If you like hiking, you’ll love the Chilkoot Trail. If you don’t like hiking, there’s enough spectacular scenery, rich history and extreme variety that you’ll probably still love the Chilkoot Trail.
Why? It’s a trail filled with ghost stories and pioneer tales that will please any history buff. It crosses through three distinct ecosystems for ever-changing views and plenty for amateur biologists to ponder. And it traverses Alaska and the Yukon, which means it’s guaranteed to be epic, and there’s always a good chance you’ll see the northern lights.
With any luck the Canada-US border along the trail will reopen in 2022, which means savvy travellers are already pulling their plans together.
3 reasons to hike the Chilkoot Trail
1. It’s Canada’s largest National Historic Site
The historic 53km trail has seen heavy foot traffic as a gateway to the Yukon, first from Tlingit First Nation traders and later from Klondike Gold Rush prospectors hoping to strike it rich. During the height of the gold rush from 1896 to 1899, the trail was crowded with hundreds of weary walkers trudging through the snow, ill-equipped for the harsh conditions. Hikers on the trail today will travel past many artifacts, abandoned by prospectors over a century ago: canvas boats at the summit of Chilkoot Pass, metal remnants of a tram used to hoist supplies up the mountains, the Slide Cemetery commemorating the deadliest avalanche on the trail. At Bennett Lake you can see the frontier wooden church, still standing over a century later, though the rest of this massive tent city is long gone.
But hiking the Chilkoot Trail isn’t just about the things you’ll see; it’s also about how you’ll feel, walking in the footsteps of our ancestors. Are you a Tlingit, travelling between villages carrying 100 pounds of moose hides, smoked seafood and snowshoes? Are you a prospector, heading back south after a failed attempt to find gold?
2. It’s wildly biodiverse
From coastal rainforest to windswept high alpine to the northern reaches of the boreal forest, few through-hikes have this much biodiversity! You’ll start near the salt water at Skagway on the shores of Chilkoot Inlet in the Alaskan Panhandle, surrounded by lush coastal forest. Then you’ll scale the Golden Stairs and emerge above the tree line in the high alpine, where meadows burst with wildflowers in the summer and gorgeous views stretch for miles. Past Lindeman City you’ll dip into the trees again, this time the boreal forest with caribou, bears… and mosquitoes.
3. It’s extreme
Start in one country and end in another, crossing the border on foot at the top of Chilkoot Pass. Travel 53 kilometres through remote wilderness and climb an excruciating 1,000 metres almost straight up from Sheep Camp to the top of Chilkoot Pass. Ford streams, dance across suspension bridges, and scramble on the side of mountain peaks. Prepare your meals in rustic log shelters along the trail (no campfires permitted, only camp stoves) far outside of cell service. Ride the rails when you complete your hike, taking the White Pass and Yukon Route rail line If you visit in the summer, you may even be able to take an art class along the trail! The Yukon Arts Centre runs the Chilkoot Trail Artist Residency every summer, where local and international artists walk the trail creating original artwork and teach classes.
Know before you go:
- All trail users must pre-register and pay for a permit before starting their hike. Many Parks Canada fees will be changing in 2023.
- Cross-border hiking is not permitted in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but you can still hike either the American or the Canadian side.
- Most hikers take three to five days to complete the full trail.
- There are outhouses and cooking shelters at designated campsites, but hikers must bring their own water purifiers, toilet paper, food and cooking equipment.
Plan your adventures throughout the West Coast at westcoasttraveller.com and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @thewestcoasttraveller. And for the top West Coast Travel stories of the week delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly Armchair Traveller newsletter!