Canada // The North //

Kluane National Park

KLUANE NATIONAL PARK contains some of the Yukon’s greatest but most inaccessible scenery within its 21,980 square kilometres, and for the most part, you’ll only see and walk the easterly margins of this UNESCO World Heritage Site from points along the Alaska Hwy (no road runs into the park). Together with the neighbouring Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska, the park protects the St Elias Mountains, though from the highway the peaks you see rearing up to the south are part of the subsidiary Kluane Range. Beyond them, largely invisible from the road, are St Elias’s monumental Icefield Ranges, which contain Mount St Elias (5488m) and Mount Logan (5950m) – Canada’s highest point – as well as Mount Denali (Mt McKinley; 6193m), part of the Alaska Range and the highest point in North America; these form the world’s second highest coastal range, after the Andes. Below them, and covering more than half the park, is a huge base of mile-deep glaciers and ice fields, the world’s second largest non-polar ice field (after Greenland) and just one permanent resident, the legendary ice worm. Yet global warming is taking its toll on the ice fields, with levels dropping by approximately 1.8m a year.

Unless you’re prepared for full-scale expeditions, this interior is off limits, though from around $200 you can take plane and helicopter tours over the area; information on guided tours is available from the Whitehorse and Haines Junction visitor centres.

At the edge of the ice fields a drier, warmer range encourages a green belt of meadow, marsh, forest and fen providing sanctuary for a huge variety of wildlife, including grizzlies, moose, mountain goats and a four thousand-strong population of white Dall sheep. These margins also support the widest spectrum of birds in the far North, some 150 species in all, including easily seen raptors such as peregrine falcons, bald and golden eagles, together with smaller birds like arctic terns, mountain bluebirds, tattlers and hawk owls.

Trails offer the chance to see some of these creatures., but the only campsite within the park accessible from the highway is at Kathleen Lake; there is hotel and camping accommodation along the Alaska Hwy.

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