Outdoor Blog

Planning your Chilkoot Trail backpacking trip

Chilkoot Trail

Inga and Steve at the high point of Chilkoot Trail, looking into Canada.

The Chilkoot Trail, the original Klondike gold rush trail, is a classic hike that attracts history buffs and appeals to experienced wilderness backpackers. It spans two countries (U.S. and Canada) with distinctly different terrain in each country. The U.S. side is characterized as a coastal rain forest, heavily wooded with a thick understory of berry bushes, punctuated with dozens of waterfalls that flow into the Taiya River that parallels the trail. The Canadian boreal forest is drier, with expansive granite peaks and a chain of azure lakes that form a part of the headwaters of the mighty Yukon River as it begins its 2,000 mile journey to the Bering Sea. The crux of the hike is the ascent over the 2,500 foot, high alpine Chilkoot Pass at the midpoint (and international border). At the Chilkoot Pass a steep shale slope requiring the use of arms and legs to surmount large boulders is the most difficult section, which can take between an hour and several hours depending on the strength and stamina of the hiker.

The popular Chilkoot Trail is a true wilderness experience with primitive campsites and no services, but it’s one you’ll share with other hikers during the relatively short hiking season of the northern latitude. The park service limits the flow of hikers to 50 per day at the start of the trail in Dyea, near Skagway, Alaska.  The hike is moderately difficult but any strong hiker can enjoy it. The best months are July and August, as the later you go in summer the fewer the snowfields and mosquitoes you will encounter.

This is a hike that requires quite a bit of advance planning, and this summarizes what we’ve learned after several trips to Southeast Alaska and the Yukon, including two times hiking the Chilkoot Trail. Links verified and updated in 2014. Please join our Facebook Group, Chilkoot Trail and Yukon River Travel, which will connect people to even more current information. The Facebook group has active members who live and work in Skagway so they can provide current information.

Hike logistics

The hike starts in Dyea, Alaska, nine miles from Skagway, and ends at Lake Bennett, British Columbia for a total distance of 33 miles (one way). Services at Lake Bennett are limited to the White Pass and Yukon Railway station. Most hikers take the train back to Skagway from Lake Bennett, but it is possible to go the other way and take train and bus to Whitehorse, Yukon.

Campsites

Tent platform

All campsites have wooden platforms

Camping is only allowed at designated campsites on this heavily traveled trail. You need to decide which campsites you will camp in prior to getting your permit, as sites at each stop are limited and you have to specify ahead of time which camp you will stop at. The hike generally takes between 3 and 5 days depending on how hard you like to hike and the mileage you want to do. Taking five days allows for days alternating between approximately 4 and 8 miles per day, except for the crux day, which will be a strenuous 8.7 miles, no matter what.  If you train for that day all others will be easier. The crux day can vary wildly from 6-12+ hours and will be the subject of enjoyable analysis and debriefing for many hours with other hikers at Happy Camp and beyond. If you have time, plan on a zero day (a rest day with zero mileage) on the Canadian side as the camps beyond Happy Camp are worth spending extra time relaxing and exploring. The first time we did it we took five days, and the second time we took six days so we could spend more time at Deep Lake and Lindemann City.

Some notes about specific campsites:

Coastal rain forest

U.S. side: Your choice of campsites will be dictated by your start time on the first day and then you’ll probably skip every other one if you’re on a five day schedule.  If you start in the late afternoon or evening you’ll probably stay the first night at Finnegan’s Point (the first campsite). If you start early in the morning you’ll probably stay at Canyon City (the second campsite on the trail). Pretty much everyone has to spend the night at Sheep Camp as it’s the only option in order to get a very early start for the crux day over the Chilkoot Pass. Rangers will prevent hikers from tackling the summit if you arrive at the base of the summit too late in the day due to avalanche danger, and to prevent weaker hikers from getting too late a start to be able to get to Happy Camp in daylight. You should plan to get to the base of the summit by mid-day as there are many miles to go after the summit. Most hikers arise around 5 am at Sheep Camp and try to get on the trail by 6 am.

Lakes

Canadian side: Happy Camp is always crowded as it’s the first campsite after the summit. Deep Lake, just a couple of miles beyond Happy Camp, is beautiful, so if you can push a little further (2.5 more miles, or 11.2 miles from Sheep Camp) on the crux day it’s worth it. A longer stop at Lindeman City is also worthwhile as they have a small museum with books, photographs and artifacts from the trail. Bare Loon Lake has a limited number of campsites but is the one of the prettiest, and yes, the loons make their mournful cry. Most people arrive at Lake Bennett and take the train back the same day, but it is a nice place to camp if you can get there the night before, and is usually deserted in the evening.

Permits & Passport

Permits are required from June through September and cost about $50 (varies by year). Permits are limited so reserve early (50 are given out daily). You can get information about permits at the National Park Service website at  http://www.nps.gov/klgo/planyourvisit/chilkoottrail.htm.  Permits are affixed to the outside of the pack and must be visible at all times. You will cross the international border on the hike, so you must carry a passport (though we’ve never been asked).

Getting There

Ferry

The Alaska State Ferry route from Juneau to Skagway is filled with glaciers

There are several options to get to the start of the hike near Skagway and back home.

Fly

From the U.S., fly to Juneau, Alaska on Alaska Airlines

From Juneau you have 3 options to get to Skagway:

1.      Sail on the Alaska Marine Highway System (state ferry) from Juneau to Skagway, a scenic route through glacier country that takes about six hours (check sail dates and times)

2.      Fly in a Cessna plane with Wings of Alaska ( you will need clear weather for the 45 minute flight)

3.      Sail on an excursion tour boat with Alaska Fjordlines (check dates and sail times)

From Canada, fly from Vancouver, BC to Whitehorse, Yukon on Air Canada,or  Air North.

From Whitehorse you have 2 options

1.      Rent a car at Budget or Norcan and drive.

2.      Take the Alaska Yukon Tourist Tours bus

From Europe, fly from Frankfurt, Germany to Whitehorse, Yukon, on

Lufthansa and see above for ground transportation options.

Car– You can drive to Skagway via Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. There are no other roads that connect the towns of SE Alaska.

Getting to the trailhead

From Skagway to Chilkoot trailhead or Dyea campground there is only one option: Dyea-Chilkoot Trail Transport, operated by Anne Moore. Dyea Dave, a very entertaining character, provided this service for years, but he recently retired.

Getting Back

Train

Backpacks on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway car on the return from Lake Bennett

Most hikers will take the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway from Lake Bennett at the end of the hike back to Skagway. You must purchase a train ticket in advance. Check the train schedule as it can vary from year to year and usually runs six days a week, which means it doesn’t run one day of the week. The White Pass and Yukon Railway offers tourist excursions from Skagway to Lake Bennett.. They put the backpackers in one car for obvious reasons (unkempt and perhaps smelly, compared to the regular tourists). A box lunch can be ordered that is eaten on the train; the hot lunch at Bennett has been discontinued.

If you are traveling north to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, purchase a train ticket to Carcross, and a bus ticket to Whitehorse from Carcross, all through the White Pass Yukon Railway Company.

Accommodations in Skagway

1.      Sgt Preston Motel– Clean and reasonable

2.      Westmark Hotel– Large capacity and filled with cruise people

3.      Assorted Bed and Breakfast accommodations in Skagway, including the Skagway Inn and At The White House.

4.      Pullen Creek RV-Skagway campground

5.      Dyea Campground National Park– close to beginning of Chilkoot Trail

6.      Chilkoot Trails Outpost-Luxury cabins close to trailhead

Camping supplies/fuel/bear spray in Skagway

1.      The Mountain Shop, 355 4th St, Skagway,907-983-2544, email packer@aptalaska.net

2.      Skagway Hardware, 400 Broadway St, Skagway, 907-983-2233

Grocery store

Fairway Market , 4th St, Skagway

Restaurants in Skagway

1.     Stowaway Café, 205 Congress St, Skagway, 907-983-3463

2.     Skagway Fish Company, 201 Congress St, Skagway, 907-983-3474, sfcalaska@hotmail.com

Accommodations in Whitehorse

1.      Westmark Hotel Downtown

2.      Historical Bed & Breakfast

Restaurants in Whitehorse

1.      Klondike Rib & Fish House

2.      Giorgio’s Italian Restaurant

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 (all camping is done on wooden platforms because of the delicate ecology).

2.      Rain gear & pack cover as rain is to be expected (though you might luck out)

3.      Warm, layered clothes – Weather can change quickly

4.      Bear spray (pepper spray)-purchase in Skagway as it’s not allowed on airplanes, even in checked baggage

Backpacking gear is very personal and this is not a trip for inexperienced backpackers. Just for reference, our packs weighed approximately 35-40  pounds each with water, food and all gear for our 5-6 day journey, though we’ve been trying to go 5-10  pounds lighter in recent years. If we were doing it now we’d probably each carry 30  pounds (my base weight is 16 pounds without food and water).

Random notes about the trail

Bridge

Suspension bridges are common on the American side as the trail criss-crosses the Taiya River

Temperatures in the summer are not generally extreme, though rain is common. Average temperatures in July and August are in the low 50s (F) to low 60s but can can reach the 80s in a heat wave. Snow fields can be present near the summit even in August.

Water is plentiful along the trail. On the U.S. side minor streams near campsites usually run clear and are easier on a water filter than river water, which can contain glacier silt.

The campsites are being improved yearly and all now have wooden tent platforms and privies.

Solid and suspension bridges negate the need for any stream crossings. In the first day you’ll encounter a narrow plank boardwalk through an extensive swampy section.

Several steep sections on the U.S. side have steps that have been carved into rock.

Ranger stations are located at Sheep Camp on the U.S. side and at Lindeman City on the Canadian side. The ranger gives a safety talk each evening at Sheep Camp to prepare hikers for summit day and give updates about conditions and weather–it’s worth attending.

Resources

National Park Service, Chilkoot Trail

White Pass and Yukon Route Railway

Facebook Group: Chilkoot Trail and Yukon River Travel

The Chilkoot Trail – Reliving the Klondike Gold Rush, by Murray Lundberg. Written in 1998 and updated in 2008 this trip log provides an excellent overview of the trail.

A Northern Wilderness Adventure—Alaska to BC on the Chilkoot Trail, by Inga Aksamit. My account of our trips.

See updated article on Examiner.

See my story, “Bear Encounters on the Chilkoot Trail”, in Travel Stories from Around the Globe available in the Kindle store:

35 thoughts on “Planning your Chilkoot Trail backpacking trip”

  1. A Northern Wilderness Adventure-Alaska to British Columbia on the Chilkoot Trail « Inga's Adventures January 3, 2011

    […] See related article: Planning your Chilkoot Trail backpacking trip […]

    1. Mike Zimmer June 3, 2017

      Inga, great commentary. A group of us are planning for a 2018 hike. I think I have the logistics down and the permitting. I have 3 questions. Do the wooden platforms accommodate only 1 tent/platform? With a permit, will there always be a platform when you get to your stop? For experienced hikers in good physical condition, is Sheep Camp to Deep Lake (10 miles) easily accomplished with your recommended early start?
      Thanks, Mike

      1. Inga June 3, 2017

        Hi Mike, Most, but not all of the campsites will have a platform. You will likely get a platform but because people’s plans sometimes change, I don’t believe you can count on getting a platform 100% of the time. It’s helpful to have some extra thin cord/rope to tie off to hooks or railings. The platform can accommodate 2 small tents or 1 large one. For strong, fit hikers, yes it’s reasonable for you to make it to Deep Camp. We did it one year and though it was a long day we made it with no trouble. The early start is often necessary to clear the avalanche zones while the snow is firm, depending on conditions. If any of you are on Facebook, I’d highly recommend that you join the FB group, Chilkoot Trail and Yukon River Travel (https://www.facebook.com/groups/ChilkootTrailYukonRiver/), as we are fortunate to have one of the rangers and another local who are active on the group and can provide weather and trail condition updates. Have fun!

  2. Debra King March 8, 2012

    Awesome account of the trail, I hiked it in 2005 with my husband and a couple from Juneau and I’m going again in July 2012 with 2 other ladies. Thanks for you accounting and the updating of the campsite.

    1. Inga July 22, 2012

      That’s great that you’re going again. I found it harder the second time around. Let me know how you find it this time.

  3. Stephen Elliot July 10, 2012

    I really appreciate all the helpful info here! My family is planning a backpacking trip on the Chilkoot, and your posts have been tremendously helpful. Keep it up!

    1. Inga July 22, 2012

      I’m glad you found the info helpful. We found a lot of good info on the internet that helped us, but none that addressed all these planning headaches. Good luck on your trip and let me know how it went.

  4. Laura May 21, 2013

    I was wondering what rating sleeping bag you took and if you were happy? I am debating several combinations of liners/bag ratings/over bags. Trail dates are first week of August, any input is appreciated!

    1. Inga June 18, 2013

      I love my Marmot Angel Fire sleeping bag. It has an EN lower rating limit for women of 26 F, 15 F for men but I’ve had it out down to about 10 F in Yosemite–I wore pants, fleece and hat that night! It never got that cold on the Chilkoot so a lot of times I just laid it over me, rather than zipped up, or I’d be too warm. It’s pretty moderate on the Chilkoot in August–I’d plan more for dampness than cold. Even the year when there were plenty of snowfields over the pass we never slept near snow. Have a great time!
      Sorry for the delay in responding–I was surprised to see your comment today so it must have slipped by me.

  5. Inge Winkler June 18, 2013

    Hi Inga,
    My husband and I are doing the Chilkoot Trail this August. Thank you for all the info, your tips and suggestion are and will be very helpful to us. We are taking our time and are camping for five nights. We did the Kalalau Trail in Kauai in the spring and are now looking forward to the Chilkoot Trail.
    Thanks again,
    Inge

    1. Inga June 18, 2013

      I’m so glad you found the article helpful. I’m so jealous! You’re going to have a great time. Please drop me a line and let me know how it goes when you return.

  6. Astrid August 5, 2013

    Hi!
    I was wondering if it’s possible to do part of this trail (from Dyea) as a dayhike? Are the first 5-6 kms a worthwhile peek at the whole trek? Does Parks Canada/US Ranger Service allow for dayhikes?
    Thanks,
    Astrid

    1. Inga August 5, 2013

      Yes, it would be a great day hike to do the first few kilometers and will give you a taste of what the US side is like. It’s beautiful the whole way, including the very beginning. I just checked the Park Service website at http://www.nps.gov/klgo/planyourvisit/permits.htm and it looks like there is no charge for a day hike on the US side but if you approach from the Canadian side there is a CDN$9.80 fee. No reservations required for day use.

  7. The High Sierra Trail, Sequoia National Park | Inga's Adventures August 19, 2015

    […] food and water. We were usually carrying 35-45  pounds depending on the length of the trip. On our Chilkoot Trail trip of my notes say that my pack was 38  pounds while Steve’s was 39  pounds, with most of our […]

  8. Joost September 16, 2015

    Hi,

    I am planning to walking the Chilkoot Trail end of May, how is the weather then?

    Thanks!

    1. Inga October 1, 2015

      Hi Joost,
      That’s pretty early in the season so I would expect cold temperatures and snow. Please join our Facebook Group called Chilkoot Trail and Yukon River Travel to get up to date weather info from people who live there, including a ranger who is pretty active on the site.

  9. John October 27, 2015

    I hiked the Chilkoot back in 1991when you could just show up and go we did it labor day weekend and the weather was fantastic. We took 3 full days and two nights to do it. Next year in June/ July 2016 I want to take my 17 year old son on the hike and plan on five days. Is there a map of the campsites readily available because when you make your reservation now you need to book campsites as well. I remember booking the train at the office in Skagway in person; this was in the days before the internet and on-line shopping. is there a on-line place to book?
    Thanks so much for your info.

    1. Inga October 27, 2015

      Hi John,
      How great that you got to hike the trail in the good ‘ol days and that your son wants to go with you. Yes, there is a map of the campsites on the NPS website at http://www.nps.gov/klgo/planyourvisit/trailmaps.htm. I believe you can book the train tickets online once they start up again for the season at http://wpyr.com/excursions/hikers-service/chilkoot-hiker-service/. Have fun! And if you’re on Facebook, join the “Chilkoot Trail and Yukon River Travel” group for more information.

  10. Lyle Nesbitt January 3, 2016

    Very informative content, thank you so much for the information.
    Planning on doing the trail this year.
    Lyle

  11. Steph January 4, 2016

    Hi Inga,

    Thank you for this awesome site! It is super helpful. I am wondering if you know of any guide books that are worth reading before the hike? I am having a hard time finding any books and wondered if you can suggest a good one. Also, do you know where I could find a detailed packing list?
    Is it safe to assume that the trail is well marked throughout? I have just booked for mid august of 2016. Really looking froward to it. What type of weather do you think we might encounter at that time of year.
    Thanks so much!!
    Steph

    1. Inga January 16, 2016

      Hi Steph, I’m not aware of any guide books per se, though there are many books on the Chilkoot that cover the history, which is very helpful in providing context to what you’ll be seeing. The trail is well traveled and signed and extremely obvious so there are no worries that you’ll lose the trail in August (in June there might be snow but the rangers mark the trail so it still would be obvious). I have general packing lists on my Backpacking Resources page that you can refer to. Be sure to bring rain gear. In August you could get anything from a heat wave to lingering snow over the pass (depending on the winter they get) but you’re likely to get the very best weather. You’re going to have a great time!

  12. Rachel January 14, 2016

    Hi Inga
    We are planning on doing the hike as a group at the end of July. We are wondering if there is a place in Skagway where we can leave behind some of our personal belongings, to be picked up after our 5-day hike. Possibly a locker in the Recreation center??
    Thanks!

    1. Inga January 16, 2016

      If you plan on staying at any kind of lodging they will usually let you store things. Beyond that, I’m not sure. If you join the Facebook Group, Chilkoot Trail and Yukon River Travel, and post the question someone there might have more alternatives.

  13. Nicolas January 24, 2016

    Hey Inga,

    Quick question. I plan on doing this trail in July. Is it well marked? I will obviously have a map and a compass, but I’m no expert navigator, so I’m hoping it won’t be too hard to navigate?

    Thanks,
    Nicolas

    1. Inga January 28, 2016

      Hi Nicolas, The trail is very well marked so you shouldn’t have any trouble navigating. There will also be quite a few people on the trail so if you just wait at a spot, pretty soon some other people will come along. There is usually a ranger at Sheep Camp. Have a great time.

  14. Ann March 30, 2016

    Hi Inga – I am upper 60’s, have backpacked many places, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Rocky Mt Nat Park all around Arizona. Do you consider this hike harder than the rim to rim, North to South in the Grand Canyon. Trying to get an idea if this is to much of a challenge for a gal of my age. Don’t want to bite off more than I can chew. I am in very good physical condition. So should I worry.

    1. Inga April 1, 2016

      Hi Ann, I think you’ll be fine. For one thing, there is no altitude to worry about as there is in Yosemite. Going over the scales is a long day and for about 2 hours it’s more strenuous than a regular hike because of the big boulders–it’s really a scramble using arms and legs but otherwise it’s just hiking. You have a lot of experience so I think you’ll find this fairly routine and you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery and history. Have fun!

  15. Darrell June 4, 2016

    Hiked the chilkoot in August of 2016 and the Grand Canyon in November of 2016. They are both spectacular hikes with their own unique beauty and challenges. I was 58 years of age during both hikes. It’s safe to say if you’ve hiked the Grand Canyon (rim to rim) you should be fine with the chilkoot: both have their unique challenges, unsurpassed beauty and rewards. Enjoy!

  16. Cody August 21, 2016

    Inga,
    Just got done hiking the Chilkoot!!! I found your blog very helpful in preparing me as I had never backed packed before. I am 45 years old and in above avg shape! 3 nights and four days! But I have to say it is challenging for a novice hiker! Also I did not see raised platforms for tents in Canon City, Pleasant Camp or lower camp at Lindeman. Not sure about Deep River. I kept track of my total time on the trail. I averaged 1.3 mph! No Bears! We had a solid day of rain from Canon City to Sheep camp! Otherwise cloudy and foggy over the pass. The rest of the time the weather was pretty nice!

    1. Inga August 22, 2016

      It sounds like you had a great trip! Thanks for the info on the platforms. I’ll double check with the ranger, who is active on the Chilkoot Trail and Yukon River Facebook Group, and note the locations of platforms. I’d agree that it would be somewhat challenging for a new backpacker but you did it!

  17. Denise Herbster March 5, 2017

    my family and I are wanting to come up the first of june to do the trail. what should we expect as far as the weather goes. we have two 19 yr olds coming with us. we are in our early 50s.

    1. Inga March 8, 2017

      Hi Denise, You can expect a lot of snow around the first of June. If you or the kids are on Facebook I’d encourage you to join the Facebook Group called “Chilkoot Trail and Yukon River Travel” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/ChilkootTrailYukonRiver/). If you search for the word “June” using the search function in the group you will see some photos from a person who did the trail in June last year. In addition, we have a ranger, Kari Rain, who is active on the group and posts trail conditions during the summer. Good luck!

  18. Francine March 26, 2017

    Hi Inga I really enjoyed your website – I have a group of new hikers booked for the trail first week July all in relatively good shape i.e. Marathon runner, snowshoer, cyclist and construction worker all early 50s late 40s. We are all equipped with excellent gear but I’m wondering is there s a certain exercise that would help to train before the trip -I’m planning to walk long distance with a full pack up ski hills in my area but what would you recommend ?

    1. Inga March 26, 2017

      Hi Francine, You’re on the right track. I have found that the best exercise for hiking is hiking. Starting now, if you can carry a partial pack that would be good. Then work up to a full pack a few weeks before the hike. Try to do some all-day hikes with hills, if possible, to get your feet conditioned and figure out if your shoes give you blisters. If you’re supplementing with gym workouts, include cardio, of course, but also the stair-stepper machines are good. Provide adequate rest and recovery–it’s always disheartening to over-train and develop tendinitis or other conditions that can take a long time to recover from. Good luck! You’re going to have a great time.

  19. Planning a Yukon River paddling trip | Inga's Adventures September 13, 2017

    […] to Dawson City, a fraction of the length of the 1,980 mile river. We did it after hiking the Chilkoot Trail, taking the train/bus from Lake Bennett to Whitehorse and resupplying for a day before we […]

Leave a Reply