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Experience the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival, Whitehorse, Canada

While some cities become sleepy in winter, Whitehorse is definitely not one of them. As soon as the winter comes Whitehorse offers a multitude of winter activities and things to do in Yukon.

Along with spas and dog sledding, one of the best activities in Whitehorse you can take part in is the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival. Read on to discover more about this unique winter event. One thing is for sure, you will never go bored in the Yukon winter. 

Updated 2019

Carved ice sculpture in front of wooden building
Ice sculpture at the Yukon Rendezvous Sourdough Festival, Whitehorse

Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival: A history

The locals in Whitehorse have been celebrating winter since 1945 with a week-long carnival, now known as the Rendezvous Sourdough festival. There are so many activities happening all over town that is difficult to attend to all of them.

The year I visited, there were dog sled races, hockey tournaments, a dog sled pulling competition (a single dog would try to pull as much weight as possible on a sled), a hairy leg contest for women and a ‘Chainsaw Chuck’ just to name a few. 

This winter celebration in Whitehorse started in 1945. At first, it was an elaborate winter sport gathering for professionals and amateurs with some nightly entertainment. Soon it was realized that it attracted people from all over Canada and the USA. The Yukon Rendezvous Sourdough Festival was officially born in “1964.

After more than 55 years of Celebration the Festival is now more than just a winter sport event. It’s a chance to for all of us, including visitors, to celebrate the passing of another winter with the Yukoners.

french can-can and me
Woman sawing a log in front of a crowd
Log sawing competition at the Yukon Rendezvous Sourdough Festival in Whitehorse

Log cutting, chain saw throwing and family fun at the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous

The Sourdough Rendezvous offers the chance to take part in many fun competition like axe throwing, the chain saw chuck and log cutting. And, of course, it would not be a Canadian winter without a Hockey tournament.

One of my favorite features of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival has to be the sourdough pancake breakfast. It was nothing fancy but just so delicious. These were some of the best pancake I have ever tried, probably made from the same sourdough mix that was transported by Yukon’s first pioneers.

For family fun, there is the Kidsfest with dog sledding , snow carving and many more things to do. Or if you are just like me, get in touch with your inner child and go slide down the snow hill on a Crazy Carpet. Don’t forget to try the maple syrup and taffy, an assured sugar rush but you can’t have a winter festival without this Canadian staple.

If you get cold you can always get in one of the many venues in town and warm up to a hot chocolate or a coffee and enjoy some music and dancing.

Lumberjack costume at the front of the festival
Sourdough Sam meets visitors at the Festival
Squirel mascot redezvous festival
crazy carpet

Night life at the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival

If you are not too tired after all this, the night life at the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous is definitely something you do not want to miss. All around town, most bars will have some sort of event; some free and others with a cover charge.

What you can expect in town is some Can-can dancing both traditional and the more unconventional type where the dancing is done with snow shoes (we are in Yukon after all).

If you got in touch with your inner wild self and did not shave a few months before your trip (beard or legs), you may want to have a go at the hairy leg contest. Keep in mind that the competition can be fierce!

Along with dancing, live music and the ‘Sourdough Sam show’ (a male version of a pageant), these are just a few example of what happens in town during the festival. 

Burlesque signer
Queen candidates Rendezvous festival
Queen candidate Rendezvous festival Whitehorse

Other things to do in Whitehorse during the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival

Festivity-wise there is a little less happening during the week, but this does not mean that you can’t enjoy Whitehorse and its surroundings.

  • Take a walk and check out some Whitehorse museums and historic sites around town.
  • Find the bust of Jack London, the famous author of “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”
  • Check out the SS Klondike, one of the few paddle wheeler boats left that were used to carry eager prospective miners up and down the Yukon River during the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush
  • Have a stroll in at the Transportation museum, see the largest weather vane and learn about the gold rush, bush pilots and the infamous Alaska Highway
  • Learn about the the Kwanlin Dün Nation at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Center in town and get to experience their traditional and modern ways of life 
  • Check out the Macbride Museum, the most visited museum in Yukon, with over 30000 pieces
  • Ski or have a go at ice climbing at the Mount Sima ski hill

After a long day walking around, pamper yourself at the Takhini Hot Springs and maybe have a go at the Hair Freezing Contest. Make sure you check out the rules before having a go! Unfortunately for me, you do need hair to take part of this….

Have a look to the night ski and stay alert. You might just see the famed aurora borealis or as they are more commonly known, the northern lights.

But if you are looking for a more comfortable experience, book a hotel or B&B with an outdoor deck or large window for northern lights viewing. Or you can always go on a guided aurora tour for the best chance. 

The bust of Jack London
The bust of Jack London in winter
White boat covered in snow
S.S. Klondike paddle steamer
Canadian airforce whitehorse
Largest Wind Vane at the transportation museum in Whitehorse
Largest Wind Vane at the transportation museum in Whitehorse

Useful things to know about visiting Canada’s Yukon

Before heading to Yukon Territory, make sure you read the following tips first!

How to get there 

Flying is the most convenient way to get to Whitehorse in winter. You can easily fly to Whitehorse airport which is located just outside the town.

Air North is the local airline and flies from most big cities in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. There are also flights from other major Canadian airlines like Air Canada.

Getting around 

Whitehorse itself is pretty small and very walkable (as long as you are well dressed and have good shoes). You can also use public transport or one of the taxi companies in town. Uber does not yet operate in Yukon Territory.

For longer trips you might want to rent a car. Budget has a location at the airport. If you decide to go this way, check out our Canada winter road trip guide first.

If you decide to drive around, The Milepost is a must have guide on the Yukon roads. The milepost is the most complete road guide for the Yukon and beyond. 

You can buy The Milepost here.

The Rendezvous Sourdough Festival

An annual celebration, the Yukon Rendezvous Sourdough Festival is held in February. There are usually activities held over three weekends. Some events are free while others have an entrance charge and may require a reservation. 

More information about the Yukon Rendezvous Sourdough Festival can be found on the official website here

Where to stay in Whitehorse

Downtown Whitehorse is the best place to stay to experience the Yukon Rendezvous Sourdough Festival. 

Edgewater Hotel – Great location

Town and Mountain Hotel – Awesome value

Beyond the Festival, I’d also recommend getting outside of Whitehorse to experience more of winter in Yukon. There is also a better chance to see the northern lights.

Sundog Retreat – Wilderness experience in well equipped cottages (with sauna and hot tub!)

Boreale Ranch – Amazing views and food

What to wear when visiting Yukon in winter

The average temperature in February is around the -18 degree  Celsius in Whitehorse so expect anything between -1 to -40 degree Celsius.

With only 7 to 8 hours of sunlight every day, the temperature can drop very quickly in the evening. Bring your toque, boots and warmest layers.

A good addition to your warm clothes is a pair of good ice grips or cleats to keep you up on those frozen paths.

Try not to get intimidated by the cold weather; the climate is fairly dry and a windless day at -15 can feel brisk rather than cold.

Read next: A Complete Guide to Travelling Canada in Winter

Winter sunset in Whitehorse, Yukon

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Monday 7th of April 2014

Hairy legs and sourdough pancakes - sounds like my ideal winter! Those sculptures look incredible too :)