Walking The Chilkoot Trail
In the late 1890’s there was a rugged 33 mile stretch that wound from the Coast Mountains in Alaska all the way to British Columbia in Canada. People seeking riches braved the journey to find the goldfields and, hopefully, wealth.
Today the Chilkoot Trail, the original Klondike gold rush trail, still winds through pristine forest, past trapper cabins and beside watery creeks full of fallen trees. The path itself is nothing more than two wide planks in some areas, a dirt road to some extent and little more than a rocky trail in others. Wildlife abounds along the trail. Gorgeous views are there for those willing to hike its natural beauty.
What to expect
The Chilkoot Trail is unique in many ways and could be very challenging to some due weather conditions along the route. Along 33 miles, the hiker can go from the deep water tidal ports of the Skagway area to the headwaters of navigation for the Yukon river. The hike starts in the coastal temperate rainforest and ends in the interior sub boreal forest. After crossing up and over the famed Chilkoot Pass (the border between USA and Canada), the hiker travels through the sub alpine and alpine zones. In the spring time there can be considerable portions deep in snow and avalanche conditions also exist.
Hikers of the Chilkoot trail do not have to be experienced though. For the most part, hiking is like walking through the woods on this path. During four to five days hike (depending on how many mileage you want to do in a day) you will come across ice, snow and shale rock on the path. If you hike the whole trail you will experience full days of climbing over rocks and descending boulders. Proper equipment including hiking poles, a light backpack, tent, food and water will make the trip a pleasure. Remember to wear good shoes.
There are a few campsites along the trail, a few shelters where you can cook your food and find refuge in case of rain (which is likely). The trailhead is the only spot with restrooms. From that point until the end you will only find outhouses dotting the trail at the campsites. On the American side, the outhouses have toilet paper and hand sanitizer. On the Canadian side, they are better enclosed and keep pesky mosquitoes away from you.
Plan your hike
Start the trail in Dyea, Alaska. From Juneau to Skagway by ferry is the most convenient way to get to Dyea. (Note: If you are not in great shape consider taking the train up and hiking back down. Or vice versa.) If you travel 8-10 miles per day you can camp at Sheep Camp, Happy Camp, and Bare Loon Lake. Bennett in British Columbia, Canada is the end of the trail. Food lockers are provided at every camp. Remember- this is bear country. Know what to do if you are confronted by a bear.
The trek from Sheep Camp to Happy Camp is mainly uphill. It is also an uphill climb from Linderman City to Bare Loon Lake. From Long Hill to Deep Lake, the trail changes due to weather conditions. Expect to walk on rocks or snow in this part. The rangers will do a fine job of keeping the trail marked, though.
The camps along the way have sleeping platforms, cooking shelters and outhouses. Be sure to bring a good flashlight as the outhouses are sometimes located quite a long way from the platforms. When you stop for the night, check out the area. See the relics in the woods, cemeteries along the quiet side paths, and, of course, the wildlife.
It is highly advisable to get hold of a map before preparing for and hiking the Chilkoot Trail. Chilkoot trail map and information of campgrounds along the trail are available at links below :
What to bring
The usual backpacking equipment, plus the following:
1. Parachute or other thin cord to tie tent down on eyehooks on wooden platforms
2. Rope to sling your food and any scented items over the bear poles at each campsite
3. Rain gear & pack cover as rain is to be expected
4. Warm, layered clothes – Weather can change quickly
5. Bear spray (pepper spray)- purchase in Skagway as it’s not allowed on airplanes, even in checked baggage
The trail finishes at Bennett, where you have a number of options: walk the 12km to the highway at Log Cabin and let one of the tour companies arrange for your pick-up, catch the daily service run by Yukon Alaska Tourist Tours from Log Cabin to either Whitehorse or Skagway; or return to Skagway from Carcross on the WP&YR railroad.
Have the yummy stew lunch in Bennett before you hike or ride the train and take lifetime memories from the Chilkoot Trail back with you.