My alarm chirps softly as I blink awake in the inky night. 1:30am. I pull a sweatshirt over my pajamas and tiptoe to the next room. “Claudia? Are you getting up?” I whisper to my colleague. “Be right there,” she replies, chirpier even than my alarm, despite the late hour.
We’re staying at the Inn on the Lake, outside the city of Whitehorse, in Canada’s Yukon, and we’re hoping to get a glimpse of the northern lights coloring the sky. Late August, when we’re visiting, isn’t the prime viewing time — the winter season with its long, dark nights is a safer bet — but the Inn’s owner Carson Schiffkorn suggested that, as long as you don’t mind a middle-of-the-night wake up call, it’s worth a try at any time of year.
A 35-minute drive south of the city, the Inn is removed enough from the urban illumination that the night sky’s lights are visible more often than they are closer to town. We peek out the window to the south, where even at this hour, the day’s light hasn’t completely disappeared below the horizon, shimmering on the surface of Marsh Lake. When we go into the yard on the north side of the building, the sky, although cloudier, is much darker. So we scan the sky, and we wait.
Schiffkorn, who grew up in the Yukon, opened the Inn on the Lake, a two-story log structure in 1997. You enter the inn through the kitchen, currently the domain of Chef Troy King, who serves three-course, locally-focused, family-style dinners to guests nightly and offers a self-serve buffet breakfast every morning, a European-inspired spread of cheeses, cured meats, eggs, breads, yogurt, and fruit.
After talking with Schiffkorn about what foods grow locally, he offers to take us on a tour of the inn’s gardens. He darts into the bushes behind the inn and points out haskap berries, low-bush cranberries, and several other berries, picking handfuls for us to nibble as we stroll.
Back at the inn, you can walk through the kitchen into the high-ceilinged living room, where a wall of windows wows with a panorama across the lake. The space, with overstuffed chairs and a long table, is both the guest lounge and the dining area. Outside, the porch delivers more lake views.
Because we’re in town for the annual Yukon Culinary Festival, with dinners and special events every night, we don’t get to join the other inn guests for dinner. But we do have a chance to sample Chef Troy’s food at one of the festival events, a costume party and cocktail hour on the historic sternwheeler S.S. Klondike, now a national history site. The ship ferried passengers along the river from Whitehorse north to Dawson City in the first half of the 20th century.
The chef and his team prepared a menu of fun, carnival-inspired food, using recipes from a pioneer women’s cookbook. Mingling in our Klondike-era costumes, we sup on bison chili, elk corn dogs, and local Arctic char served on bannock. For dessert, there are sweet donut holes.
At the Inn on the Lake, the guest rooms are spread across two floors and range from standard doubles to larger jacuzzi suites. There’s also a two-bedroom “presidential suite” with a lakeview living room, kitchenette, and dining area, as well as one bathroom.
The furnishings, of logs or sturdy woods, feel solid and comfortable. The modern bathrooms come with biodegradable toiletries and fluffy robes.
There’s plenty to do on the property and nearby. Guests can borrow canoes or kayaks to paddle on the lake, take a ride on the inn’s mountain bikes, or soak in the hot tub. And of course, you can go out to see the northern lights.
The night we try to view the lights, sadly, turns out to be too cloudy, and after about an hour outside, we give up.
But at least, at the Inn on the Lake, we have comfortable log frame beds with fluffy duvets to sink back into. And up in the Yukon, there’s always another night when the dramatic northern lights will dance across the sky.
Double room rates at the Inn on the Lake start at CAD$189 per night, the jacuzzi suites at $249, and the two-bedroom presidential suite at $290. Both breakfast and dinner are included in some package rates; otherwise, breakfast is CAD$14.50 and the three-course dinner is CAD$39.95.
The Inn also offers all-inclusive Northern Lights packages in fall and winter, the seasons with the best chance of seeing the colorful lights.
Hotel feature by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. Travel Yukon and the Inn on the Lake arranged my stay for review purposes.