Long-time hiker Luke Faught poses for a photo along a trail in Whitehorse on June 10. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukoners discover local hikes

“Everybody’s just getting outside”

Scenic views, narrow trails — sometimes along steep ridges — and selfies showing smiling faces amid vast wilderness.

More of these images appear to be popping up on the social media feeds of Yukoners as they take to trails near their home in a season where organized summer activities have been cancelled and vacationing outside the territory is not a possibility until at least July when the border with British Columbia may open up.

While the Yukon has long been recognized for its many hiking trails and wilderness views, it seems more locals are exploring these spots.

The Happy Hikers Yukon Facebook page, which began two years ago as a small private group with about 30 members, is now up to more than 2,000, with many having joined in the last couple of months.

“Since COVID, this has exploded,” said Sue Gleason, who started the page with another friend, in a June 10 interview.

Being unable to travel, Gleason said it seems many are looking for local spots to explore.

On the Facebook page, members have been posting photos of their hikes, asking and answering questions about trails, routes and difficulty levels as well as finding others to hike with.

There are a few other pages — Hiking Group Whitehorse, Hiking Yukon to name a couple — that feature details about hiking routes throughout the Yukon with a number of hikers posting photos of their journeys.

Gleason said she started her page when a few friends invited her to text anytime she wanted to go on a hike.

She thought it might be simpler to start a private Facebook group for herself and others wanting to make plans to go hiking with others and started the page to do so.

In recent weeks the group has added more members, and that means more photos detailing favourite hikes and spots have been displayed — places like Spirit Canyon, Mount Vanier, the Alsek Valley Trail and others.

Since reopening in late April after being closed due to COVID-19, Coast Mountain Sports general manager Jason Gendron has seen a surge in the sale of both hiking and camping gear.

Unable to travel, many are looking at ways of exploring the Yukon and being active outdoors, he said.

“Everybody’s just getting outside,” he said.

Store staff are being asked questions around bear safety and the best places to explore.

“Bear safety’s number one,” Gendron said, adding that is typically the case every year with bear spray being one of the top selling items in the spring.

Staff had been suggesting some of their favourite spots around town — places like Grey Mountain, Fish Lake and more — and are now adding in other parts of the territory such as Kluane National Park when asked as more areas open up.

Among Gleason’s favourite spots in and near Whitehorse are Fish Lake, Grey Mountain and the trails at the Gunner Nielsen and Mickey Lamer Research Forest.

Venturing further afield, Gleason said she enjoys hiking Nares Mountain, the Sam McGee Trail and a multitude of trails in the Sheep Mountain area of Kluane National Park.

Kluane opened to visitors June 1 and Parks Canada is asking visitors to respect two metres physical distancing and enhanced hygiene requirements.

Full details of those requirements are available on the Parks Canada website.

“Opening Parks Canada places to visitors offers Canadians opportunities to physically distance in natural settings,” Kathy Burden, spokesperson for Parks Canada Yukon field unit, stated in an email. “Parks Canada is asking Canadians to be cautious and conservative in their use of these places, to observe travel restrictions, to respect the guidance of public health experts, and to make every effort to flatten the curve and keep one another safe.”

They all have unique features to them and offer a different scenic view.

As Gleason pointed out, there’s many options for all levels of hikers in the territory to take in the scenery and beauty offered here.

“I just love the Yukon,” she said, describing hiking as her “mental therapy.”

She suggested those looking to start out or do a little bit more hiking to look for routes that are on par with their skill levels and find others to hike with. That can be done through social media groups and sometimes just asking around.

Gleason also said for anyone who may feel intimidated by the word “hiking,” there’s a Happy Walkers Yukon group that was recently started by another resident offering options for hikes and walks on local routes, including some small group (less than 10) walks.

Similarly, long-time hiker Luke Faught suggested in a June 10 interview those new to hiking begin with smaller routes that are short and fairly easy and build up from there.

With experience, hikers will find things they enjoy most about the activity and can look for more challenging trails that have the features they’re looking for, he added.

Faught began hiking eight years ago while living in Alberta.

Moving to Whitehorse two years ago, he learned he didn’t have to drive 45 minutes to an hour and a half to find a good hiking trail.

In fact, nearby his Riverdale home is one of his favourite hiking locales — Hidden Lakes.

“It just offers so much bang for your buck,” he said as he described the numerous trails forking off from the routes, a variety of wildlife like songbirds and waterfowl, as well as colourful wild flowers in the area.

“The trail was literally lined with Technicolor wild flowers,” Fought said of his hike in the area earlier in the week.

The route also gives hikers a new perspective of the city from the ridge.

Faught said getting out on the trails is like entering another world. He described the gold, pinks and purple shades of the sky he’s seen on hikes, along with the blues, whites and purple of the wild flowers.

“It’s like Oz,” he said, adding that hiking provides a pace to really take in the scenery.

“You’re just drinking it all in,” he said.

While many are checking out routes on their own or going to social media to get recommendations on the best places to hike, the Yukon Conservation Society is getting ready to welcome visitors at Miles Canyon June 18 for its guided hikes there.

With the hikes, YCS aims to encourage people to get outside and discover the area. The group also offers a number of maps on its website for download of the McIntyre Creek area for hikers as part of its effort to get more people outside.

YCS trail guides coordinator Galena Roots said given the current health guidelines, groups for the Miles Canyon hikes will be limited to a maximum of eight.

In past years, the hikes have drawn anywhere between one and 30 people per hike.

While it’s difficult to tell how many people will come to a given hike, she said pamphlets detailing the geography and information about the area will be provided to those who may not be able to take part if the numbers are too large.

There will also be hand sanitizer available as part of the health measures for the 2020 hikes.

The Miles Canyon outings are scheduled every day between Thursday and Saturday from June 18 to Aug. 15 at the suspension bridge. There’s also a 10 a.m. option on Saturday. The hike lasts about two hours.

YCS is also planning to produce weekly videos at Miles Canyon that will be posted online through the season.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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Long-time hiker Luke Faught walks along a trail in Whitehorse on June 10. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

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