Prepare to embark on a thrilling historical journey as you hike the Chilkoot Trail in the footsteps of Klondikers, Sourdoughs and Gold Rush fevered pioneers of old. The Chilkoot Trail is a 3 to 5-day trek that crosses the US & Canadian borders over the well-known Chilkoot Pass.
You may start from Dyea nearby the town of Skagway, Alaska, and enjoy hiking the regular route up the Tayia river towards Chilkoot Pass through the infamous Golden Stairs to finally enter Canada. One or two days later, you may reach the turquoise and wind-swept waters of Bennet Lake where you can enjoy a train ride or a floatplane flight back to civilization.
The route, open year-round, is the most popular and most serviced in the summer. During this season, you may experience strong heat as you walk out of the Coastal Rain Forest of Alaska, but be ready to face heavy rain, strong winds, thick fog and even snow as you make your way up the Chilkoot Pass. On a sunny day, you may look back from the top of the Golden Stairs and catch sight of the entire valley you just hiked up; featuring dramatic mountain peaks and tumbling glaciers. A moodier day will have you focused on your feet and hands as you climb your way up the rocky path and feel the challenge invigorating your whole body and mind.
Every day, you get to reach an established campground with tent platforms, a cooking and dining shelter equipped with counters and wood stoves, outhouses, bear container facilities, greywater pits and much good company from other fellow hikers.
Starting Point: Dyea, Alaska
Ending Point: Bennet Lake, B.C.
Total Distance: 53 km
Elevation Gain: 1140 m
Duration: 3 to 5 days
Five days is the length most tour operators will aim for, which allows for adjusting your body to carrying a heavy backpack and hike a constant uphill path. However, individual adventurers tend to aim for 3 to 4 days – a rate which you would comfortably sustain if you are already familiar with the physical challenges of multi-day backpacking in elevated terrain.
Difficulty: Advanced (Parcs Canada states the trail is better suited for fit and experienced backpackers)
The Chilkoot Trail begins in southern Alaska in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. It crosses into Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site, a national park in northern British Columbia.
The nearest towns are Skagway, Alaska and Carcross, Yukon Territory.
Traditional Territory: The Chilkoot Trail passes through the traditional territory of the Dënéndeh, Lingít Aaní (Tlingit), Michif Piyii (Métis), Carcross/Tagish First Nation (BC), Tagish and Taku River Tlingit (source).
Maps & Resources
Map: National Geographic (254) – Chilkoot Trail Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site
This weatherproof tear-resistant topographic map contains all the information you need:
- Scale: 1: 63 360
- Trail profile (with elevation gain & loss)
- Campsites (and facilities onsite)
- Distances in between features
- Points of interest
- Detailed trailhead Access
- Detailed Map of the town of Skagway
- History of trail
- Safety / Bear Aware / Leave no Trace tips
- Packing list
- Parks regulations
- Permits & Fees
- And more…
Campsites and Permits:
Yes. You need a permit (approximately USD $50) and you can be fined if you’re found hiking the trail without a permit. A maximum of 50 hikers is allowed to cross the pass per day. A small amount of “seats” will be left open for walk-in hikers. Many hikers have had to reserve months in advance to ensure their spot, especially during peak season (June to September). Campsites must be chosen when you are making your reservation.
You must visit the US/Parks Canada Visitor centre downtown Skagway before getting onto the trailhead. You need to check in to confirm your presence on the trail no later than 12:00 pm of the day you are registered to start hiking. Failure to do so will cause your spot removed and redistributed to walk-in hikers.
Canada officials will pre-acknowledge your re-entry in Canada as you cross the border into the US (Customs station in Fraser on Alaska Highway), while US officials will acknowledge your exit of the country as you check in with the Visitor Centre Staff in Skagway.
The Visitor Centre staff will also run you through bear safety, any recent bear activity or changes to the state of the trail (floodings, restricted areas, infrastructure maintenance and weather), you are then free to go.
Note: You can find a lot of helpful information on the different campgrounds on this page of the National Park Services website.
Outfitters & Shuttles
The trailhead in Dyea is accessible by car while the trail end in Bennet Lake is either serviced by a railway (White Pass and Yukon Route) or by floatplane.
Car or Bus: Shuttles from Skagway or Whitehorse to Dyea can be found by contacting PC or NPS for a full list of outfitters.
Railway: Tickets must be reserved ahead of time if you plan on riding the train back to Skagway or even Carcross (see White Pass and Yukon Route services at https://wpyr.com/excursions/chilkoot-hikers-service/ for a better idea of the different itineraries offered to you)
Float Planes: I highly recommend taking the flight back to Whitehorse over the long and narrow Bennet lake. On a clear day, you may gaze upon plateau lakes cascading over the edges of the surrounding mountains. This is also a great opportunity for observing wildlife (Black & Brown bears, Moose, Dall Sheep, Mountain goats…).
Shuttles must also be contacted ahead of time. Be aware that this option remains weather dependant and, although cancellations for flights are highly unlikely, it is quite possible that you may experience some delays, up to a few hours, if you leave on an especially windy or stormy day (but eh, you got all you need to sleep outside, right?).
Alpine Air, based out of Whitehorse, is the company I always worked with and they have been very reliable.
Day 1: Dyea to Finnegan’s Point Camp (8 km)
The first part of the trail sets the tone with a steep but short ascension with approximately 250m elevation gain right from the trailhead. The rest of the trail follows with some ups and downs. You will run into one intersection early in your hike, make sure you engage on the right path (as marked on the trail).
The trail features sections of boardwalk over marshy terrain and some abandoned constructions visible from the trail.
Finnegan’s Point Camp (like all other camps except Linderman City) has platforms where you can set your tent. You will have access to the waters of Taiya River, just across the trail from the camp, from where you may resupply and take a peek at some of the mountain tops and glaciers surrounding the Pass. Keep in mind that the Alaskan side of the trail tends to be quite rainy.
Campsite: Finnegan’s Point Camp
Day 2: Finnegan’s Point Camp to Sheep Camp (13 km)
This is a rather demanding day, as you keep ascending the constant uphill towards the pass. This section of the trail features 2 suspended bridges and the remnants of an old boiler and other artifacts. The entire trail remains below forest cover.
Once arrived at Sheep camp (where all hikers must overnight before crossing the Pass) you will be given a meeting time in the evening to receive the Ranger’s trail updates and safety talk. Do not miss it. It will provide you with some very good insights on the trail conditions, weather updates for the following day as well as markings of the trail (much more of a route at this point) from the Scales to the top of the Pass and down onto the Canadian side. These markings tend to change through the season as the snowpack evolves.
Sheep camp is also located just by Taiya creek, where you can resupply.
Campsite: Sheep Camp
Day 3: Sheep Camp to Happy Camp (12 km)
You will continue on an uphill all the way to the Canadian Border, leaving the treeline roughly an hour into your hike. The Ranger will most likely have indicated a time at which you should aim to depart Sheep Camp (usually quite early in the morning).
In the alpine, and until you reach the Scales, make sure you are aware of the different avalanche zones you will pass (information can be found on trail signs) and do not linger for long breaks in these areas. Aim for a break at The Scales (the last plateau you hit before entering the Golden Stairs).
Make sure you resupply all water containers before you leave The Scales as there are no creeks running down the Golden Stairs to the Chilkoot Pass. Water can be refilled again near the Canadian Ranger’s Cabin at the top of the Pass, but may sure you have the means to treat it, as you will be extracting it from small alpine ponds.
The trail from the Top of the Pass to Happy Camp is virtually all downhill or flat. Take care crossing the many creeks that run across the trail, especially in the early season when they may be running under unstable snow bridges. This entire part of the trail is in the alpine, as is Happy Camp. Be careful managing your gear on rainy days as the camp is often windswept and offers little cover from the elements (like for all other camps, you can still access the cooking shelter for the evening).
Campsite: Happy Camp
Day 4: Happy Camp to Linderman City (9 km)
This short section of the trail will have you hiking along rocky outcrops and gaze upon the valley that leads to Bennett Lake. Deep Creek Camp Ground is a good spot to stop for lunch. You will then keep following the trail until you reach the Canyon of Moose Creek (make sure to allow yourself some time to enjoy the view and look down on the rapids). You will then enter the cover of a Pine Forest, for the rest of your journey. You are now mostly descending until your reach Linderman City where you can choose to camp either in the smaller Lower Campground, or the bigger Higher Campground. Both give you great views of the lake and similar facilities.
Campsite: Linderman City
Day 5: Linderman City to Bennett Lake (11 km)
Follow the trail back into the forest. About 4.8km separate you from Bare Loon Lake, a beautiful and peaceful place worth stopping at least for a snack. Continue along a mellow trail, you will reach a very sandy section, roughly the last 2 kilometres of the trail until you get to a rocky outcrop giving you great views on the long and narrow turquoise waters of Bennett (great lunch spot!).
Get back on the trail and follow until you reach a wooden sidewalk and stairs that will lead you straight to the White Pass and Yukon Route train Station by the shores of Bennett Lake. You have arrived.
Some infrastructures of Bennett City are easily accessible along the trail (the old Church is one of them). These infrastructures are worth checking if you end up with lots of time to kill.
Satellite phone coverage in the section of the pass can be quite random. However, in case of an emergency, you may contact the Ranger posted every day in the cabin at the top of the Pass, they may assist with further resources.
Prepare for a lot of rain for the Alaskan half of the trail. However, you may also experience hot summer days, which tend to feel extra hot in the humid coastal rain forest, so light hiking gear and a sun hat are not to be neglected.
Be on top of managing your clothes on the day you cross the Pass into Canada, as the evening in Happy Camp and subsequent morning on the trail tend to be exposed and windy. Consider keeping a set of dry cloths to be used only once arrived at that point in the journey.
A tiny shelter is accessible at the top of the pass where you can take a longer break and re-adjust your gear and recharge batteries away from the elements before you carry on. Make sure you do not block access for fellow hikers coming behind you.
Expect rain, sleet, snow, fog and even blizzard as you cross the Chilkoot Pass. Make sure you are properly outfitted with a warm hat, neck warmer, waterproof mittens, and warm layers.
When climbing the Stairs, consider putting your hiking poles away right before you begin your ascent, you will need your hands for most of the way up.
The stairs can be daunting for anyone who isn’t comfortable scrambling. Posts will mark the easiest way up according to the Ranger’s point of view, but do not hesitate to pick your own line if some parts of the terrain away from this line of posts seams more accessible to you. Beware of losing sight of the poles in thick fog.
Gaiters are a great piece of gear to have on this trail, especially for the Sheep-Camp-to-Happy-Camp portion of the trail where you may encounter extended sections of deep rotting snowpack or just a lot of creek crossings.
Both National parks are quite picky on the importance of packing everything out, especially crumbles of food found in your dishwater. To effectively strain your greywater and pack EVERYTHING out, bring one or two lower legs of nylon socks in a plastic bag… You will be spotless and the wildlife and Rangers will thank you for it.
Make sure you have comfortable camp shoes for the evening (crocs or sandals), your feet will greatly benefit from it.
Plan for extra food (one extra meal) especially if you are choosing the Float Plane option.
Carrying an insulated bottle is a must even in the middle of summer.
Vickie has been guiding outdoor tourism activities and journeys since 2012. She has lead activities in sea kayaking, hiking, backpacking and mellow river paddling trips, ranging from day excursions to multi-week overnights. Her experience remains in the temperate and Northern regions of the Globe. She is based out of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
Facebook: @Vickie Rochon