Back to top

Wilderness Safety


Nature Tours of Yukon's guidelines
for a safe experience in Yukon’s wilderness

There are few roads and relatively few people in Yukon Territory. In other regions in the world the national parks, forests, refuges and other public lands are often surrounded by cities and smaller towns. These public lands are islands of wilderness bordered by civilization. It’s the other way around in the Yukon, were pockets of civilization is surrounded by wilderness. In the Yukon it is still possible to take a river or hiking trip and see no one.

Yukon solitude comes with a price, of course. Part of your river and/or hiking adventure involves getting to the river or trailhead. Distances from one region to another are immense. Yukon’s road system can bring you to some wonderful wild rivers and trails. But at times this can be difficult; unpaved four-wheel drive roads and fickle weather may cause some unforeseen delays.

Yukon’s weather extremes and wilderness conditions can tax you and your gear to the maximum. It’s important to dress properly and carry sufficient food and equipment to respond to emergencies.

The prevention of serious illness or injury becomes vital. You’ll need to be more cautious when you realize it can be hundreds of kilometres to the nearest help. Proper preparation is the key ingredient for a successful Yukon expedition.

Nature Tours of Yukon can help you with advice, equipment, transportation and guides to prepare for an unforgettable and safe Yukon wilderness experience.


Wilderness safety

Cold water

Yukon’s waters are very cold, even in the summer. Immersion in extremely cold water can be incapacitating within seconds. Breathing is hard to control and you can easily inhale water. Hyperventilation causes the body to lose a great deal of carbon dioxide, thus diminishing blood flow to the brain. Certain muscles, especially those of the extremities, can go into spasm. Falling in to a glacial or northern river can have extreme consequences. Your body basically goes limp in the cold water and breathing can get very difficult. You really don’t want to flip a canoe on a Yukon river. 


Preparation for river or hiking trips includes gaining knowledge of hypothermia, the dangerous condition of having subnormal body temperature. Hypothermia occurs when exposure to cold and causes a person’s body to lose heat faster than it can replace, leading to the progressive mental and physical collapse that accompanies chilling of the body’s inner core. Hypothermia can be caused by immersion in cold water, which cools the body 25 to 30 times faster than air of the same temperature. It can also be caused by exposure to rain, wind, or cold wet air, especially when you are inadequately clothed, ill or exhausted. Alcohol consumption or old age can exacerbate the condition.

The cold will begin to affect your ability to reason. As reasoning and judgment begin to deteriorate, you enter the stage of hypothermia. As your inner core temperature dips, you may lose the use of fingers and hands, violent and incapacitating shivering may be the first signs of hypothermia, but not always. Other symptoms may include confused thinking, shallow breathing, weak pulse, slurred speech, weakness, fatigue, drowsiness and shivering that lessens or stops.

The best way to void hypothermia is to dress warmly and stay dry. Wet clothes lose 90 percent of their insulation value. Wool and high-tech pile, Polar fleece and polypropylene garments lose less body heat then garments of cotton or other material. The wind can be deadly. Even a slight breeze carries heat away from the body and pushes cold air under and trough clothing. Other important strategies are to drink lot of fluids and eat high energy snacks and meals throughout the day. If you fall into the water, get ashore as quickly as possible. Carry waterproof matches or a lighter in your pocket so you can start a fire if necessary.

If you suspect that someone has hypothermia, immediately get that person out of wet clothing and into dry clothes and a sleeping bag. It may be best to put that person in a sleeping bag with someone else in order to absorb the healthy person’s body heat. Do not rub or massage the victim’s skin!

Life jackets

Some people think they are safe as long they have life jackets (personal floating devices -PDF’s-) inside the canoe. They are wrong. !!! You need to wear them !!!
If you fall in the water you can drown. A life jacket is both essential safety equipment and essential piece of clothing that helps you to stay warm while in the canoe. A life jacket should be worn at all times during travel on the water.

A good life jacket should fit properly, be comfortable and be designed for wearing while paddling. A good life jacket will not only keep you afloat if you capsize but will also conserve body heat. Proper fit means that it feels snug around your body. If you wear a loose-fitting or unzipped life jacket and you go into the water, it will float up over your head or may come off.

Life jackets should always be worn outside your outside layer of clothing. If you wearing a raincoat, the life jacket goes over it. Then if you go overboard, your clothing won’t invert over your head and pull you down.

Bears and other wild animals.

Rivers are food corridors and travel routes for animals of all kinds. As you travel on a river, try to manage your activities to avoid confrontation with animals. They are as surprised to see you as you are to see them. Keep a respectful distance from wildlife and observe them in silence. Don’t stalk or pursue them or interfere with their activities. Animals spend most of their waking hours in the summer and fall building up fat reserves for the long winter. Interruptions in obtaining food could mean an animal will be unable to feed its young or will starve during the winter.

Bears are generally not a problem: people are the problem, when they encroach on bear country. Knowing a little bear ecology can help to minimize your impact on bear territory. (Please get your copy of the booklet about bears and bear encounters, available in the visitor reception centers and read more about bear safety here.) Don’t bring smelly food on the trip, keep food smells out of your tent and keep a clean camp. Store your food to secure it from bears and other critters, such as ground squirrels. Give bears plenty of space. Their most important place to find food is the river. Don’t camp at tributary streams or along likely bear travel routes.

Yes, the wilderness is bigger in the Yukon than the rest of Canada, but at the northern latitudes the land is more fragile and the growing season shorter, so it takes a big country to sustain the fish, wildlife and plants. A single grizzly requires more than 150 square kilometres of territory. The Porcupine caribou herd annually migrates thousands of miles through the north east of Alaska, Yukon and North West territories while nibbling on lichens and sedges, plants witch grow very slowly and if overgrazed would create a havoc in the arctic eco-systems.

Respecting the land.

More and more people are seeking the silence and peace of wild places as a respite from urban living and as a way to learn about the natural world. With more people comes greater impact on the environment. There a few visual images worse than trash-strewn fire pits and piles of human excrement and used toilet paper at every convenient gravel bar along the river.  Increasing quantities of human waste in the wild is a great concern. Those of us who travel trough the wilderness have a responsibility to respect and care for our precious wild lands. Please practice ‘leave-no-trace’ camping and pack everything out what you carry in.

Please read the Leave-no-Trace guidelines and repect Yukon's pristine wilderness.


  • World Travel & Tourism Counsel
  • Nature Tours of Yukon is a member of Travel Industry Designator Service by IATA
  • Nature Tours of Yukon is a member of Yukon Wilderness Tourism Association
  • Nature Tours of Yukon is a member of Tourism Industry Association of Yukon
  • Nature Tours of Yukon -  Arctic Circle Tour