Yukon Territory Big Salmon River Canoe
Paddle the Yukon Wilderness in the Land of the Midnight Sun
Spend 12 days paddling rivers and lakes through some of the wildest, most remote territory on Earth. Get to know the Big Salmon and Yukon Rivers where wildlife is abundant and people are scarce. Immortalized by the poems of Robert Service, this region is home to moose, bear, salmon, and classic stories of the far north, such as “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Explore sand pillars and arches, abandoned gold rush settlements, and a restored outpost. Fish for grayling in the grandeur of the spectacular valley between Mount Cyr and the Big Salmon mountain range. If you want to experience a truly remote wilderness expedition, pristine landscapes, and roughing it on a grand scale, this trip is for you!
For standard meeting places and times, see Dates & Fees tab.
DAY 1: Meet in Whitehorse in the morning. Shuttle by van to Quiet Lake, arriving in the afternoon. Review and repack personal gear, then begin the trip with camp setup and basic canoe instruction.
Note: Most participants will arrive in Whitehorse one day earlier. Lodging is not included in the trip fee.
DAY 2: Paddle through Quiet, Sandy and Big Salmon Lakes to the entrance of the Big Salmon River where you will set up camp for the night. Much time will be spent prior to getting on the river mastering ferrying techniques, peel puts, drawing, prying, and other paddling strokes. You will be drilled these skills until you are proficient in order to paddle down the Big Salmon River. You may spend 1-2 days as a group on the Quiet and Big Salmon Lakes practicing these skills and enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery and excellent fishing.
DAY 3: Leave the lake country and begin the river trip. The river twists and turns through high country as it passes Caribou Creek, Gray Creek, and the ominously named Scurvy Creek. Camp at the mouth of Scurvy Creek and fish for grayling.
DAY 4: Continue downstream past Scurvy Creek, with the beautiful Big Salmon Range rising to the west and Mt. St. Cyr and Tower Peak rising to the east.
DAYS 5-8: Your adventure continues with spectacular scenery and exciting paddling. This and the sections to follow are some of the fastest on the river. Enjoy a layover day to relax at camp, go fishing or hiking. See an abandoned village, the first structural evidence of past inhabitants since the trip's inception, at the junction of the Big Salmon and the Yukon.
DAYS 9-11: Continue paddling on the Yukon, with its fast water and high banks. The many sights to see and explore along this stretch include sand pillars and arches, abandoned villages, and a restored outpost.
DAY 12: Arrive at Carmacks in the morning. Meet your shuttle and drive back to Whitehorse. Have one last dinner together at the Gold Rush Inn in Whitehorse before leaving for points south the next day.
Note: Most flights depart Whitehorse in the morning hours, and most participants will stay the night in Whitehorse and fly out the day after the trip ends. Lodging on this night is not included in the trip fee.
Travel, Terrain, Etc...
TERRAIN/ROUTE CHOICES: This area is a combination of mountainous and lowland terrain. The riverbanks are often steep and forested, but the Big Salmon is surprisingly accessible. You will camp in the most accessible areas available. The Big Salmon and Yukon offer a range of daily route options from very easy to very difficult. You will encounter class II rapids throughout your trip. In the case of extremely high water on the Big Salmon, other rivers will be explored and alternate routes selected.
TYPE OF TRAVEL/DISTANCE: You will travel in 17-foot Old Town or Mad River canoes, which hold two to three paddlers plus all necessary gear. The average day's travel consists of 5-7 hours of paddling, depending on weather conditions. Because of the fast moving current, you will travel anywhere from 10-50 miles a day with the exception of layover days. To protect the environment, WI uses Leave No Trace camping techniques.
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: The Big Salmon River trip is truly an expedition, consisting of challenging canoeing, unpredictable weather, and remote terrain. The trip is open to people of all abilities; however, it requires physical endurance and psychological stamina. Solid wilderness camping and canoe experience are recommended. Depending on water levels, the Big Salmon can have some lively rapids, including some class III. White water paddling experience is a plus.
WEATHER: Temperatures in the summer can range from 20 F in the evening to 70 F during the day. Expect a variety of weather patterns, from hot, calm, summer days to rain, wind, and cold.
YOUR GROUP: The group size ranges from 10 to 12 participants, plus 2 or more Wilderness Inquiry staff. Each group consists of people of various ages, backgrounds and abilities, including people with disabilities.
ACCOMMODATIONS: This is a camping trip. At night you will sleep in a comfortable Eureka Dome tents. Typically, there are 3 people per 4-person tent (although other arrangements can be made). Bathroom facilities consist of an outhouse or a foldable commode chair set up in a privacy tent. We make every effort to ensure privacy and cleanliness.
MEALS: The food we bring is plentiful and nutritious. You can expect meals like burritos, pesto pasta, and chicken stir-fry for dinner; gorp, sausage, cheese and sandwiches for lunch; pancakes for breakfast. If you have special dietary restrictions, be sure to list them on your registration.
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING: Wilderness Inquiry will provide all necessary canoeing and camping equipment. All you need to provide is your personal gear, such as clothing and a sleeping bag. A detailed equipment list will be sent to you upon confirmation of your participation. If you need to borrow personal gear, that can usually be arranged.
FISHING: The tributary lakes to the Big Salmon are great for Lake Trout and Northern Pike. Once you are on the Big Salmon River, it is abundant with Arctic Grayling.
PASSPORT/VISA: U.S. citizens need a passport to enter Canada. One blank passport page is typically required for entry stamp. No tourist visa is required for U.S. citizens for stays under 180 days. We encourage you to check the State Department website for the most up-to-date entry requirements: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/canada.htmlA note about the itinerary: Our trips are real adventures in the outdoors. While we'll make every effort to follow the itinerary listed here, elements may change due to weather or reasons beyond our control.
Paddle the Big Salmon and Yukon Rivers through territory where wildlife is abundant and people are scarce. Read Robert Service poems at night while the wolves howl and the northern lights dance overhead. The Big Salmon River offers a truly remote wilderness expedition, pristine landscapes, and an exploration of an uninhabited landscape on a grand, historic scale.
The Big Salmon River arises in a series of remote lakes in the northern Yukon Territory. Paddlers begin with Quiet, Sandy, and Big Salmon Lakes before entering the Big Salmon River itself; the journey ends at the small historic pioneer town of Carmacks on the Yukon River. The Yukon Territory has been historically undeveloped, unknown, and remote with little human presence until European explorers in the mid-19th century came in search of furs and minerals. The Territory remains a vast wilderness with little human settlement, making it a true frontier in wilderness travel.
Once leaving Quiet Lake, paddlers will see no roads or bridges for the remainder of the trip. Not until arriving at Carmacks will visitors see a hint of civilization. The Big Salmon River flows through truly remote wilderness country.
Before the arrival of European traders and explorers, humans sparsely populated the Yukon Territory. Russians first laid claim and began early exploration of the Territory and were later followed more extensively by Canadians and Americans. The area was principally exploited for its furs and minerals. In 1896 gold was found in the Territory, resulting in a pandemonium of people flooding the area to exploit the resources. In 1881 exploration of the Big Salmon began. Early prospectors called it “Iyon” after an Indian tribe they found near the mouth. Later, in 1894, George Dawson of the Geological Survey of Canada chose to return the River to its original name. Literally translating the Indian name “Ta-Tlin-Hini” the River became known as the Big Salmon.
The Big Salmon River is a part of the Yukon River watershed. The mighty Yukon River, a principle watercourse in the northwestern portion of the continent, provides one of the longest salmon runs in the world. This salmon run courses up the Big Salmon River, too, from which came its name. Along the river and its tributary lakes visitors find an abundance of fresh water fish, including arctic grayling, lake trout, Chinook salmon, and northern pike. In addition to the fish, the river corridor provides habitat for a number of small game, moose, grizzly and black bears, wolf, and caribou among others.
Early on, the Yukon and the Big Salmon Rivers served principally economic development. The demand for furs, and later the gold rush, produced the need for an extensive paddleboat system in the region to facilitate commerce. These first paddleboats began sailing the Yukon and Big Salmon Rivers in 1869 and remained the primary mode of travel in the region until the 1930s. The boats required a massive amount of fuel and would burn two cords of wood an hour to move up and down the rivers. The demand for fuel created an extensive system of logging camps along the river and gradual deforestation of the area. Today several major highways built during World War II provide the primary mode of travel. Although no paddleboats run the rivers today, several decommissioned boats remain in Whitehorse and Dawson City.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How does the paddling compare for the Big Salmon and Porcupine River trips?
The Big Salmon has more white water areas and flows through a more mountainous area. The paddling is more technically challenging than on the Porcupine River trip.
The Porcupine River is located in a broader plain before the terrain shifts into a wider canyon. There is typically more wildlife present for viewing on the Porcupine River trip. The river moves quickly, but we do not paddle through any white water areas.
How safe are international trips with Wilderness Inquiry?
Safety is our top priority on all Wilderness Inquiry trips. We maintain awareness of all State Department travel advisories and ensure our itineraries follow appropriate routes. We have an excellent record of safety on all international trips and only run trips when we feel confident in participants having an excellent experience.
Do I need international travel insurance if my health insurance doesn’t cover me on an international trip?
I have no white water paddling experience, but I have paddled some rivers with slight to moderate rapids and sweepers? Would I be okay on the Big Salmon?
You should be just fine. The Big Salmon probably has the most technical water of all the trips we do. You will encounter class 2 rapids for stretches of the river. However, the good news is that these stretches come up later down stream (day 8 or so) so you do have time to practice.
We actually spend a couple days at the beginning of the trip in a series of three mountain-rimmed lakes. Here, we practice our maneuvers on the swift water channels flowing between the lakes. These channels really offer an excellent place to practice, which is part of the reason why we like the Big Salmon so much. This gives us a chance to really evaluate people's paddling skills and teach them what they need to know before they are committed to the river.
The down stream or up stream “ferry” is the # 1 technique everyone needs to master before safely doing this trip. It is not hard, but we spend 2-3 days practicing at the beginning of the trip just in case.
This trip is lengthy and some days involve extensive paddling.
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No Dates Scheduled
WI leads trips to this destination but currently has no dates scheduled. If you have a group of people interested, we can set up a customized adventure just for you! Please contact us if you are interested in a group trip to this destination.