COVID-19 travel restrictions and concerns for health and safety of paddlers, volunteers and communities behind decision to cancel June 2020 race


The 2020 Yukon River Quest has been cancelled. The board of directors of the Yukon River Marathon Paddlers Association regretfully decided last night that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the race cannot go ahead.  The 22nd annual marathon paddling race from Whitehorse to Dawson City was scheduled to be held June 24 to June 28, 2020 with a full roster of 125 teams from 15 countries (updated).

A week ago, the board was hoping to carry on with the event, but stricter health directives and restrictions on international travel forced the board to make the decision to cancel. The board also was concerned that even if they had a race, and the virus was still a threat, then it would be difficult to manage the social distancing of more than 250 paddlers and 150 volunteers. They also did not want the event to become a potential risk of exposure of the COVID-19 virus to Yukon communities along the race route, including First Nation populations.

“Last week we were hoping that we might still be able to hold the race.  But it has become clear, especially with the announcements this week from Canadian and Yukon health officials and political leaders, that this will not be possible,” said Peter Coates, President of the YRMPA Board. 

Racers and volunteers were notified in a letter from the board last night.

Registered 2020 racers are being given the option to defer their registration to the 2021 race, or receive an 85% refund (some is being held back to cover fees already incurred by the race). Similar accommodations also are being made to those who rented boats from the organization.

“We’re hoping to see many of the teams back for 2021,” said Coates.  “That would be the best outcome for everyone.”   

The 2020 race was going to be a great one. This year’s race roster filled in a record 2.5 hours when registration opened in November, and a long wait list was started.  But nervousness from the COVID-19 pandemic certainly was going to have an impact on the race, even before travel restrictions were announced.

Still, teams were looking forward to the event in a probable high-water year based on snow packs in the Yukon, and the likelihood of a faster river and faster times for all classes: canoes, kayaks, stand-up-paddleboards, C4’s, and voyageurs.

As one of the world’s toughest adventure races, the popular paddling event injects an estimated $1.25-$1.5 million into the Yukon summer economy. Just this week, an hour-long film “Chased by the Midnight Sun” about the 2019 race was released by SUP Racer and had generated more than 2,100 views on YouTube in just four days.

The board is holding out hope that, should things improve over the course of spring, it may be able to work with community partners on a smaller, informal paddling event some time this summer.

For more information, please visit or the YRQ Facebook page.


Peter Coates, president: or 867-333-5628

Deb Bartlette, vice president:

Jeff Brady, media relations: or 907-973-2354 (text first)