The employee at the visitor center said to pronounce it “Clue on knee”. However you say it, it is Canada’s largest national park and is the location for the official commemoration of the US/Canada joint war effort to complete an overland passageway from Canada to Alaska.
To journey there from the lower 48, you pass through the town of Haines Junction. Like most of the Yukon Alaska Highway towns, it is quite small but is in one of the most beautiful locations. It has a new very modern Visitor Center, a museum, and a National Park Service information facility. Haines Junction has fuel, a small grocery store, an ice cream shop, a motel, a pub, rental cabins, and a very nice bakery. There is also an airstrip that is the home for small planes that provide air tours of the glacier laden mountains to the west.
Haines Junction also has one of the smallest churches you will ever see. It was built from a salvaged Quonset hut left from the construction of the Alaska Highway during WWII. The “Our Lady of the Way” is one of the most photographed churches in the Yukon. Inside, the four pews must be aligned perpendicular to the altar to fit inside. Built in 1954, there is still mass on Sundays.
St. Christopher’s across the street also houses a very nice art gallery and art co-op in the basement.
One of the unique features is a monument to the mountain environment the locals call the “muffin”. Being in the town that promotes itself as the “Gateway to the Kluane”, it represents animals that are found in the national park. There are “muffin” directional signs posted in town and it even has its own Facebook page.
Travelling northwest toward Alaska we stopped at the Visitor Center at the south edge of the lake and adjacent to Sheep Mountain. The building’s deck has several spotting scopes to view the large number of Dall sheep on the slopes. We were able to see over 20 sheep ourselves. They live high up on the steep terrain for protection from predators. That morning the ranger had counted 68 sheep! Over 400 sheep live on that mountain alone, while there are 4,000 in Kluane National Park itself.
Once you leave Haines Junction you are off grid for many miles. Even the private campground on Kluane Lake runs on a diesel generator and has a microwave antenna for phone service.
We hiked up to “Soldier’s Summit” which is the location for the commemoration of the opening of the Alaska Highway on November 20th, 1942. It was a balmy -30 degrees Centigrade that day in 1942. Parks Canada had a 75th Anniversary celebration at Soldier’s Summit on June 29th last year. The festivities were moved to June from November to allow for more comfortable weather. The trail has numerous commemorative plaques about the highway’s construction and “First Nations” people that have lived in the area for thousands of years. At the summit there is a platform with Canadian and US flags hoisted honoring the cooperative effort.
We stayed at Congdon Provincial Park Campground on the Kluane Lake and liked it so much that we stayed an extra day. The lake is the largest in the Yukon and the Alaska Highway follows most of its 50 mile length. We will be able to get some fuel in Beaver Creek at the only station there. Wheels up, next stop Alaska!