is a perfect place to get to know your canoe and its limits. Tipping your canoe in a safe, warm and sheltered spot such as Ear Lake will help you build confidence and discover where your canoe actually tips over. If you stay loose in the hips you may even be able to fill up your canoe with water without tipping it over. We teach our students that the more comfortable you can be in the water, the more comfortable you can be on the water in your canoe.
Another great thing about Ear Lake is it is very sheltered from the wind, so you can practice your strokes and maneuvers without distractions. Practice paddling in a straight line, large circles, figure eights, moving sideways and stopping your canoe. These are fundamental skills that will serve you well in any future paddling you may do.
From Ear Lake, you can get a bit more adventurous and check out lakes such as Hidden Lake, Chadden Lake, Chadburn Lake, Long Lake, Mary Lake or Scout Lake. Don’t forget to take your fishing rod and try to catch some supper along the way. These lake are a great next step as they are all smaller, with numerous bays and areas that are sheltered from the wind. Wind is generally not your best friend when you are canoeing unless you have a sail.
Check out Whitehorse Hikes and Bikes an area guidebook published by the Yukon Conservation Society, as well as Environment Yukon’s Angler’s Guide to Stocked Lakes(available online) for other smaller lakes to explore. A big advantage to a smaller lake is generally if things get windy, the lake will have smaller waves and if you get driven off the lake by wind you may not have far to walk. The water is often much warmer than our bigger lakes. Once you are feeling comfortable on these lakes you can try something a little larger—maybe even an over night camping trip.
In the Yukon we generally have two kinds of lakes: lakes along big wind tunnels and lakes with many bays and shallows. A good way to judge a lake is to look at the terrain around the shores. The steeper the slope and terrain around the lake is,.the higher the chances are that it will be a wind tunnel. Bennett, Kluane, Tutshi, Little Salmon, Atlin, Aishiak and Quiet Lake are good examples of lakes that can turn into a wind tunnel.
If you decide to canoe in these bodies of water, you need to show good judgement and have proper pre-trip planning. These lakes can turn into a white frothy roller coaster in minutes, and they often do not have many sheltered bays or coves to duck into while you wait out the wind. You need to be prepared to be wind bound on these lakes, which sometimes can be days.
I once got stuck on Bennett Lake for two days and then we had to sneak back onto the lake at 4am to paddle the 13 kilometres back to Carcross. We had enough food, but we had not made arrangements with our pickup person for what to do if we became wind-bound, and we did not have a satellite phone. We ended up causing a few others some needless worry and stress as they waited for us.
However, in the Yukon we have a bunch of smaller lakes and other lakes that are in more flat terrain, resulting in very broken shoreline. These tend to be shallower, have tons of bays, coves and lots of neat nooks and crannies. You often see more wildlife and more fish, as you can usually see the bottom in the numerous narrows and shallows. Frenchman, Tatchun, Snafu and Tarfu lakes are great examples of more friendly canoeing spots. I also find them infinitely more interesting to paddle on. They are great areas to explore with your children, and multi-day canoe camping trips are possible. The fishing is also usually productive, which can be a big bonus if you are canoeing with children. The water is often at swimable temperatures, which adds even more for your kids to do.
Once you’ve mastered the lakes, we have thousands of kilometres of rivers to explore, which we will do in a future issue. In the meantime, if you decide to head out to do some Yukon lake paddling, make sure you plan accordingly to the size of the lake you are going to be paddling on. Keep an eye on the weather and don’t be afraid to sit on shore to await for conditions to improve. The water in the big lakes is very cold and there have been numerous preventable tragedies.
Respect the water and the wilderness, and you will be rewarded with its beauty and indescribable presents. It is hard to beat the feeling of gliding silently across a mirror-glass-calm lake early in the morning sun.
Trevor Braun started paddling on the Lapie River in 1989 and has been hooked on it ever since. He has owned and operated Yukan Canoe for the past 11 years and has taught hundreds of students the art of paddling. He loves rivers so much he named his first born, Pelly, after the river. Information on Yukan Canoe courses are at www.yukancanoe.com or call 667-BOAT.