Travel safely in the Yukon wilderness

Hiking in Tombstone Territorial Park.

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.

Read Into the Yukon Wilderness for an introduction to safety in the outdoors. This guide is available in EnglishFrenchGerman and Japanese, and can be found at all Visitor Information Centres and Department of Environment offices.

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 travelled the route. Staff at Visitor Information Centres or Department of Environment offices may be able to help.

Give someone your travel plan

Whether you are going for an hour trail run, leaving your campsite to canoe for the day, or spending a week in the backcountry, how will anyone know if something has gone wrong? Telling others where you are, where you are going and when you’ll be back is critical should you need help.   
  1. Create a trip plan or fill out an online trip plan in advance of your trip. Include your travel route, schedule, the number of people in your party and the colour of tents, backpacks and other equipment. Search and rescue efforts depend on the details in your trip plan. Be specific.  
  2. Email or print your plan and give it to someone in Yukon who will call 911 if you are not back by your planned return date or if you miss a scheduled check in.

Carry essential gear 

Take basic survival items for all outdoor activities, and add safety and seasonal items for your specific activity, such as repair kits for boating or avalanche rescue gear for skiing. Practice using your gear before your trip.

Keep your survival kit with you in a day pack or belt bag:

  • Flashlight or headlamp, with extra batteries
  • Fire-making kit
  • Signaling device (such as a whistle)
  • Extra water and food
  • Clothing to protect you from rain, wind and hypothermia
  • Navigation and communications aids
  • First aid kit
  • Emergency shelter (an orange tarp or blanket provides visibility)
  • Pocket knife
  • Sun protection
  • Bear deterrent
Check this list of essential gear for outdoor travel for more ideas on what to pack. 

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. 

Before you head out, check for emergency updates that could impact your trip, such as avalanches, wildfires, floods, earthquakes and road closures.

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 in 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. If a rescue is required, you need to be able to make contact with rescuers.

Make sure you have a satellite phone, two-way personal locator beacon, or radio that can make contact with emergency services in case you need them. Learn more about contacting emergency services.

You should also carry a signal mirror, whistle or flares for helping rescuers pinpoint your location. Learn more about signaling for help.

Important tips
  • Not all personal locator beacons allow you to communicate directly with emergency services, some just broadcast a distress signal. Additionally, messages from personal locator beacons do not go directly to Yukon Emergency Services. They are answered and relayed by call centres, which could delay response.
  • If you carry a distress beacon of any sort, once you turn on it on, rescue efforts begin immediately. Mounting a rescue takes hundreds of person-hours and costs can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Only activate it if necessary.
  • Rescue will not be immediate. Depending on the terrain, weather condition, and remoteness of your location, it will likely take rescuers hours or even days to reach you.
  • Some satellite phones won’t dial 3-digit phone numbers. If you are in Yukon and can’t call 911, use 867-667-5555.

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. Find leave no trace principles at Leave No Trace Canada.

More information on safe wilderness travel

Adventuresmart.ca also has useful tips and resources on safe wilderness travel.

Contact: 

If you have further questions about how to travel safely in Yukon wilderness or where to find resources to make your trip safer, email environmentyukon@gov.yk.ca or phone 867-667-5652 or toll free in Yukon 1-800-661-0408, ext. 5652.