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Holidaying In The North, The Economical Way

Are the fireweed-covered slopes of the Yukon calling you? Do the glaciers and mountains of Alaska beckon? Has the lure of the North taken hold?

If you are eager to visit the Yukon and Alaska but hesitate because of the cost, here’s some suggestions that might make it affordable. Last summer my husband and I took a month-long trip, leaving Manitoba at the end of June. We travelled over 12,000 kilometres – for about half the cost you might expect to pay. We did it by driving our own car, camping with a tent and making most of our own meals.

“Camping with a tent in the North? You’ve got to be kidding!” We heard that before we left but we found camping there a great experience. Perhaps we were just lucky. Last year the region had one of its warmest summers, and not much rainfall. Our original plan was to tent whenever the weather was best. We expected to stay in a hotel/motel every third night or so, depending on rain and cold, and when we felt the need for a soft bed or hot shower. We wound up camping all the way (except for several nights with relatives in central B. C. and Saskatchewan on the way home, and two nights in Alberta after a little car trouble). All our time in the North, we tented – averaging about $15 a night – less in the Yukon.

As much as possible we stayed at provincial, territorial and state campgrounds, which are considerably cheaper than commercial campgrounds. Though they lacked the amenities of more expensive ones, those we stayed at were clean and safe, with no sign of bears. However, if you can’t exist without a nightly hot shower, these campgrounds are not for you, since most have no showers and some have only primitive toilets. But if you prefer some wilderness around you, as opposed to pavement and side-by-side motorhomes, then the basic campgrounds might suit you. In Dawson City, for example, the territorial campground is on the far side of the Yukon River. This necessitates travelling by ferry to and from Dawson City, but the ride is free, so it’s not a hardship.

Yes, we missed the hot showers, but we discovered that some privately run campgrounds allow the use of showers for a small fee. We also heated water and washed at the campground. Best of all were the hot springs, such as the Liard Hot Springs in northern B. C. (Don’t miss this spot; it was one of the highlights of our trip! The campground is a good one, and campers receive free entry to the hot springs, which are less commercial than those farther south.)

As for a soft bed, we managed fine. Our air mattress plugs into the car and takes only a few minutes to fill. Then it’s about eight inches thick – fine for my senior-aged bones! We have sleeping bags and warm pyjamas, and that was perfectly adequate. One item I recommend is a travel sleep mask. We bought ours at a drugstore, but if you want a more luxurious version, check on the Internet. These are especially useful in a tent, which doesn’t block out much light – and remember – it doesn’t get dark in the North. At 2:30 a. m., at Dawson City, you could read the time on your watch!

As for meals, we made most of our own. We started off with a supply of canned and packaged goods, and bought more when necessary. Yes, fresh foods were a little more expensive, but generally food was cheaper than we expected. Prices in Whitehorse were particularly reasonable, even the produce, so we stocked up there, coming and going.

We have a two-burner gas stove, so we always cooked a hot meal in the evening. Lunch was usually sandwiches, and perhaps a can of soup. At breakfast we made instant porridge and instant coffee, and always filled a thermos with coffee for later in the day. Since we don’t have a large car, space was limited, so we didn’t take our portable barbecue – but the campfire grill served the same purpose. One night we bought an Arctic char from a roadside vendor and cooked it in foil over the fire. Otherwise, most of our meals weren’t fancy, but they were adequate. Occasionally we “splurged” a little, and bought a restaurant meal – but we preferred to spend our travel money on enjoying the activities of the region.

Highlights of our trip in the Yukon included explor ing Whitehorse and Dawson City, driving 100 kilometres up the scenic Dempster Highway, and camping in Kluane National Park. Highlights in Alaska were the narrow-gauge train ride from Skagway up the gold rush trail of ’98, and a seven-hour boat ride from Seward (south of Anchorage) to see the glaciers of the Kenai Fjords National Park. And on the way back, via the Cassiar Highway (No. 37) through northern B. C, we watched grizzly bears as they caught spawning salmon. But, as the saying goes – that’s another story.

If you’re dreaming of heading north in the summer, start making your plans now. If you travel “on the cheap” as we did, maybe your dream can become a reality.

– Donna Gamache writes from MacGregor, Manitoba

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