Yukon is a true wilderness. Vast areas are completely undeveloped, and most of the territory is outside of cell phone range. If you plan to go out into the backcountry, you're going to be a long way from help. All backcountry campers, hikers and visitors travel at their own risk and responsibility.
If you have any doubts about your abilities, consider a guided trip. There are many licensed wilderness guiding companies that can provide a safe, memorable experience.
How to travel safely in the Yukon wilderness
The following guidelines are a good starting point for safe travel in Yukon's backcountry. This is not an exhaustive list, and following these guidelines does not guarantee safety.
Ensure you have the necessary backcountry skills.
If you start a river trip, hiking trip or other expedition with no skills or experience, you’re putting yourself and other members of your party at risk. The best thing to do is take a course in outdoor recreation skills, or learn from an experienced friend, before starting your trip.
Never travel alone.
If at all possible never travel alone. Go at the speed of the slowest person, and do not get separated. Keep in eyesight of each other when traveling.
Plan your route in advance.
There are very few marked trails or boating routes in Yukon. There are no warning signs before rapids, treacherous terrain or other hazards. Plan your route by picking up a guidebook, buying the topographic maps for your area ahead of time, and talking to someone who has already traveled the route. Staff at Visitor Information Centres or Department of Environment offices may be able to help.
Prepare for steep terrain, adverse weather conditions and encounters with wildlife.
Bring the proper gear and know how to use it. This is not the time to break in new hiking boots, or learn how to use a compass or an avalanche probe and beacon. Practice using your gear before your trip. Check this list of essential gear for outdoor Yukon travel. Check weather and highway conditions before you set out. Respect wildlife by observing from a distance, never feeding them, keeping your pets on a leash and under control, and learning about bear safety.
Understand bear safety.
Learn how to prevent bear encounters, identify bears' presence, and what to do if you see a bear. Travel in groups. Make noise to alert bears of your presence. Loud talking or singing is better than using bear bells. Pack your food in bear-proof canisters. Cook and store your food well away from your camp (100 m), preferably downwind. At night, use a rope to hang your food from a tree at least 2.5 m (7 ft) from the ground. Never eat or store food in your tent. Consider bringing a can of bear spray and other bear deterrents such as bear bangers or an air horn, and learn how to use them. See bear safety for more details.
Prepare for medical emergencies.
In Yukon's backcountry, you are far from help and rescue. You must be prepared to handle injuries and other medical emergencies on your own. Ensure all members of your group are trained wilderness first aid. Be aware of allergies and health conditions. Be prepared to treat stings and insect bites. Know how to prevent, identify and treat hypothermia. Carry supplies and equipment appropriate for wilderness first aid in a waterproof kit.
Prepare for rescue if necessary.
If you follow the basics of wilderness safety, chances are you won’t need to be rescued. But if a rescue is required, it helps to be prepared. Make a trip plan and leave it with a friend or family member. Include your travel route, schedule, the number of people in your party and the colour of tents, backpacks and other equipment so they can alert the authorities if you don’t return as planned. Carry signalling equipment such as a satellite emergency notification device, satellite phone, VHF or HF radio, signal mirror, whistle and flares. If you carry a satellite emergency notification device, you should know that once you turn on it on, rescue efforts begin immediately and hundreds of person-hours and thousands of dollars may be involved. Understand that rescue is likely hours or days away.
Follow "leave no trace" practices.
By planning to leave no trace as you travel, you will help keep Yukon green and pristine, and minimize damage to our delicate, slow-growing northern ecosystem. Leave no trace is a set of guidelines that includes:
- Plan ahead and prepare. Plan meals to avoid waste. Eliminate bulky food packaging and re-pack in odour-reducing plastic bags, airtight containers or bear-proof food canisters. Avoid smelly, easily-spoiled foods. Avoid or minimize soaps or shampoos. Biodegradable products are essential. Use them well away from water to avoid contaminating a lake or stream.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Use existing trails and campsites. In pristine areas, spread out on durable ground.
- Dispose of waste properly. Pack it in, pack it out. Pack out any garbage or toilet paper that you don’t burn. Double- or triple-bag it to reduce odours. An airtight, reusable garbage container may be a better option. A way to reduce food odours in camp is to have a meal stop well before you stop to camp. Make a final sweep before you leave camp. Small items such as twist ties, small pieces of food or bits of plastic are easy to overlook. When outhouses are not available, cover human waste in a small hole 60 metres from water, camp and trails.
- Leave what you find. Leave natural, historical and cultural artefacts and sites undisturbed. Cutting trees, excessive berry or flower picking, and building tables, shelters or other structures may diminish the next visitor’s wilderness experience and may impact food and shelter that wildlife depend on for survival.
- Minimize campfire impacts. Use stoves or existing fire rings. There are many types of inexpensive, light-weight, efficient and reliable backpacking stoves that can eliminate the need for campfires. Keep campfires small and completely extinguish with water until coals are cold to the touch. Use only dead wood, preferably from fallen trees.
- Respect wildlife. Observe from a distance using binoculars or scopes. Never feed them. Keep pets on a leash or under control.
- Be considerate of other visitors.
- For more information on how to leave no trace, see the Into the Yukon Wilderness guide (pages 11-18). Additional resources on the leave no trace movement and related topics:
More information on safe wilderness travel
Travel Smart also has useful tips and resources on safe wilderness travel, including the Yukon Smart Travel Plan, which you can download and fill out in advance of your trip. Remember to leave your Smart Travel Plan with a family member or close friend.
If you have further questions about how to travel safely in Yukon wilderness or where to find resources to make your trip safer, email email@example.com or phone 867-667-5652 or toll free in Yukon 1-800-661-0408, ext. 5652.