The Chilkoot Trail, a historic hike that retraces the steps of the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s and the native Tlingit tribe that established the rugged trade route to the interior centuries before, attracts a hardy group of backpackers each year who are interested in the history of the trek and the challenge of the remote wilderness. The thirty-three mile hike starts on U.S. soil near Skagway, Alaska and ends in the wilds of British Columbia in Canada. The trail is rigorous, the campsites primitive and the scenery spectacular, from the lush rainforest, rushing rivers and waterfalls on the American side to the drier granite-filled alpine terrain pockmarked with crystalline lakes and abundant blueberry bushes on the Canadian side.
In The Chilkoot Trail: Planning the classic Canadian hike, Part 1 the hike and campsites were described in detail. Part 2 covers the logistics of the complex itinerary. This is not a spur of the moment type of backpacking trip, due to the multifaceted nature of the remote location and the web of transportation options between two countries. The Chilkoot Trail, located in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, is jointly managed by the U.S. National Park Service and Parks Canada.
Permits & Passport
A permit is required from June through September and costs about $50 (varies by year) plus a $17 reservation fee. Permits are limited to 50 per day and can be reserved in advance. Since the international border between the U.S. and Canada is crossed at the mid-way point of the hike passports must be shown when the permit is picked up and Canadian Customs paperwork filled out. A passport should be carried on the hike though the odds of being asked to show it on the trail are small. The International Trail Center (park headquarters) is located at 2nd and Broadway in Skagway, and is open in summer from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Getting to Skagway
There are several options to reach the start of the hike in Dyea, Alaska, located near the hamlet of Skagway (population 920) by air or sea. The only road from Skagway leads to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada so driving from U.S. locations is not possible.
- Fly to Juneau, Alaska on Alaska Airlines (twice a day, 6-9 hours, $522 one way from San Francisco) or other carrier
- From Juneau there are three options to get to Skagway:
- Fly a charter plane service, if weather allows, such as Wings of Alaska, a subsidiary of SeaPort Airlines (eight flights a day, 60 minutes, $114 one way)
- Sail on the Alaska Marine Highway System from Juneau to Skagway, a scenic route through glacier laden mountains (once a day at 7 a.m., 7 hours, $50 one way)
- Sail on an excursion tour boat such as Alaska Fjordlines (once a day at 5:30 p.m., 3 hours, $165)
Getting to the Trailhead
From Skagway to the Chilkoot Trail or campground at the ghost town of Dyea there are two options to reach the actual trailhead, though most hikers avail themselves of Dyea Dave’s services.
- Dyea Dave Tours. Dyea Dave or his cousin, both entertaining characters, will drive hikers to the trailhead (once a day at 10:30 a.m., about 30 minutes, $30)
- Get a head start on the hike and walk seven and a half miles (free)
At the conclusion of the hike at Lake Bennett travel options are limited in this roadless wilderness terminus.
- White Pass and Yukon Railway. Most hikers will take the train from Lake Bennett back to Skagway. A train ticket must be purchased in advance before the hike. The schedule varies from year to year and usually runs six days a week, which means it doesn’t run one day of the week so care should be taken that the hike doesn’t end on the day the train doesn’t run. The White Pass and Yukon Railway offers tourist excursions from Skagway to Lake Bennett and serves lunch at Lake Bennett. Backpackers are served lunch for a fee ($15) in a separate dining room at the train station at Lake Bennett and travel in one rail coach. Lunch can be pre-paid when the train ticket is purchased and is highly recommended, consisting of hearty beef stew, salad, bread rolls and apple pie (once a day Tuesday through Friday at 2 p.m., $95 one way).
- Alpine Aviation, based in Whitehorse, offers charter floatplane service between Lake Bennett and Skagway, Whitehorse or other destinations. Call 867-668-7725 for prices and information.
Alternate Travel Destinations
Hikers may wish to continue exploring the Klondike Gold Rush route by journeying to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory and beyond rather than returning to Skagway. It is possible to reach Whitehorse via a combination of train (to Carcross) and bus (from Carcross to Whitehorse). Train and bus tickets can be purchased through the White Pass Yukon Railway Company ($99).
The Chilkoot Trail is a challenging backpacking trip in many ways, from planning to hiking, but is worth it because of the deep historical roots, beautiful scenery and wilderness experience.
For more information about the hike see The Chilkoot Trail: Planning the classic Canadian hike, Part 1 and Inga’s Adventures.
To read a personal account of the hike, see “Bear Encounters on the Chilkoot Trail” in Travel Stories From Around the Globe, also available at the Amazon Kindle Store.
Chilkoot Trail, Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, U.S. National Park Service
Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site of Canada, Parks Canada
White Pass and Yukon Route Railway
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