Chilkoot Trail


Distance: 53 km
Elevation Gain: 1070 m (3510 ft)
Time: 3-4 days
Difficulty: Moderate
Region: White Pass
Date Added: May 11, 2011
Last Update: April 13, 2014
Winter: ski touring 



Follow the stampeders' trail on the infamous Chilkoot Trail. The trail wanders through a diverse landscape - from wet coastal rain forest, up to rocky alpine and then to dry, lichen covered forest. There are campsites along the trail and facilities are provided at every site.


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Winter



Driving Directions

You can either take a shuttle from Skagway, or drive to Dyea yourself. If you choose to drive, head out of Skagway and look for the sign for Dyea, about 1 km out of Skagway town center. Follow Dyea Road on your left for about 6.5 km to the Dyea Campground. You must park at the campground, as overnight parking at the trailhead is prohibited. Walk out of the campground and turn left. A couple hundred meters ahead is a bridge over the Taiya River. To the right of the bridge is the signed trailhead.




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Trail Description

If you plan on camping, you must book ahead of time. Check the Parks Canada website for details.

The trail begins through coastal rain forest. It starts with a steep climb which quickly flattens out and then comes right back down to the altitude at which you started. After a few ups-and-downs, the trail stays quite flat with very minimal elevation gain.

The trail stays in the forest following along the Taiya River. Every so often the trail comes right to the Taiya River, offering a less obstructed view of the surroundings.

After 7.7 km, you will reach Finnegan's Point, the first campsite on the trail. Because this campsite is so close to the trailhead, it is mostly used by hikers starting later in the day.

From Finnegan's Point, the trail continues along the Taiya River and through the forest. There are a few glimpses of glaciers, high up in the mountain tops.

After another 4.4 km from Finnegan's Point (a total of 12.1 km), is Canyon City, the second campsite on the trail. The Canyon City campsite has the same amenities as every other campsite (a cooking shelter, tent pads, outhouse, and food cache) as well as a small cabin with bunks and a table and chairs. A small suspension bridge leads to the remains of Canyon City as a quick side trip.

The trail after Canyon City starts to climb steadily upwards. There are a few more glaciers that can be seen on the way to the next campsite, Pleasant Camp. Pleasant Camp is 4.7 kms from Canyon City (a total of 16.9 km from the trailhead).

From Pleasant Camp the trail gradually leads up through the forest (for 3.4 kms) and over a suspension bridge towards Sheep Camp (a total of 20.3 kms). Sheep Camp is a very popular camp as it is the last camp before climbing the Golden Stairs. It can be a full day to the next camp, so most people stay here before going over the Chilkoot Pass. The park ranger usually gives a talk in the evening about the route ahead.

Leaving Sheep Camp, you also start to leave the forest behind as you climb gradually up the valley. The terrain starts to turn rocky as you follow a stream up to the Scales (4.6 kms from Sheep Camp).

At the Scales you will find an assortment of rusted old relics from the goldrush. The Scales was a place to weigh the miners' loads and is your rest area before climbing the Golden Stairs.

It is only about 1.5 km from the Scales to the Canada/USA border, but it is almost straight up... the Golden Stairs. Don't sweat it, it's not that bad. You don't have to carry a ton of supplies up there. Take your time scrambling on the boulders up to the border.

At the border you will be rewarded with an amazing view overlooking Crater Lake. Snap some photos and head down towards the lake - you will be following along the right side of it. Take a dip if it is a hot day, or continue along to Happy Camp, about 6.5 km from the border. The walk to Happy Camp has some slight up and downs and has a gorgeous landscape.

Happy Camp is nestled in a rocky subapline valley beside a nice river. From here, you will follow between and above the rocky cliffs that flank the river towards Long Lake and the Deep Lake campground. There is some elevation gain before you finally descend to Deep Lake (4 km from Happy Camp).

After Deep Lake you will enter back into the trees and dry, forested landscape. You will follow lichen and rock covered ground as you walk to Lindeman Lake (4.8 km from Deep Lake) and Bare Loon Lake (4.9 km from Lindeman Lake).

About 500 m after Bare Loon Lake you will come to a slight fork in the trail. Going straight will lead you to Bennett Lake (6.4 km from Bare Loon Lake) where you can catch the White Pass & Yukon Route train back to Skagway.

Going right at the fork will take you on the Bare Loon cut-off trail which will lead you to the railway tracks which you can follow to the Log Cabin parking lot. From the fork, it is just under 2 km to the railway tracks and then another 8.5 km to the Log Cabin parking lot. Note that Parks Canada closed the Bare Loon cut-off trail in 2011. In addition, walking along the railway tracks is illegal. Parks Canada wardens are enforcing this closure and fining individuals. Use this cut-off trail at your own risk.



Winter

If you want to avoid the crowds, then skiing the Chilkoot Trail in winter is one way to do just that! The avalanche danger is higher than in the summer, as the snow may not have consolodated, and in many cases, it may still be snowing. Make sure you are well equiped for assessing avalanche conditions and rescue before attempting this ski route. The Golden Stairs is the largest concern, and is around 35 degrees in angle in some spots.

There are numerous day-use shelters along the way that are a great way to warm up and dry off. Most shelters have a wood stove (except for Happy Camp). Lindeman, Happy Camp, Sheep Camp, Pleasant Camp, Canyon City, and Finnegan's Point all have shelters (either cabins or wall tents). The shelters are meant for day-use only, but the temptation of sleeping in a warm, cozy cabin may be too much to resist.

The best direction to ski the Chilkoot Trail is to start at the Log Cabin parking lot and ski it in reverse to Dyea. This way, you're essentially skiing downhill the whole way. You can expect about the same amount of time as in the summer (3-4 days).

There are two ways to get to the cabin at the far end of Lindeman Lake. You can either take a shortcut through the trees and across Bare Loon Lake, or you can ski most of the way to Bennett Lake and then ski the whole length of Lindeman Lake. Both ways take roughly the same amount of time: going to Bennett Lake is longer but straightforward, and taking the shortcut is shorter but requires some route finding.

Starting at the Log Cabin parking lot, follow the railway tracks for about 8.3 km. Keep an eye out for a sign on your left that says No Trespassing On Railroad Property. If you want to take the shortcut, head into the trees at this point. Otherwise, keep following the railway towards Bennett Lake.

If you take the shortcut, you will want to aim towards the lakes and streams that lead to Bare Loon Lake. Once you are at Bare Loon Lake, you will need to ski a bit further before trying to descend to Lindeman Lake (you can also follow the Chilkoot Trail to the camp at Lindeman, but there are lots of ups and downs and the trail is hard to follow). One way to descend to Lindeman Lake is to follow a creek gulley, which is about 700 m west of Bare Loon Lake. This requires a bit of bushwacking.

Either way, once you're on Lindeman Lake, everything is much more straightforward. Ski to the camp at Lindeman City, which is not quite at the end of the lake. Note there is a creek that empties into the lake at this location so give it a wide berth, as the ice is thinner here and there can even be open water. You can expect a minimum of 5 hours to reach the cabin, and upwards of 8 hours if you have a lot of fresh snow to plow through.

From Lindeman Lake, you need to find and follow the Chilkoot Trail to Deep Lake. The trail gains some elevation and then stays on the northwest side of a tall canyon. Be careful traversing along the canyon side, as there's a nasty drop over the cliffs if you were to slip or cause a small avalanche.

When you reach the start of Deep Lake, you can ski all the way across it and connect to Long Lake as well. Continue across Long Lake and then pass through a canyon that connects to Happy Camp.

From Happy Camp, continue through more canyons all the way to Crater Lake. Ski across Crater Lake until you reach the end and are forced to ascend a small slope up to Chilkoot Pass. Thankfully the slope isn't very steep, but you must know where the Pass is so that you climb the right slope (a GPS comes in handy here)! There is a somewhat obviousl col (low point) that you should head for.

Once you are at the top of Chilkoot Pass, you have to descend the Golden Stairs. There is a real avalanche danger here. In a whiteout (which is pretty common in the area), it is difficult to see the definition of the slope. It doesn't get overly steep, perhaps 35 degrees, so ski slowly and one at a time until everyone is safely at the bottom.

Skiing from the bottom of the Golden Stairs to Sheep Camp is a nice open, gradual downhill. You can enjoy the ski for about 4 km down to Sheep Camp. From Sheep Camp, it is difficult to find the trail at times. You will be in the forest at this point, and the going can be slow.

From Pleasant Camp to Canyon City, again you may lose the trail at times. Sometimes it can be faster to find your own path and not follow the trail.

From Canyon City to Finnegan's Point, you may have to alternate between skiing and hiking, as the trail meanders up and down through the forest.

After Finnegan's Point, you'll be following an old wagon road, which is flat and wide and is easy to ski. The final few hundred meters just before the trailhead at Dyea are some of the worst. You will have to carry your skis up over 100 meters of elevation gain that seems relentless, and then back down again to the Dyea trailhead.

Elevations

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Comments / Trip Reports

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Jim haver
November 28, 2016

The With my two children Christopher and Stephannie we did chilkoot in 1978. What great trip with children. Ages 12 and 10. Real great c hildren to endure. Today it still excitement for them. And at 78 today. Invokes great memories.D.
Jo
October 2, 2016

Did a day trip to the summit cabin at the pass from Fraser (Bryant) lake and back on Sun Oct 2nd. There's a good trail all the way around the left (south) side of Fraser lake and then good travel all the way to the col at GR 894191. I found sticking to the talus slope on the North side of the drainage allowed us to avoid all the moraines, scree and boulders and made for good travel. From the col, find the path of least resistance down. We headed in a NW direction aiming for a treed rib and sticking to the main drainage all the way down to meet up with the Chilkoot trail at GR 881195. We continued to the summit cabin for soup and headed back the same way. This is a great trip and a great altenative way onto the Chilkoot trail from the Canadian side. I believe it would be possible to walk down to Long lake on the way back and find a way back up and over Fraser ridge for an extra rewarding circuit of the most scenic section of the Chilkoot trail. Amazing route with spectacular views!
Jo
September 16, 2016

Just came back from a 4 day trip Sept 12-15th on the Chilkoot trail with a group of students. Rained on day 1 and then probably got over 20 mm rain overnight. We camped at Finnegan's and encountered a nasty mudslide with a raging river where the trail should've been. Had to bushwhack through devil s club down to the main drainage to find a safe ford across. We had to hike/swim through a lot of wet and muddy sections and found Canyon city flooded with water running all the way around the cabin, below the picnic tables and bear poles. Decent ford there too just to get across back on the trail. More rain all the way to Sheep camp. Things improved somewhat after that, rain slowed to a mist but in the clouds and no visibility up to and across the pass. The wardens said water level was at its peak and the trail probably impassable from Dyea that day (Wed). Made it to Happy camp drenched but content. Decent day out from Happy all the way to Bennett and a nice, warm and dry evening in the cabin there. Some well deserved rest for our students/troopers who enjoyed the challenge and rewards the Chilkoot has to offer. Great trip!
MeghanM
December 22, 2015

Hi Isa,

Did this route in the winter on nordic touring skis (as described here in reverse -> BC-Alaska) two years ago (I think it was early April). Still a lot of snow, with avalanches still a concern as well as a mixed bag of weather (whiteout blizzards, rain, snow, sun).

Must have excellent route finding skills as the 'trail' is non-existent under snow and is even harder to find and keep on while in the trees on the Alaska side (a GPS is a must). In terms of the skiing terrain, there are uphills as well as downhills (likely not great for just regular cross-country skis). I would recommend this winter trip to experienced winter backcountry travellers. And having done the trail in the summer helps!

As a summer hike this route is absolutely doable for most people (experienced and not). It is still a multi-day trip but you can take as much time as you need. The trail is well marked and the campsites are well maintained.
Isa
December 18, 2015

Planning to do the trail in late March 2016. Does anyone have experience with winter conditions? I have done a couple of hikes in the Alps (always late summer) and started cross-country skiing this season (thus beginner). In some trail descriptions Chilkoot sounds like a super tough hike, in others absolutely doable. Any comments on that?
FrozenFella
November 1, 2015

Regarding dogs on the train, this is from the WP&YR website regarding their hiker service:

"$25 Fare per Dog
While we do permit dogs on our Chilkoot Hiker Service trains, we unfortunately are not able to permit dogs on any of our connecting bus services. Exceptions are made for service animals."

http://wpyr.com/excursions/hikers-service/chilkoot-hiker-service/

Ruth
May 19, 2015

Has anyone done the trail in early June? I'm wondering what the conditions might be.
Leah
May 2, 2015

My friend and I did this hike at the end of July 2014.
Best hike of my life! The US side was wet and chilly but the Canadian side was hot and sunny!
The trail is much easier then I thought it was going to be. The golden stairs however did give me a fright as I have a bit of a height intolerance. Stay on the boulders. I don't recommend hiking up to the side of them because of the shale. The boulders give you plenty of grip, which helps due to the heavy packs everyone wears. There are about 5 false summits before you get to the top. Use the outhouse! Best view in the world while on it!

Take 5 days and really enjoy it. There's so much to see. I recommend 2 nights in Lindeman city as it's just beautiful and the beach is nice to lounge out on.

This hike should be on everyone's bucket list at least once!
Travis
April 7, 2015

We took our dog on the trail last year and were able to take her on the train with no issues.
Anthony DeLorenzo
April 7, 2015

WP&YR will not take dogs on the train. Alpine Aviation will fly your dog out with you if you go that route. Cabin Fever Adventures offers boat service to Carcross, I don't know if they'll take dogs in the boat.
Meghan M
March 27, 2015

Hi 'T' - We brought our dog on the trail and it was not a problem at all. They do require that dogs be on a leash at all times so if you can handle that then you're good. The only exception was they allowed you to take your dog off leash for climbing the golden stairs as it's definitely tricky (and dangerous) otherwise! The only other thing to look into is if you're taking the train back - what the deal is with dogs.
T
March 25, 2015

Just wanted to know what people though about dogs on the trail. We hike quite often with our dogs and are thinking of bringing them on the trail. Any thoughts advice
Jennifer H
August 13, 2014

Just returned from 5 days on this trail and have to say it was definitely worth all the hype, the planning, and the sweat!

There was A LOT of bear activity during this time (first week of Aug) with fresh scat every ~100m, grizzly prints in the mud and frequent bear diggings near the trail. So be prepared and know how to stay safe!

I was really pleased with the rangers on both sides of the border. Very informative, helpful, and genuinely concerned about your safety. The ranger at the Canadian summit was especially awesome. When our group arrived at the shelter, she brought over hot water in thermoses to help us warm up.

Disappointed about the train/out-trail situation. Feels like a big cash grab for WPYR and Parks Canada... hoping an alternative to this will be available in the future.
Andre
August 4, 2013

Nous venons tout juste de marcher le sentier en 5 jours. C'est un sentier vraiment extra.

Du côté américain il a quelques bonnes montées, dont la fameuse passe, mais rien de vraiment trop difficile si on a la forme. Le côté canadien est définitivement le plus intéressant avec ses paysages à couper le souffle. La passe du col n'est pas la partie la plus difficile du sentier mais demande d'être à l'aise avec la sensation du vide. Le sentier est bien balisé, le personnel fait vraiment un très bon travail de ce côté.

Il y aurait des améliorations à apporter aux toilettes du côté américain et à la capacité d'accueil à Sheep Camp. Du côté canadien, les installations sont très biens mais à Happy Camp la capacité et les installations sont nettement insuffisantes. Au lac Bennet, là où tous arrivent, il y a un grave problème de capacité d'accueil. Les campements sont insuffisants, il manque de tables et d'abris pour manger en cas de pluie et, comble de tout, il n'y a qu'un seul emplacement pour les eaux usées. En résumé, les installations du lac Bennet font vraiment dures et demanderaient d'être améliorées d'urgence.

Tout cela pour dire que le sentier Chilkoot est un superbe sentier mais les installations auraient à être mises à niveau pour la quantité de gens qui le fréquente.
Sue
August 1, 2013

Yes. Parks Canada is fining people they catch on the cut-off. We just did the trail last week and heard some of the workcrews on the American side letting people know.
sam
July 29, 2013

Has anyone heard anything about hikers being fined $300 for using the cut off trail at bare loon lake? Hoping to hike the chilkoot in a day but not wanting to get fined.
Anthony DeLorenzo
September 10, 2012

We hiked the trail in about 44 hours from September 7-9. There were only a few groups on the trail, a perfect time to do it! Empty campgrounds meant that we slept in the cabins at Pleasant Camp and Lindeman (upper).

Our dog didn't like the golden stairs too much but he made it through. Without the trail markers we ended up off-route a fair ways but fortunately we managed to re-locate the trail at the top.

The new Parks Canada cabin at Bennett Lake is awesome, we're definitely planning to come back for a winter trip.

No trains running so we flew back to Whitehorse with Alpine Aviation. There were a couple of people at Bennett trying to hitch a ride with a White Pass work train but I think they had no luck with that and may have ended up having to hike out to Log Cabin.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/delorenzo/7968057458/in/photostream/lightbox/
Niko Helm
September 8, 2012

Just finished my first season working on the trail. Had an AWSOME summer, met lots of great people and loved hiking around all the time. Yesterday was the last day parks Canada operated the trail for the season so I'm gonna miss it, I plan on going back next summer for sure.
David Raithby
September 4, 2012

Had a beautiful five day hike the end of July. Perfect weather going over the summit. I wrote a tour description on my blog at through www.davidraithby.com for those interested in some additional details. One more off the bucket list