Spotlight on St. Elias Lake: A family-friendly backcountry experience

Kluane National Park and Reserve is a land of epic proportions that beckons extreme adventurers to its rugged landscapes. They scale Canada’s tallest mountains, navigate remote white water, and crush multi-day hikes to glaciers.

And then there are those of us looking for a wilderness experience a few notches lower on the intensity scale. While Brook Land-Murphy is no stranger to long hikes and swiftly flowing river trips, starting a family with husband Malcolm changed how they approach backcountry adventures.

“It’s more challenging once you have kids, everything changes,” says the Whitehorse-based mom and outdoor enthusiast. “But we were determined that we would find ways to continue being able to enjoy the outdoors and expose our kids to that as well.”

So when her husband headed out for his annual solo trip in early July, Land-Murphy decided to pull out the kids’ wee backpacks and her own giant one and head to St. Elias Lake in Kluane National Park and Reserve with their daughters — Ellie, 6, and Meg, 4 — for an overnight hiking adventure.

“We’re so lucky to have so many options here in the Yukon and, what an amazing thing to have a trail to a beautiful alpine lake that’s less than four kilometres.”

The St. Elias Lake trailhead is 60 kilometres south of Haines Junction off the Haines Highway. From the parking area, the marked trail follows an old recreation road over hills and through mixed stands of aspen and spruce. The trail then leads into a coniferous forest before descending into a sub-alpine valley of dwarf birch and willow. Near the lakeshore there’s a camping area with four tent pads, a fire pit and outhouse.

“I liked the distance. And of course, it’s beautiful … it gets nice views of the mountains coming in,” says Land-Murphy. “And then the campsite being right on that lake is gorgeous, too. So it’s really high return on a relatively low amount of effort.”

While she was carrying most of the gear for the three, the kids helped by shouldering their own lunches, water and sleeping pads. The trail also easily accommodates all-terrain strollers with sturdy tires. When hiking with young kids, Land-Murphy recommends keeping it fun, taking the time to make the (many) stops they need on the trail, and considering what activities you’ll do once you get to camp.

“We brought in their flower books, and were busily ID’ing flowers … it’s a nice way for them to pay attention to their surroundings too and to learn a bit more about their natural environment.”

During spring and early summer, wildflowers of the area are showing off their eclectic shapes and colours. Binoculars come in handy for spotting wildlife like bear, moose, beaver, spruce grouse, loons, ducks and mountain goats. The lake is the perfect place for cooling off on a hot day or even catching a Dolly Varden for supper. There is a canoe on site that can be rented ahead of time from Dalton Trail Lodge, an easy stop on the way to the trailhead for collecting the canoe key, paddles and lifejackets. Late season visitors are treated to the warm brilliance of fall foliage.

St. Elias Lake is a manageable and rewarding day hike or overnight experience that can be a great stepping stone for gauging how your kids manage in the backcountry, or just a beautiful destination in and of itself.

For Land-Murphy, “In the end, what really matters is that we’re outside together.”

Visiting St. Elias Lake – what you need to know:

Distance: 7.6 km (4.8 mi) return trip
Time: 2 to 4 hrs
Elevation gain: 120 m (400′)
Permits: For all overnight trips in the park, approved Bear Resistant Food Canisters are mandatory and a Wilderness Permit is required. Both can be obtained from the Kluane National Park and Reserve Visitor Centre in Haines Junction. National Park fishing licenses are required for fishing and are also available at the Visitor Centre.
Safety: Bear sightings are common in this area. Review recommendations for travelling in bear country and report all bear sightings to the staff at the Visitor Centre.

For more information: 867-634-7207

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