Have you heard of the Chilkoot Trail? It looks like something I need to add to my bucket list! It crosses an international border and is described as “the world’s longest museum.” A hiking trail that’s a museum sounds amazing. Ambassador Laura recently hiked it and gives us a detailed account of how to prepare and what to expect. 

The Chilkoot Trail is a great multiday backpacking trip that will appeal to those looking for a fun and
challenging adventure.

Overview:

The Chilkoot is a backcountry trail which starts near Dyea, Alaska and ends in Bennett, British Columbia. It is co-managed by Parks Canada and the National Park Service. Known as “the world’s longest museum,” the Chilkoot follows the old route of 19th century Gold Rush stampeders and boasts a number of interesting artifacts along the trail. Hikers will see everything from old shoes to abandoned boilers, stoves, and tram lines.

Distance: 33 miles/53 kilometers

Difficulty: The trail is rated as moderate to difficult. Hikers can expect a well-worn trail which can vary among boardwalks, mud, packed dirt, loose rocks, and boulders. Elevation gains are mostly moderate ups and downs, aside from the section which crosses the Chilkoot Pass. Here, 1000 feet in elevation is gained in only half a mile. This section, also known as the Golden Stairs, requires scrambling over boulders at a 45° incline.

Time Required:

Average length of time on the Chilkoot is 3-5 days, though it is possible to day-run the trail or take your time and extend the trip longer.

Costs:

Permits are required. Prices are subject to change but expect to pay around $40 (under 17 yrs)/$67 (17+) for permit, camping, and reservation fees. Contact Parks Canada for more information and to reserve permits.

Terrain:

The trail begins in Alaska’s coastal rainforest, follows the Taiga River, crosses the rocky pass, and takes you through mountainous and subalpine terrain. The diversity of landscapes is a major draw of the trail. Highlights include lush forests, stunning mountain vistas, and picturesque alpine lakes and rivers. Suspension bridges negate the need for major river/stream crossings.

When to Go:

The Chilkoot hiking season generally runs from early June until early September. During this time, the trail is patrolled by Parks Canada and NPS staff and the route over the pass is marked. An avalanche hazard most often remains in place until mid-July. Early season hikers are encouraged to get an early start (before 6AM) on the day they head over the pass. Peak season runs from mid-July to mid- August, though a limit of 50 permits/day keeps the trail from feeling overpopulated. Snow patches can remain throughout the summer and hikers can expect changing weather conditions (including sleet and snow) at any point.

Things to Know:

• Permits must be picked up from the Trail Center in Skagway prior to the hike. At this time, hikers  also register for customs as the trail crosses the U.S./Canada border. Be sure to have your passport and any other required documentation at this time, and to carry it with you on the trail for when you return post-hike.

• Camping is allowed only in the designated campgrounds along the trail.

• Hikers must pre-determine which of the designated campgrounds they will be staying at and provide this information at the time of reserving their permit. Information on campgrounds can be found on the Parks Canada website.

• Water sources are plentiful on the trail and at each of the campgrounds. It is recommended to treat all water.

• A trail profile map is accessible on the Parks Canada website. This can be useful when planning your itinerary.

• The trail is treated as a museum and, as such, hikers are expected to refrain from touching any of the artifacts found along the trail.

• Open campfires are NOT permitted. A camp stove and fuel are necessary.

• Maximum group size is 12 people. Groups larger than this must split up and camp and hike separately.

Skagway

As the closest town to the trailhead, most hikers will spend time before and/or after their hike in Skagway, Alaska. Skagway is a popular summer tourist destination and is a common port of call for cruise ships. The quaint city center contains many historic buildings and is a fun place to wander around.

Getting There and Around

Skagway can be accessed by land, air, and sea. Skagway is connected to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory via the Klondike Highway. The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad also offers train service between Whitehorse and Skagway. Many hikers fly into Whitehorse’s international airport and travel to Skagway by train or rent a car and drive.

Flights can be chartered to Skagway from various points in Alaska. Alaska Seaplanes also offers scheduled passenger flight service from Juneau to Skagway.

Ferry service to Skagway is provided by the Alaska Marine Highway System which accommodates both vehicle and walk-on traffic. Walk-on only service is provided by the Haines-Skagway Fast Ferry from Haines, Alaska.

Skagway is a small city, easily navigated by foot. The downtown core is also serviced in the summer months by SMARTBus, a public transit option. However, having access to your own vehicle is useful if staying outside the city center or if wanting to explore the region further out.

Where to Stay

Sgt. Preston’s Lodge Located in town at 6th and State Street.

The Skagway Inn Located on Broadway between 6th and 7th.

The Swaying Spruce Rental cabins located about a mile from town on the Dyea Road.

The Chilkoot Trail Outpost B&B Located outside of Skagway, only a half mile from the Chilkoot trailhead.

Dyea Campground Also located about 10 miles from Skagway, and only a half mile from the trailhead.

Where to Eat

The Red Onion Saloon
Broadway and 2nd
Good pizza and a lively atmosphere. Also offers tours of the upstairs Brothel Museum.

The Skagway Brewing Co.
Broadway and 7th
Large menu, good burgers, and a wide selection of beers.

Bites on Broadway
Broadway and 6th
Full coffee menu, breakfast items, and a selection of soups and sandwiches.

Skagway Fish Co.
Congress Way
Various seafood dishes, known for their fish and chips.

Starfire
4th, near Spring Street
Authentic Thai cuisine.

Bombay Curry
5th, just off Broadway
Highly reviewed Indian cuisine.

Other Amenities

Groceries can be found at:
Fairway Market – 4th and State Street
You Say Tomato – State Street, between 20th and 21 st

Gear Retailers:

The Mountain Shop – 4th, between Broadway and State; they also rent gear, if you don’t want to
purchase or travel with it.
Duff’s – 5th, between Broadway and State

Getting to the Trailhead

As the trailhead is located 10 miles from Skagway, near the old townsite of Dyea, hikers must arrange transportation to get to the start of the hike.

Shuttle service is provided by TruMoore Services. Contact Ann at (907) 617-7551 or via her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Trumooreservices. Vehicles can be left in Skagway at the WPYR Station or with most accommodation providers.

Another option is to drive to the Dyea Campground (0.5 miles from the trailhead) and leave your vehicle in the parking lot there. After returning to Skagway after the hike, take a shuttle back to your vehicle.

Returning to Skagway Post-Hike

The hike ends in Bennett, British Columbia which is accessed only via the trail, train, and floatplane. The WPYR Railway offers hiker service for those returning to Skagway. They also offer options for getting to Carcross, Fraser, and Whitehorse from Bennett. Check the schedule before determining your hiking dates as trains do not run every day of the week. Tickets must be purchased and picked up prior to setting out on the hike.

Contact Alpine Aviation for information on flights.

Our Chilkoot Adventure

My partner and I combined our Chilkoot Trail hike with a quick road trip of the region. I’ve provided our 10-day itinerary and notes below to give you some inspiration for planning your own trip.

Day One – Whitehorse to Haines Junction to Kluane Bed & Breakfast

We flew into the international airport in Whitehorse, picked up our rental car, had lunch at the highly recommended Klondike Rib and Salmon Restaurant, and hit the road.

We made the short 1.5 hour drive to Haines Junction where we picked up a few groceries and then backtracked to Kluane Bed and Breakfast for the night. The $115/night fee included our cabin on the shores of beautiful Kluane Lake and a self-serve breakfast in their fully-stocked kitchen.

Day Two – Exploring Kluane National Park

We started our morning with the short and easy Soldier’s Summit hike which follows the old Alaska Highway and provides stunning views. From there we drove to Burwash Landing and checked out their impressive natural history museum, followed by lunch in Destruction Bay. We returned to Haines Junction and took a short jaunt down the Dezadeash River Trail before heading back to Kluane B&B for the night.

Day Three – Kluane B&B to Haines to Skagway

We followed the Haines Highway and made the 4 hour drive down to Haines, Alaska. The drive was spectacular, despite the low clouds and rainy weather. We took the ferry from Haines to Skagway and then ran around town to prep for the hike. We picked up our permits and did orientation at the Trail Center and then rented our camp stove and bought bear spray from the Mountain Shop. We had dinner at the Red Onion and spent the night at the Swaying Spruce. The evening was spent nervously packing our packs and getting organized.

Day Four – Last-minute Preparations

We had breakfast at Bites on Broadway and then finished our pre-hike to-do list by getting our train tickets and stopping back at the outfitter shops for last-minute gear purchases. We hopped on our pre-arranged shuttle to the trailhead around 10:30 AM and then off into the backcountry we went…

Days Four through Nine

On the trail!

You can read more about my personal experiences on the Chilkoot Trail on my blog An Ordinary Existence, where I wrote up a day-by-day account of our time on the trail.

Day Nine – Returning to Skagway

We came off the trail and returned to Skagway via the WPYR train from Bennett. The train ride was almost as beautiful as the hike. All of the hikers were put into the “hiker cars” where we were kept separate from the freshly-bathed tourists who were making the journey from Whitehorse to Skagway.

We returned to the Swaying Spruce where we enjoyed showers and getting into clean clothes. On the recommendation of our hosts, we had delicious burgers and beers at the Skagway Brewing Co. to celebrate our Chilkoot success.

Day Ten – Skagway to Whitehorse to Home

We made the 2 hour 45 minute drive back to Whitehorse from Skagway to catch our flight home. We were on the road so early we actually had to sit and wait for them to open the border crossing on the highway. We made it to the airport with plenty of time and had an uneventful flight home.

As you can see, this was a bit of a whirlwind trip with lots of driving and early mornings. We were hoping to make it a longer holiday but were unable to, due to time constraints. We hope to return to the area again in the future to see what else this beautiful region has to offer!

For a complete in depth guide to preparing, planning, and hiking the Chilkoot Trail, you can check out Laura’s ebook, “Hiking the Chilkoot Trail: A How-To Guide.”

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