Chilkoot Trail

  • Deep Lake - © Charles Bookman
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user iwona_kellie
  • Chilkoot Trail - Happy Camp - © Copyright Flickr user iwona_kellie
  • Chilkoot Trail - Crater Lake - © Copyright Flickr user steynard
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user steynard
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user steynard
  • Chilkoot Trail - typically misty conditions - © Copyright Flickr user iwona_kellie
  • Chilkoot Trail - a still intact boot left during the stampede - © Copyright Flickr user iwona_kellie
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user iwona_kellie
  • Chilkoot Trail - a melting lake below Chilkoot Pass - © Global Water Partnership - a water secure world
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user iwona_kellie
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user iwona_kellie
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user iwona_kellie
  • Chilkoot Trail - Crater Lake - © Copyright Flickr user steynard
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user Kimberlykv
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user Kimberlykv
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user Kimberlykv
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user Kimberlykv
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user Kimberlykv
  • Chilkoot Trail - © Copyright Flickr user Kimberlykv
  • the flats - © Charles Bookman
  • Cyn City - old stove - © Charles Bookman
  • Tram wheel - © Charles Bookman
  • Golden Staircase - © Charles Bookman
  • First view of crater Lk - © Charles Bookman
  • Scenery at Happy Camp - © Charles Bookman
  • Graveyard above Lindeman - © Charles Bookman
  • Reflection on Lindemand Lk - © Charles Bookman
  • Bennet Lk - © Charles Bookman
  • Church at Bennet - © Charles Bookman
  • On the train - © Charles Bookman

Key information: Chilkoot Trail

     

  • Follow in the footsteps of thousands of prospective gold miners between the long-abandoned towns of Dyea in Alaska and Bennett in Canada's Yukon, crossing the international border at dramatic Chilkoot Pass.
  • Trek through vast landscapes with an incessant covering of low-lying, rain-heavy clouds; the slopes, forests, lakes and rivers blanketed in thick, unstable snow through winter and spring.
  • This is a very tough walk in high, remote mountains, on which you will have to be self-sufficient and where there are numerous dangers. Weather is extreme and unpredictable; avalanches are possible, and a significant risk especially early in the season. Bears wander the trails. Come prepared.
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Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating87
  • Beauty32
  • Natural interest16
  • Human interest12
  • Charisma32
  • Negative points5
  • Total rating87
  • Note: Negs: likely bad weather, including mist at pass; mosquitos; heavy loads to carry.

Vital Statistics

  • Length: 53km (33 miles)
  • 3-5 days
  • Maximum Altitude: 1,067m
  • Level of Difficulty: Difficult
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Reflection on Lindemand Lk - © Charles Bookman

WALK SUMMARY

The Chilkoot Trail begins in the ghost town of Dyea, on the coast of Alaska, and follows the first thirty three miles of the long trek into the Klondike gold fields. In the 1890s, the stampede to Klondike's gold drew tens of thousands of men and women on the difficult journey through Alaska and into Canada, many of them taking the shortest, but hardest, route along the Chilkoot Trail. Falling into disuse following the slowdown of the Gold Rush and the construction of the narrow gauge railway directly to Whitehorse in 1900, the Chilkoot is now a national heritage trail celebrated almost as much for the enormous scale of its stunning landscapes as for its fascinating past. 

Skagway, once known as the gateway to the Klondike gold fields, is today still a bustling town, and a popular summer tourist destination (up to 8,000 people can pour off cruise ships on the busiest days of the year). Boomtowns have always bred corruption and criminality; here, the underworld was dominated by "Soapy" Smith, scourge of Colorado. Despite being turned away in 1897, by mid-1898 the US Marshall was on his payroll, his fake telegraph office was in full-swing, and his saloon had been dubbed "the real City Hall". 

Killed in a shoot-out on Skagway's Juneau Wharf, Smith is now venerated in festivals as well as popular media as a Robin Hood-style anti-hero, with his grave a popular stop on the tourist trail. But for those walking the Chilkoot Trail, it is the hardships and miseries of the miners exploited by Smith and his like which are striking. 

Once the news of gold in the Yukon had filtered to the outside world, a year after it had first been found, the stampede to the gold fields began. Over 100,000 men and women set out to make their fortune, and the population influx temporarily made Dawson City, at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon rivers, the largest Canadian city west of Winnipeg. More than half of those who set out never made it: turning back, settling or dying en route. Some perished from cold and hunger; others drowned or were buried in avalanches. There were deaths through illness - some died after eating the rotting horsemeat of the thousands of horses who died in Dead Horse Gulch. Many simply disappeared. 

In attempts to lower the death toll, the Canadian authorities put in place fierce stipulations: no boats could be launched at Bennett without proven expertise in boat building and handling, and potential miners must arrive with at least a year's supply of food. Combined with equipment, this left the Klondike prospectors carrying goods weighing a total of around one ton. On the last flat ledge before the steep ascent to the Chilkoot Pass, famously known as "The Scales", officials waited to ensure the rules had been followed. 

Entrepreneurs abounded on the routes to Klondike. Rather than continue to the gold fields, many set up hotels, restaurants, tramways, bridges and any other scheme which could eke cash from the hopeful prospectors. Some carved steps into the snow and ice, providing a passage to the pass, and charged a daily toll. Others charged extortionate rates to help carry supplies up the gruelling "Golden Steps" to Chilkoot Pass, with the going rate reaching US$1 a lb. Famously, Donald Trump's grandfather made his fortune running a hotel in Bennett. 

Of those miners that did brave the arduous journey to arrive, envisioning scooping gold from the ground and into their pockets, the majority were to be disappointed. Most were simply too late. By the end of 1898, most of the claims had been taken, and there were no more fortunes to be made. Even those lucky few who did snag a claim met disillusionment: far from scooping up their riches, they would have to spend weeks burning through the permafrost to delve deeply, and sometimes fruitlessly, below the ground. 

It was not just amongst prospectors that lives were changed in the Klondike Gold Rush. The Chilkoot Pass had been a carefully guarded trading route of the native Tlingit people, and the influx of migrants was to have an incalculable impact on them and their way of life. Many worked carrying goods over the pass, and made significant amounts of money doing so. However, as usual, white people meant disease, alcohol, and discrimination. 

Gold rushes are often lauded as the fulfilment of dreams - the chance for the adventurous and hardworking to be rewarded with fortunes in precious metal. And yet the human cost can be phenomenal. Those that walk the Chilkoot Trail cannot help but delve into the experience, the excitement and the hardships that faced their late nineteenth century counterparts. Historical artefacts dot the trail, from a piano to still-intact shoes, atmospheric reminders of the thousands who passed along here in search of a new life. 

Many traces of this history are vanishing before us: once a bustling, crowded settlement at the head of a long, narrow fjord, all that now remains of the 1890s town of Dyea is a single wooden wall, and a short stretch of fence. It is from this abandoned outpost that the Chilkoot Trail begins, on a section which can only be summarized as wet. Making your way through damp, dripping coastal rainforest; you will cross over creeks and streams - any of the creeks are traversed by plank or rope bridges - and past burbling waterfalls. 

Finnegan's Point, reached just 5km or so into the walk, is the ideal stopping point for those setting out late in the day (although mosquitos are a major problem here: they can be unpleasant, particularly at dawn and dusk, throughout). On the flat ground beside the rushing Taiya river, you can look up at a steep slab of mountainside, waterfalls trickling from a high glacier.  Walkers on a relaxed schedule often stop slightly further along, at Canyon City Camp, whilst those trying to complete the trail in three days can keep going to Sheep Camp, at the foot of the Golden Steps. 

The section from Canyon City Camp includes a possible detour to the ruins of Canyon City itself, although there is not a huge amount to see. The most significant artefact is perhaps the rusting tramway tank, once part of one of the three aerial tramways that ran over Chilkoot Pass. 

As the river disappears into the eponymous canyon, the trail heads away and up the side of the forested valley, before joining the Taiya again at Pleasant Camp. The stretch in-between was known as one of the worst for stampeders - primarily because the sheer volume of people churned the path into a mud-bath - but from Pleasant Camp it steadies out into some fairly straightforward, flat walking as far as Sheep Camp. 

Most Chilkoot Trail hikers spend a night here. The last campground before the steep ascent to the Chilkoot Pass (and the last in the US), Sheep Camp provides an ideal base for the difficult slog through the avalanche danger zone and over the trail's highest point. Coming from any further away, walkers are unlikely to complete the next stage in one day - rangers recommend leaving 7.5-10 hours for the trek to Happy Camp. 

Chilkoot Pass has an elevation gain of nearly 800m in just over 5km, and it was at the foot of the "Golden Steps" carved into its icy slopes which many would-be prospectors turned back. Faced with the daunting task of lugging a ton of goods up the incline (a task that could take 40-50 trips) they abandoned their belongings, leaving one of the richest sites for artefacts on the trail. This area was known as "the Scales", as it was here that the authorities weighed the stampeders' belongings, ascertaining they had the required volume of food and other items necessary for survival in the Yukon. 

There is now no ice staircase or overhead tramway, only a lonely tramp over the rocky, freezing summit. Conditions are often bad, and low-lying cloud can make for an eerie backdrop, leaving walkers with the impression that they are perched on a desolate precipice. The warm Parks Canada ranger cabin at the US/Canada border provides a welcome respite. 

Happy Camp, named for the relief of prospectors as they arrived, is reached after a trek through the exposed alpine landscape beyond Chilkoot Pass, and sits between scattered lakes. Further on, as trees begin to fill the scenery once more, the climatic difference on the Canadian side becomes more noticeable - forests of dry pine dominate, rather than the lush, temperate rainforest previously seen. 

From Happy Camp, walkers can take a more leisurely pace again. Beautiful lakes are dotted alongside the trail all the way to Lake Bennett; Lake Lindeman in particular is worth taking some time to explore, with its splendid turquoise waters and historical associations (fleets of boats, many built by amateurs, were launched from its shores). The campgrounds at Deep Lake and Bare Loon Lake are particularly scenic - some of the most beautiful spots on the trail - whilst the camp at Lindeman is overflowing with fascinating traces of the prospectors. 

At Bennett, the trail comes to an end and hikers can meet trains heading towards Whitehorse (capital of the Yukon) or back to Skagway, on the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad. Trains do not run all year round, so do make sure you check if you're travelling at either end of the season. 

The Chilkoot is not a novice trail, and walkers should have a reasonable level of fitness and experience. You will have to carry heavy loads for what can be long days. Frequent fog and rain make trail-finding difficult; and daily rain requires good clothing and equipment. There is a recovery service if you get stuck or lost, but a rescue could end up costing you thousands of dollars. 

Between Sheep Camp and Happy Camp in particular, walkers will travel through numerous avalanche zones, which are particularly active in the early season and remain so throughout the summer. You will need avalanche awareness and the necessary equipment (including a beacon, a shovel and a probe). 

Bears are common throughout much of the trail, and are often encountered. Take all sensible precautions. 

Have a look at TripAdvisor - there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on this walk.

Other accounts: share your experiences

Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Books and Maps

Suggest books and maps

 

Books on this walk     

Chilkoot Pass: The Most Famous Trail in the North – Archie Satterfield

Hiking with Ghosts: The Chilkoot Trail – Frances Backhouse

Hiking in Alaska – Lonely Planet

Other books

The Chilkoot Trail and the Klondike Gold Rush 

Chilkoot Trail, Heritage Route to the Klondike – David Neufeld and Frank Norris: Two historians discuss what life was like on the trail before, during and after the Gold Rush.

Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896-1899 – Pierre Berton

The Call of the Wild – Jack London: a classic novel based around a (anthropomorphised) dog; set in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush.

 

Alaska 

Alaska – Lonely Planet

Alaska Traveler: Dispatches from America’s Last Frontier – Dana Stabenow: stories of travelling Alaska, told by an Alaskan. Only available on Kindle.

 

Canada’s Yukon 

British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies – Lonely Planet

 

Maps

Stanfords: A good online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks). Also try Maps Worldwide and www.trektools.com.

 

Best times to walk/weather

Best times to walk

Mid July to August. 

Staff from the National Parks Service (US) and from Park Canada begin patrolling the trail when it is first marked, in early June, but snow remains thick and hazardous well into July. Early in the season the risk of avalanches is very high, and as it progresses melting snowfields can create ‘bridges’ over streams and between rocks, which collapse without warning. 

By mid-July most of the snow is gone, although conditions remain highly unpredictable. 

Towards the end of the season, from mid-August into September, the trail is wetter, days are shorter and nights regularly drop below freezing. 

Hiking outside of the main season is highly discouraged – there is no regular patrol or trail markings, weather is extreme and daylight hours are very short.

Weather

Rain falls almost every day on the Chilkoot Trail. Weather is unpredictable and highly variable, and a significant cause for concern whilst hiking here. Rain and heavy fog can make way-finding difficult and changes in the weather can force walkers to turn around. Check conditions carefully before setting out. 

For detailed weather information, have a look at: www.worldweather.org or www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides.

 

 

Getting there/transport/permits/fees

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Skagway is Skyscanner is an excellent (relatively new) site for finding the flights you need; otherwise try Lastminute.com, or look at what’s available on Tripadvisor. 

Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from/to arranged start/departure points; some meet in Whitehorse, in the Yukon, others in Skagway. 

Between June and September, permits are necessary to do this walk. The cost depends on whether you are walking the full trail or staying in one country. More details are on the US National Parks Service website.

 

Route(s)

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See Walk Summary above for detail. You can reverse the traditional route, but most prefer to ‘re-live’ the experience of the Klondike Gold Rush prospectors, and start from Dyea. 

A rough trail map (1MB) is available on the US National Parks Service website.

 

 

Possible problems, health, other warnings

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{C}·         Extreme mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year and the weather can change rapidly. Fog and rain are almost constant. Variable temperatures – it regularly gets below freezing at nights at either end of the season. Come prepared.

{C}·         Heights: not for those who have difficulties with heights.

{C}·         Bears are a problem: come prepared to deal with an encounter and store camp food appropriately. There are plenty of websites with advice on hiking in bear country, and a particularly good one is the US National Parks Service site. Take all appropriate precautions.

{C}·         Tidal/Risky rivers need to be crossed – Prepare carefully and only cross in the recommended way.

{C}·         This is remote country: you will have to carry all your food and other supplies/food and other supplies will not be readily available and help may be hard to get if things go wrong. If you require an emergency rescue, the charges are exorbitant and you could end up paying anything from $1600 – insurance is worth it. 

See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information. 

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, and does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information. 

Make sure you have appropriate insurance. If you have to be rescued by helicopter, you could end up owing thousands of pounds without it.

 

 

Guided or independent?

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Independent

You can do this walk independently, but you will need to be self-sufficient, so come fully prepared.

 

Guided/supported

Some people form or join organised/supported expeditions. 

Expedition organisers include:

 

 

Have a look at Infohub to see if they have any good deals for this expedition. 

Check Tripadvisor for some reviews of this walk and walk organisers which may prove helpful. 

 

Accommodation

If you’re spending any time in Anchorage en route, check Hotels.com. Those on a budget check Hostelbookers, which usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation, or perhaps try for some bargain luxury on Lastminute.com. 

In Skagway, there is currently only one hotel listed on Hotels.com, and you may be better looking elsewhere – Tripadvisor has a more comprehensive list, with the Chilkoot Trail Outpost, a B&B half a mile from the trailhead in Dyea, voted the most popular. 

Whilst on the trail, camping is the only option (and no backcountry camping is permitted). There are nine official campgrounds, and as all hikers must use them it is necessary to book some time in advance. Which sites you choose depend on the pace you want to take, but most hikers end up spending a night or two at Sheep Camp and one at Happy Camp. These are the closest sites on each side of Chilkoot Pass, and hiking between them can take as long as 12 hours. 

You will need to decide on all campgrounds when you reserve, at the beginning of the year your trip is planned for, so get your planning done in advance.

 

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Other information and tips

Remember you are crossing an international border: make sure you have got all appropriate documentation and have registered with the authorities where appropriate. For more details, see the information on the Parks Canada website. 

There are limits on both overall numbers and the size of individual groups. Only 50 people are permitted to cross the border into Canada on the Chilkoot Trail on any given day, and groups must not exceed 12. Smaller groups are preferred, and only one group of more than 9 will be able to cross each day. 

Having the correct gear is essential for a comfortable, safe walk on the Chilkoot Trail. Begging and borrowing gear off others is ideal if you’re on a budget, or this is your first long walk, but at some point you may want to invest in some of your own. There is also some specialist equipment which may be necessary, including beacons, shovels and probes in case of avalanches. 

Some of our favourite equipment and clothing specialists include  Surfdome, Britain’s Cotswold Outdoor, and the Utah-based company Campsaver. 

Add a suggestion

 

Useful websites and information

There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us. 

{C}·         As usual, Wikipedia is a great starting point, including detailed historical information on the Klondike Gold Rush.

{C}·         The US National Parks Service has, as ever, excellent practical information for walkers. Thanks to the international nature of the trail, Parks Canada provides a separate source of good information.

{C}·         Detailed information in the Examiner on planning an expedition.

{C}·         A blog, ‘Ordinary Adventures’, with a great description of the Chilkoot Trail.

{C}·         An account on Alaska Hike Search.

{C}·         If you’re considering the brave move of taking on a long hike with children in tow, then read this account of the Chilkoot Trail in the Globe and Mail.

{C}·         Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.

{C}·         Have a look at Tripadvisor – there are tens of millions of reviews, so you may get good, current views on this walk. 

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Other things to do in the area

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Other walks

Alaska has a huge variety of great walks, and we are working on writing them up for you (Kenai Peninsula and McGonagall Pass are next on our list – any better suggestions?) In the meantime, have a look at Alaska Hike Search, which lists and describes Alaskan walks, primarily in the Anchorage Area.

Other activities

A fairly standard selection of outdoor activities are possible both around Skagway in Alaska and in Canada’s Yukon region: biking, horse-riding, skiing and fishing. There are numerous museums and historic sites celebrating the colourful past (mainly focused on the Gold Rush), which are worth exploring.

 

COMMUNITY COMMENTS AND PHOTOS

Name: Bookman
Posted on: 23/08/2017

Here is a link to my blog post on the chilkoot trail, from august 2017: http://bookmantravelreports.blogspot.com/2017/08/adventure-and-artifacts-on-alaskas.html

Walkopedia says: thank you so much, Charles. This is superb, we'd be proud to have written it ourselves! Looks fascinating, and a very helpful resource for our community.



Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.

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Golden Staircase - © Charles Bookman

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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Chilkoot Trail - Crater Lake - © Copyright Flickr user steynard...
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