Chilkoot Trail
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Chilkoot Trail
United States, Canada

The Chilkoot Trail begins in Alaska, North America and crosses over the border to British Columbia, Canada.

This famous hiking route has a rich history of the Klondike gold rush of the late 1890s, and shows you a glimpse of what life was like for people there.

There are artefacts from the period scattered all along the route, giving this hike a reputation as being a very long museum.

As well as being an area with human history, it is also a stunning landscape of coastal rainforest that changes to rocky alpine terrine the higher the elevation.

Hiking through these different habitats gives the opportunity to see a variety of wild plants and wildlife.

Highlights
  • Coastal rainforest
  • Boreal, lichen forests
  • Alpine meadows
  • Lakes
  • Remnants of the gold rush stampede
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About the route

The Chilkoot Trail is a 53 kilometre route that crosses from North America into Canada, and is collectively managed by the US National Service and Parks Canada.

The Chilkoot Trail has an interesting history. In the 1890s, people flocked to the area to seek a fortune, as gold was discovered.

A tramway and small business opened up to serve those who were part of the Gold Rush. As quickly as this developed, it was also quickly abandoned.

Beginning in Dyea, Alaska, this rugged path crosses Chilkoot Pass and finishes in Bennett City, British Columbia.

The Chilkoot Trail crosses the international border between the USA and Canada. There is a small customs hut, where you are required to show identification documents.

  • Travel

Skagway is the nearest town to the start of the trail. It is a bustling place with a large harbour and small airport.

If you are flying in from abroad, Juneau is the nearest international airport. From there you can get a connecting flight to Skagway. There are regular ferry services to the town from other parts of Alaska.

Skagway is connected to the Alaska-Canadian highway, so it is possible to reach it by road.

Skagway is 16 kilometres away from the trailhead at Dyea. Bus services are available, as well as overnight parking if you prefer to drive.

The trailhead at Bennet has no road access. There are train services, or you may take a small floatplane.

  • Length

The Chilkoot Trail is 53 kilometres in length and takes approximately 3-5 days to complete.

  • Grade and difficulty of the walk

This route is graded 3-4.

It is a mixture of moderate terrain, with some steep inclined and descents, especially at Chilkoot Pass and the Golden Staircase.

Chilkoot Pass warden cabin

The terrain can be muddy or icy. There are loose rocks and stony ground to cover. You will also be crossing numerous streams.

The changeable weather also presents a challenge on this trek.

Be prepared for snow, winds, rain and storms during any season. There is also the chance of avalanche up to mid-July.

  • Experience

Having experience of multi-day treks is preferable if you want to enjoy this trail, as well as a good level of fitness. If you are hiking independently, you will have a heavier backpack as you will need to carry all your supplies and camping equipment

No navigational skills are needed as the trail is well-marked.

However, in the colder months, snow may cover the path.

There are park ranger stations at Sheep Camp, Lindeman City and Chilkoot Pass, however this is not a guarantee that there will be someone there to assist in an emergency.

You should also be aware that you are hiking in bear country. While warnings will be in place if bears are seen, it is important that you know what to do should you meet one. Carrying bear spray will give you some peace of mind.

Water is available at all campsites, and also from numerous streams. Purification is essential before drinking.

  • Permits

You need a combined permit that covers both the American and Canadian parts of the trail. Reserve your permit in advance from the national park centres. Fees apply to enter the national parks, as well as camping fees.

  • Guided or Self-Guided

There are organisations that provide guided tours of the Chilkoot Trail, and the benefit of this is that you get expert knowledge of the terrain as well as the history of the area. Usually with guided hikes, food supplies and meals are taken care of.

Many hikers also opt for self-guided. The trail is easy to follow except when there is snow. Independent walking means you ca choose your own pace and itinerary, but you will need to carry your own food and camp supplies.

best time to walk

The peak hiking season is from June to September.

In early June, conditions are cold and there will be lots of snow on the trail. This can be a great time to hike if you prefer less tourists, are experienced and willing to camp in the snow. There is also a risk of avalanche.

From mid-June to early July, there is still a lot of snow.

However, thawing has begun. Care is needed as what may look like solid snow or ice may beak underfoot.

Summer is from Mid-July to early August, and most of the snow is cleared from the trail. Weather is still changeable and there may be storms. This is also the time when there are most hikers on the trail and campsites may be busy.

Autumn is from mid-August to mid-September. A colourful time of year, but the temperatures are beginning to get colder. There is also more rainfall.

It is possible to hike the Chilkoot Trail from September to October, but there will be snowfall and freezing temperatures. There are no park rangers on the trail. Hikers should be experienced in hiking and camping, be able to navigate, and take extra precautions.

A typical itinerary would be:

Day 1:
Dyea to Canyon City

Day 2:
Canyon City to Sheep Camp

Day 3:
Sheep Camp to Happy Camp

Day 4:
Happy Camp to Bare Loon Lake

Day 5:
Bare Loon Lake to Skagway

Accommodation

There are nine campsites along the Chilkoot Trail. The distances from the trailhead are:

  • Finnegan’s Point – 8 kilometres
  • Canyon City – 12.5 kilometres
  • Pleasant Camp – 17 kilometres
  • Sheep Camp – 21 kilometres
  • Happy Camp – 33 kilometres
  • Deep Lake – 37 kilometres
  • Linderman City – 42 kilometres
  • Bare Loon Lake – 46.5 kilometres
  • Bennet – 53 kilometres

At the town of Skagway, there are a range of accommodation options ranging from luxury to basic.

What to do

Learn the fascinating history of the Klondike gold rush. Thousands of men and women camped in tent cities along the trail. While some made their fortunes here, it was also a place of hardship.

Take in the views at Chilkoot Pass. At 1067 meters elevation, this is the highest point on the trail.

Spend some time exploring Canyon City Ruins. There are many artefacts left here, such as an old boiler and cook stove.

At Linderman City, see where people of the Gold Rush built boats and camped in a tent city.

For those who love wildlife, there is plenty to spot. Look for birds like grouse, eagles and ptarmigan. You may also see mammals such as beaver, black and brown bear, marmot, moose and goats.

Published: January 26, 2020 Modified: January 26, 2020

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At a glance
Skills RequiredHiking, Walking
Difficulty 3/5 - 4/5
Starts at Dyea, Skagway, AK 99840, USA
Finishes at Bennett, BC V0W, Canada
Length of route 53 Km
Average time to complete 3 - 5 Days
Possible to complete sub-sectionsNo
Highest point 1067 metres
Permit requiredYes
Equipment neededCamping equipment, Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots, Water Supplies
Countries visited United States, Canada

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