Yukon-Alaska – cycling the Golden Circle

Golden Circle Route

The Golden Circle is a 580 km loop connecting Whitehorse (Yukon), Skagway and Haines (Alaska) and Haines Junction (Yukon) via the Alaska, Klondike, and Haines highways (with a ferry between Skagway and Haines). People typically drive it, but when we heard it’s a good cycle route we decided it was the perfect bike-camp trip for our trusty Bike Fridays.

Download our GPX files for the ride (zipped).

We arrived in Whitehorse on July 7 and had an easy day looking around, walking along the river to Yukon Brewing (appropriately including a good radler!). On July 8 we assembled our bikes and headed around town picking a few supplies like stove fuel, lighters, and bear spray. Having achieved this we checked out Winterlong Brewing, which is an excellent brewery about 10km south of Whitehorse center. We met a guy at the brewery who had cycled from Inuvik to Whitehorse and beyond. He warned us about headwinds on the road to Carcross.

DAY 1 – Whitehorse to Conrad via Carcross (Caribou Crossing) (89 km 838 m elevation gain)

Carcross Desert

Leaving Whitehorse, we took Robert Service Way up to the Klondike Highway. (We’d recommend turning onto the Miles Canyon Road too, since it misses one large intersection and the Canyon is impressive and an important historical site – be warned there is a steep hill on this route).

Once outside Whitehorse, one word sums up this ride: HEADWINDS. So strong and relentless, this was more like 120 km of effort. We had to pedal hard on the downhills! The Klondike Highway is pleasant and quiet when you turn off the Alaska Highway. However, this is where the headwinds started! A highlight of the trip was stopping at the Robinson Roadhouse, an old station and staging post on the railway from Skagway to Whitehorse. Carcross is also interesting, with a quirky general store (the oldest business in the Yukon) and nice commons development with good coffee and local art.

From Carcross we had a sheltered 16 km ride to Conrad, an abandoned settlement area that has a nice new campsite. We were slow and battered, but made it.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1694600854

DAY 2 – Conrad to Skagway over the White Pass (89 km 1057 m elevation gain)

Gill on the Klondike Highway

After a windy night, we woke to grey skies, ate a quick breakfast and hauled our bikes up the steep gravel camp road to the highway. The wind was much lighter and we made good progress along Tagish Lake and then climbed up to and along Tutshi Lake. As the highway turned west the scenery started to really improve. We saw a bear crossing the road ahead of us but it had disappeared into the brush by the time we rode by (on the far side of the road!). While we were stopped for lunch, a fellow cyclist stopped to say hi. He had cycled from Fairbanks and Inuvik and it turned out he was from near Dunfermline, very close to where Gill grew up. We pressed on towards the White Pass area and the border. Unfortunately the weather closed in and we donned our waterproofs and shoe covers. It was pretty wet and a bit of a slog as we approached the Canadian border, but we could see the grey mountains. The lake and wetlands complex in the wide valley is beautiful. Will have to come back on a sunny day.

We reached a foggy White Pass (1000 m) and headed down the steep road to US Customs and then into Skagway. It was freezing cold and very windy on the descent. As we approached Skagway we buffeted by the winds. Crazy stuff. We were happy to arrive for a coffee and a snack before being able to catch an earlier than planned fast ferry to Haines. We were very happy to make the short ride up to our fantastic historic B&B in No. 1 House Fort Seward.

We enjoyed a great wood fired oven pizza at the frontier store / Alpenglow. A nice Alaska Brewing IPA tasted good!

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1694599005

DAY 3 – Haines

We enjoyed an excellent breakfast with fellow guests at the BnB, hosted by Ali, a fellow Brit. Then it was off to watch England in the semi final of the World Cup at the Fogcutter pub. Sadly England lost in extra time. We wandered round town for the rest of the afternoon and picked up all our groceries for the next leg of the trip. We sampled some beer at the Haines Brewery and some spirits at the Distillery (good gin and bourbon). We had a great dinner at the Fireweed restaurant in the evening. Then it was home to shovel things into panniers ready for the morning.

DAY 4 – Haines to the alpine in Haines Pass (93 km 1496 m elevation gain)

Haines Pass – what a fantastic ride!

Another great breakfast set us up for the day, and then we were off towards the US-Canadian border cycling along the Chilkat River. We had to ride in a shuttle truck though some roadworks a few miles out of town but after that the road was great. We stopped for lunch and some famous pie at the Mile 33 Roadhouse. This was the last place to buy anything before Haines Junction. We crossed back to Canada and slogged all the way up to the Haines Pass. We’d been told there was a lake with a shelter just past the summit but as the 104km (from Haines) came and went we gave up and picked a glorious place to camp just off the road. As we were eating dinner a fox wandered past the tent. We were tucked up in bed pretty early, just missing a heavy rain shower.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1703045085 and https://www.strava.com/activities/1703049411

DAY 5 – Haines Pass alpine to Million Dollar Falls (55 km 411 m elevation gain)

It rained again during the night but was brightening up as we made breakfast and packed up. With an easier day ahead, we enjoyed a lazy breakfast in the morning sunshine and were on the road by 10.30am. About 2km from where we camped, at the 106km market we saw the cabin, with a pit toilet and litter bin. We camped in a nicer spot! The scenery for the ride was amazing, with a high alpine road for 40km, surrounded by high peaks and glaciers. We glimpsed another fox, and also got a great look at a golden eagle (with our binoculars) perched on a huge pile of grit at the side of the road. There were a lot of horseflies during the ride but thankfully they disappeared as we headed back into the subalpine forest and into Million Dollar Falls. We got a pitch right on the river, took a look at the very picturesque falls, and enjoyed a warm, sunny, and relatively bug-free evening.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1703059679

DAY 6 – Million Dollar Falls to Kathleen Lake (63.5 km 625 m elevation gain)

Riding along Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park

The weather changes fast in the Yukon. We awoke to grey skies following a morning rain shower. We packed up following breakfast with our waterproofs and shoe covers on for the ride up the steep hill from the river valley. From here it was an incredible gentle descent with a tailwind down towards Dezadeash Lake. The huge forested valley and mountains are impressive, and the day gradually brightened up. We made great time so had our lunch sheltering from the wind at the Dezadeash campground. Following peanut butter wraps we made a final climb before another long descent to the Kathleen Lake Campground turnoff. It’s a steep climb up to the campground where we chose a great site. Highlights of the evening were getting a good fire going after borrowing an axe to chop wood. We attended a grizzly bear awareness talk at the group campfire on the promise of hot chocolate. The talk was great, and the ranger brought a bear skin to check out (sadly from a bear that was put down before they put an electric fence round the dump in Haines Junction). A wonderful lady brought chips, salsa, and guacamole to share. A chap from Ormskirk gave us a chocolate biscuit! We ended a sunny evening looking forward a day off cycling.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1703049768

Day 7 & 8 – Kathleen Lake and then Haines Junction ( 28 km 354 m elevation gain)

The road along Dezadeash Lake heading towards Kathleen Lake

The morning was damp and we hung out under the tarp until it brightened up. We decided to hike part of the Cottonwood Trail around Kathleen Lake at the foot of King’s Throne Mountain. Nice trail with good views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Lots of interesting plants. We chilled out in the evening with a good fire.

The next morning was also chilly and a bit damp and blustery. We set out for the King’s Throne anyway – a good easy but steep hike. Very windy at the corrie and not possible to hike higher up the ridge. Afterwards, we broke camp and loaded up the bikes as the clouds cleared and sun came out. Typical! But we’d already decided to head into Haines Junction, which is an easy 27 km ride. We went straight to the bakery for a coffee and treat in the sunshine (so good!). Afterwards, while waiting to meet Mark and Marty we used the showers and laundry at the Alcan Motel, before going back to the bakery for beers and dinner. We met up with Mark and Marty and headed to their wonderful house.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1707425080

Day 9 & 10 – Haines Junction

We scoped out Haines Junction (population ~750) and some of the local businesses – the bakery (again), Green Apple grocery/bakery, and the pizza bus. We spent most of the day at the really excellent Kluane Visitors Centre and Da Ku Cultural Centre. Both are really well done and we spent a couple of hours in both. We had an ice cream and shared a birch sap beer in the sunshine before dinner with the Ritchies and a walk at Pine Lake, with its eagle nest in the shore. We also took a look in a bear trap that had been set, and baited with bacon. No bear yet! The hope is to catch the bear and release it somewhere else.

The next day we took a drive with Mark to Kluane Lake, which is the site of the opening of the Alaska Highway in 1942 when US and Canadian crews building from opposite ends of the road met at Soldier Summit. It’s also where the Slims River enters Kluane Lake, which is the river affected by the “river piracy” since the water from the Kaskawulsh glacier now flows down the Kaskawulsh river since the toe of the glacier receded.

South and North Arms of the Kaskawulsh Glacier meet

In the afternoon the weather was perfect so we splashed out on a flight over the Kluane icefields in a small plane. Amazing! Highly recommend to give you a sense of the scale of the mountains, glaciers, and icefields that are not visible from the highway and require a rafting or hiking trip for a glimpse of the edge of the glaciers. The flight took us over the Kaskawulsh glacier and into the icefields We could see Mount Logan (Canada’s highest at 5,959 m), Mount Vancouver, Pinnacle Peak, and many more. The Hubbard Glacier is massive – up to 5 km wide and 60 km long. Really impressive. Kluane Glacier tours and our knowledgeable pilot Alex are highly recommended.

We ended our stay in Haines Junction with pizza at the “Guys and Dolls” pizza bus and then a fabulous canoe paddle in the late evening sunshine on Pine Lake.

Day 11 – Haines Junction to Champagne (Long Ago Peoples Place) (68 km 484 m elevation gain)

After a great breakfast and saying farewell to Mark and Marty, we stopped in at the Green Apple market for lunch supplies. Great bread, muffins, and treats. We left Haines Junction trying to avoid the 4 km of road works (freshly laid chipset) by cycling on the mountain bike / snowmobile track. Hard going. It was a great, easy ride once we got back on the asphalt at Pine Lake. The Alaska Highway is an easy ride – good grades and not busy. We had lunch on an old bridge at Canyon (nice river and a good stop instead of Otter Falls services up the hill). Just past Otter Falls services there is about 8 km of somewhat bumpy chipset road surface. After that it’s good all the way to the Champagne turnoff. Even if not stopping here, this is a lovely 15 km stretch of quiet road off the highway.

Cooking shelter at Long Ago Peoples Place

We stayed at Kwaday Dan Kenji (Long Ago Peoples place), a Southern Tutchone First Nation camp, cultural awareness, and training center run by Meta Williams (Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation) and Harold Johnson (Champagne and Aishihik First Nation). Wonderful spot with a great cooking shelter with stove, water, and sink. We were welcomed with hot tea by Meta and Harold and spent the afternoon hiding from the clouds of mosquitos in the tea and bannock shelter. Meta served us some great bannock and we drank lots of tea. We spent a very enjoyable and informative evening talking to Meta about the land, the camp, and life in the Yukon.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1716160604

Day 12 – Long Ago Peoples Place to Whitehorse (92 km, 530 m elevation gain)

We left LAPP early because Meta had a big party of visitors coming for tea and bannock. Once back on the highway, the ride is smooth and not hilly. The Ibex Valley (named after the mountain, not because it has any antelope – maybe people thought the sheep look like ibex?) is very nice. The landscape starts to have more ranches and a few farms closer to the Takhini River. After a few hills we started to drop towards Whitehorse. The highway gets little busy after the Alaska Highway meets the Klondike Highway.

FINISHED! Yukon Brewing!

A very good tip is to turn off the Highway at the first traffic light (pedestrian crossing) by Goodies Garage onto Wann Road, then take Mountain View Drive into Whitehorse. This is quiet and takes you right passed Yukon Brewing! We finished the ride with a couple of cold beers at the Brewery and then coffee and a scone at Baked Cafe. Finally we finished where we started at our B&B in Riverdale.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/1716161827

The Golden Circle completed!

578 km, 5,795 m elevation gain.

Check out all our photos on Google Photos.

Recommendations

Cycle the Golden Circle – it’s a great ride! We might suggest to stay one night in Skagway (despite the cruise ships) and take a trip on the railway, which does look spectacular. Or stay for two rest days in Haines since there is a lot to see and do nearby – it’s a great place. The poor weather is an influence, but we’d suggest to stay for no more than two nights at Kathleen Lake – there isn’t a lot to do and the King’s Throne is actually a relatively poor hike with limited views of the real mountains of Kluane. We recommend stopping in Haines Junction – the bakery is great! We really recommend Kluane Glacier Tours – taking a flight is the only way to see the real mountains and glaciers. If you are staying in Haines Junction, Pine Lake is beautiful and has a nice campsite 4 km from the village. Finally, do stop at Long Ago Peoples Place for your final night – it’s a great place and good value.

Our Gear List

  • Down coats – essential!
  • Light pants/trousers
  • Waterproof jacket and pants/trousers
  • Cycle Shorts / leggings
  • Underpants
  • Short sleeve shirt x 1
  • Long sleeve shirt x 2
  • Sunglasses
  • Trainers
  • Ankle socks x 4
  • Fingerless gloves and full finger gloves with waterproof covers
  • Bug headnet
  • Bandana (not needed in the weather we had)
  • Lightweight MEC spark 2 tent
  • Lightweight Rab Siltarp 2
  • 20 m of lightweight rope
  • Bear barrel (for the night in the alpine)
  • Thermarest NeoAir lightweight sleeping pad
  • MEC lightweight down sleeping bags
  • Dry bag x 2
  • MSR dragonfly stove, 1 L of fuel + MEC cooking pans
  • Platypus gravity water filter (4L)
  • 2x bike bottles
  • Cups, bowls, titanium spork
  • First aid kit
  • Toiletries (minimal)
  • Cycling sandals and rain covers
  • Spare tubes and pump
  • Leatherman (with pliers)
  • Duct tape
  • Spare spokes x 8
  • Multi-tool, pedal spanner, tire levers,
  • Cable lock
  • Gear cable
  • Brake cable
  • Chain tool
  • Spoke key
  • Camera and charger
  • Binoculars
  • Lithium USB battery
  • iPhone cable and USB plug
  • Waterproof bag

Our Gear Wish List

  • Head bands – it was cold on the descents
  • Hot chocolate! More evening treats required
  • Cycling tights for Andy – too optimistic bringing only shorts
  • Warmer gloves
  • Waterproof lightweight trail shoes (running shoes were OK, but we were lucky not to get them wet)
  • 20 m more rope for the tarp
  • Solar powered charger instead of battery
  • Small handlebar bag suitable for Bike Friday bikes

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