Emerald Lake, Yukon

A couple of years ago, my cousin and his wife drove north from Penticton in a motorhome. The plan was to travel the Alaska Highway all the way to Fairbanks. They arrived on my doorstep in Whitehorse one week after their initial departure from the land of fruit trees and grapevines. Sitting in my living room, my cousin said, So, if we keep going, what will we see?” “More trees,” I told him, with a mischievous grin.

He wrinkled his nose the way he did when he was a kid and caulifl ower was on the menu that night. He gave his wife a hard long look and said, “Honey, we turn around tomorrow and head home. I’m sick of trees.” My cousin showed me not all people are destined to be tourists. But for those of us who live in the Yukon and love trees, it’s time to get out and travel the highways and see more of the Yukon and all that goes with it.

For an easy day-trip, plan to visit the communities that make up the Southern Lakes region: a playground of waterways and trails that includes Mount Lorne, Carcross, Tagish, Marsh Lake, Teslin and the community of Atlin, BC.

The Northern region is home to the Southern Tutchone people and the Southern region is home to the Tagish and Tlingit people. As for trees, the plateaus, alpine meadows, rolling hills and majestic mountains are home to white spruce, aspen and lodgepole pines.

Everyone is invited to the Koolseen Heritage Centre in Carcross, behind the Visitor Reception Centre, to visit with local artisans selling jewellery, beaded moccasins and other handmade traditional crafts. The café offers home baking and refreshments. And don’t forget to take in the First Peoples performances featuring traditional dancing, drumming and storytelling. For schedule information call (867) 334-9886. There are other interesting little shops to explore in Carcross, too.

Originally, Carcross was established in 1899 as a connection point from the rail line to the lake sternwheelers carrying passengers and products to the Atlin gold fi elds. Anyone interested in historic architecture will enjoy the turn-of-the-century buildings still standing in Carcross today.

The Visitor Information Centre housed in the historic White Pass & Yukon Railway depot provides interpretive displays, brochures, pamphlets and a walking tour guide to get you started. If you’re looking for boat launches, marinas, sandy beaches and campsites in the region, the friendly staff can help you out in that department, too.

In Teslin, the Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre showcases First Nation artists’ work and the traditional way of life for the Inland Tlingit. See or buy local arts and crafts made by members of the First Nation. July 28 is a day to celebrate Tlingit culture at the Centre. Until Aug. 15, you are welcome to take in Chilkat Weaving demonstrations and a Fish Camp that includes traditional salmon harvesting and salmon smoking demonstrations. For more information on these events, call the Centre at (867) 280-2532.

Teslin local attractions also include the George Johnston Museum, a definite must see that tells the story of George Johnston, Tlingit elder, trapper, entrepreneur and avid photographer who documented the life and work of the Inland Tlingit as they lived half a century ago. Johnston’s restored 1928 Chevrolet is on display at the museum. At a time when there were very few roads throughout Southern Yukon, Johnston was a forward thinking individual who carved out his own road. In winter, he drove the Chevrolet on Teslin Lake, using the vehicle for icefishing. His photographic collection complements the many artifacts found at the museum.

The Southern Lakes is also home to a myriad of Yukon artists. If you grab a copy of the Art Adventures, On Yukon Time Studio Guide produced by the Department of Tourism and Culture, and found at all Visitor Information Centres, you can seek out artists working in their studios, purchase art or ask about the creative process. Many artists live in Tagish, Atlin, Marsh Lake and Mount Lorne as well as Teslin and Carcross.

More than a hundred years ago, the Southern Lakes region was a major player in the Klondike Gold Rush. Home to the Teslin Tlingit Council, the Carcross/Tagish, Kwanlin Dun and Taku River Tlingit First Nations, the area is known for its vast waterways that form the headwaters of the Yukon River. The region’s secluded trails and
diverse scenic beauty are Yukon treasures you won’t want to miss.

Tourism operators in the Southern Lakes region offer bed and breakfasts, cabin and canoe rentals, campground use, ATV tours and more.

During your drive, be sure to stop at Emerald Lake with its pristine aqua colour to rival any precious gemstone and the Carcross Desert with its wind swept sand dunes and tenacious Yukon vegetation that grows hardy no matter what the season or the weather.

If my Okanagan cousin could have looked past the boreal forest for the trees, he would have blossomed beyond his shortsighted view to realize we get out of life what we put into it.

Alicia Debreceni and Karen Keeley are communication officers with the Department of Tourism and Culture. This story is courtesty of What's Up Yukon.