Bison and foxes and sheep. Oh my!
The Yukon Wildlife Preserve on the Takhini Hot Springs Road offers all of these and more—and it’s recently added a series of track-set ski trails to give visitors a new way to get up close and personal with the animals.
The Wildlife Preserve covers over 700 acres of enclosures featuring natural habitat for the various species of northern Canadian mammals that call the facility home.
You’ll have the opportunity to see arctic foxes, lynx, elk, ground squirrels, moose, mountain goats, mule deer, muskoxen, thinhorn sheep, wood bison and woodland caribou.
The preserve has long been open for driving tours, but this winter decided to try something new with its cross-country ski trails.
The 5-km figure eight trail travels along animal paddocks and through boreal trees to allow visitors to explore the preserve at a more human pace.
The lower loop (first half of the figure eight) is a flat, gentle area that skiers of all levels of experience should be able to tackle with ease.
The higher loop (second half of the figure eight) does involve some steep climbs to reach the caribou territory, and subsequently some downhills that may cause novice skiers a bit of unease.
My less-experienced ski partner discovered this when she found herself sprawled on the ground for the third time in a row.
Luckily, the trails follow the route of the road, so nervous skiers can easily take off their skis and hike up (or down) steeper sections they feel less comfortable with.
If you choose to take in the preserve with a skier who flashes a look of incredulity as you start your herringbone ascent of the steeper section, bribe them with the cutest animals on the preserve (the planet, some may argue).
The two resident arctic foxes will reward you for surviving your first descent from the caribou paddock by running up to greet you as you ski up to their enclosure.
They are adorable. That is truly the only way to describe them. During our visit they ran frenetically in circles, zipping past us approximately every 30 seconds over their well-trodden paths.
Just after you pass the foxes, you come across the lynx.
If you visit on a sunny day, you have a good chance of watching the two lynx lounge in the sun’s rays—their energy level appears to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from their small, furry white neighbours.
Many of the animals the ski trails snake you past would be challenging for most people to see in the wild. So count on taking much longer to ski the 5-km route than you would average on a typical ski day.
Taking time to observe the animals in their natural habitat is half the fun—and the opportunity for some reliable close-up photography is unparalleled in the Whitehorse area.
The flatter portions of the trail offer lovely moments in the trees, interspersed with good views of the larger grazing animals such as elk and bison.
Interpretive panels provide visitors an opportunity to learn more about the animals they watch as they ski the route.
The Yukon Wildlife Preserve is open on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 pm and on weekdays from 1 to 4 p.m.