Recently I visited Kluane National Park. After a few hours of driving and only a hike through the forest, I was in my element—a world of rock and grand vistas. My friend and I were on Sheep Mountain, a very popular trail, and I can see why it is popular. We came within 100 metres of two sheep, a male and female. The male pretended he didn’t see us and the female looked at us sternly. We hiked up the ridge and, before we went back to the parking lot, we hiked to the confluence of Sheep Creek and the Slims River, a grand theatre with a floor of washed gravel; the walls—rock on one side, trees on the other.
Pros and cons of having adventures closer to home …
Pros: I don’t have to drive hours when I could be out in nature.
Cons: When I spot sheep closer to home, they move out of sight as soon as they spot me, still kilometres away. I also like trails that are not worn to dust, but are lined with wildflowers, and the terrain is equally spectacular, always.
Adventures closer to Whitehorse …
Let’s start at the Mayo Road (a.k.a. Klondike Highway North) and finish at the Takhini River Bridge. Yes, the Takhini River Bridge at kilometre 1469 of the Alaska Highway towards Haines Junction. Sorry to repeat myself, here, but there is confusion about this for obvious reasons (naming things after a long and winding river).
The Mayo Road is at kilometre 1437 of the Alaska Highway, which is approximately 15 kilometres from Whitehorse. The Takhini River Bridge is less than 50 kilometres from Whitehorse, as opposed to Sheep Mountain in Kluane Park, which is 250 kilometres from Whitehorse (as one example).
Km 1444, the Old Alaska Highway (mile 929–934). About five kilometres to the left there is Scout Lake Road. Scout Lake Road opens up endless opportunities for outdoor adventures, many of which are described in books and on the internet.
I do, however, want to mention Ibex Ridge, a must for all hikers. Looking down from the top, it has the most amazing drop, showing a rock face, with sheep, which you can also see when you look up at it when biking to Kokanee Lake or while bouldering the house-size boulders that have rolled down from the cliffs.
Km 1450, the gravel pit that is blocked off, is the start of a trail the long way up the back of that same mountain (I call it “Winter Mountain”). This is a long hike on a gradual slope, which above the treeline turns into rolling landscape all the way up to that horizontal drop, with great reward of an abundance of flowers, butterflies and ptarmigan.
Km 1466, the Ibex Road, is at the end of the biking loop that starts at Scout Lake Road. This road has changed a bit in recent years, as someone built on that road. This greatly improved the quality of the first section of the road, but beyond that property, follow the sign Ibex Trail. It is still as it always was and is a starting point for many fine adventures. I like to follow a horse trail to the Arkell River and beyond. I learned to cross the Ibex River in “buddy manner” (holding onto your partner and facing each other while both stepping sideways). The water may only reach to the knees, but the current is swift.
Right after the crossing, don’t let yourself be fooled by the comfort of a horse trail … I found that, after crossing the Ibex River, the Arkell River is easy enough to come out at and the continuation of the horse trail is easy to pick up again. It follows the Arkell River to, and probably beyond, the gap beside Mount Ingram. On the way back it is a bit of puzzle, so make sure you mark the route from one river to the other.
Km 1467 (now, finally looking north, in a dip in the road) is the Takhini Salt Flats, which is famous for its many rare plants, like the Salicornia borealis, which creates a bright red carpet around the white of the salt flats this time of year. As the shoulder of the highway always changes, nowadays, I park at the Takhini bridge, a kilometre and a half ahead.
Km 1469, the Takhini River bridge. I have parked here many times and have met up with friends to hike, cross-country ski and even swim. In either direction, I love the high clay banks of the Takhini River. I often look for a certain rare plant that grows here—the Townsendia hookeri . In May, her beauty is worth a visit.
These are just the most obvious directions that I know along this stretch of the Alaska Highway, but there are really many more. I have taken cutlines or other entries to reach the mountains to the south or the Takhini River to the north. In cases of possible private property or land claims, I ask permission (respect for the land is always due). And, needless to say, come prepared—these are not marked trails or maintained areas as in a park.