Last year we did an amazing hike called the Chilkoot Trail. Its 33 miles (53km) from Dyea (near Skagway) Alaska to Bennet Lake British Columbia. The hike involves a border crossing so make sure you pack and keep your passport on you.
If you are part of the organised crowd (not me) you can reserve your hiking spot in January for the upcoming northern hemisphere summer. They let 50 people cross the Chilkoot pass a day and 42 of those spots are usually already booked. For the other 8 spots (called the walk ins) it means unorganised people like me can still get in on the trail just show up to the permit office in Skagway the day before you want to hike and fingers crossed you will get a permit.
You will also need to book a train out of Bennett (British Columbia) (or a float plane) as where the trail ends there is no road access. They have trains going back to Skagway and also to Carcross in Canada, if you choose this option you will have to visit Canadian immigration (at Carcross or Whitehorse) to get “offical entry” back in to canada as there is no customs people on the trail.
All the info on permits can be found on this website.
We had a van at the time of doing the trail and we were able to leave it at the train station while we hiked, they gave us a permit for the windscreen and then we got a taxi out to the start of the trail which cost about $15 USD each.
What it Cost
For the Permit it was $75-80pp Canadian Dollars (from what i remember)
The train – $90 USDpp
Taxi to trail head – $15USD (plus tip) pp
the only other expense was food for the 5 days.
On a side note if you are going to be using freeze dried meals buy them from the nearest big city you are in as they are more expensive in Skagway
We stayed 4 nights on the trail at the following campsites
1. Canyon city
2. Sheep Camp
3. Happy Camp
4. Lake Linderman
Canyon and Sheep camp are on the USA side and Happy and Linderman are on the Canadian. You may have to stay at different camps depending on what is already booked.
From the trail head to canyon city was a nice easy walk, it feels harder by the pack that you are not used to carrying. Hopefully by day 2 you’ll be used to it. The walk is though forest so that is pretty much all you see. In some clearings if its a nice day you can see glaciers and the surrounding mountains. We hiked the trail in June and we seen the Salmon running up river to spawn which was pretty cool. From Dyea all the way to sheep camp it was pretty damp (so don’t expect tents to be dry in the morning)
Canyon city is a nice camp there is a cabin where you can light the fire and a seperate cooking shelter.
From Canyon City to Sheep camp is still in the forest but there is a bit more of an incline. There is a nice side trail just out of canyon city which has some ruins of an old steam engine but take the packs off and just walk up and back.
When you get to sheep camp the ranger will give a talk about what to expect the next day going over the pass like how much snow is up there and what the weather is expected to be etc. They also do a talk about the history of the trail and point out some relics that you will pass getting up to the summit.
The Chilkoot Pass
Going over the pass is not easy, I wont sugarcoat it. If you leave from sheep camp early and take your time you will make it up no worries and still have time to look at all the old relics. And if you get a clear day the views from the top make all the pain worth it. It is a real sense of achievement getting up there. My advice would be one you are over the pass don’t spend too long at the warming hut, as i think the worst part of my day was seeing this sign
The walk from the summit to happy camp is takes just as long as reaching the summit did. When we hiked it there was still snow patches that we had to cross, its easier to do these in the morning before the sun warms them up. Hiking poles are a godsend here. For the rest of the hike to happy camp you have beautiful views of the valley and mountains it really is breathtaking.
Happy camp is known for being cold, there is only one shelter and its not that big for the amount of people that stay there. Its quite exposed and the wind can tunnel up the valley so make sure your tent is tied down.
The next 2 days walk are pretty passing along side lakes and though forests. When we crossed there was an interpretive centre at lake Liderman camp which is a nice place to stop if you are heading Bare Loon Camp or Benett Camp. This is that section of the walk that i enjoyed the most as the hardest day was done so it was just a relaxing walk to meet the train at Benett Lake.
You will have a briefing about bears at the trail centre the day before you hike. Make sure anything smelly goes in the bare boxes. Like toothpaste, deodorant and all food. Always carry bear spray and try and hike in groups or make a lot of noise on the trail. They will tell you about any bare sightings both at the trail centre and at sheep camp.
There are plenty of places to get water along the trail you should only need to carry 1 or 2 litres. we used water purification tablets to treat our water. Other people on the trail had water filters and they didn’t have any issues.
- Toilet paper (as the Canadian side does not supply it)
- Cards or some form of entertainment – you are often at camp early in the day so have something to pass the time and meet other people on the trail.
- Hiking poles We used these lots, they were worth it for us.
- Warm Clothes and Rain wear, because Alaskan summer does not always mean sun.
If you are thinking about doing this hike my suggestion would be go for it. It really was one of the highlights of our trip to the Yukon and Alaska plus you get to meet some really awesome people to have a beer and burger with after.