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Hiking The Chilkoot Trail

Hiking the Chilkoot Trail: Itinerary

Retrace the extraordinary journey of the Klondike gold seekers on this rugged and beautiful trail from coastal Alaska to the shore of Lake Bennett.

With each step, travel further back in time

When news of a gold strike in the Klondike reached the ears of the world, tens of thousands of hopeful gold seekers arrived in Skagway, Alaska. They soon encountered their first obstacle – the Coast Mountain Range. Following old trails that had been used by First Nations people for centuries, they found a route through the mountains, now known as the Chilkoot Trail. The prospectors had to haul a mandatory one ton of supplies over the pass, requiring multiple trips on a treacherous mountain trail.

Today, hikers can retrace the rugged and beautiful 53 km (33 mi.) trail from Dyea, near Skagway, to the shore of Lake Bennett. The route is lined with alpine lakes and century-old gold rush artifacts. Co-managed by Parks Canada and the U.S. National Parks Service, the Chilkoot Trail is Canada’s largest National Historic Site. Most people take three to five days to complete the journey.

Trip Itinerary

01 Day

Dyea to Canyon City

The trail starts at the historic townsite of Dyea, just a short drive (16km/10mi.) from Skagway. Although there isn’t much remaining today, during the gold rush this town had a population of 10,000.

You’ll start your Chilkoot adventure with a reasonably easy hike. The trail follows the Taiya River through the temperate coastal rainforest with minimal elevation gain. After passing by the first campsite on the trail at Finnegan’s Point, continue on to Canyon City where you can explore gold rush remnants including a large boiler. Canyon City sprang to life in 1897 and had a frantic existence until 1898. A tramway system over the Chilkoot was established to help goldseekers get their “ton of goods” over the Pass (for a hefty fee of course). There were also two powerhouses and an array of businesses to cater to the tide of stampeders.

02 Day

Canyon City to Sheep Camp

As you leave Canyon City, the trail starts to climb steadily upwards, although elevation gains are modest. You’ll pass through the next campsite, Pleasant Camp and continue on to Sheep Camp. As the last campsite before the infamous Golden Stairs, Sheep Mountain is a popular stop. The US National Park Service has a backcountry ranger station here, and park rangers offer nightly presentations. They’ll provide you with updates on current trail conditions, tips for hiking the trail and history of the area. This evening, enjoy another campfire dinner, chat with fellow hikers and get an early night in preparation for a big day tomorrow.

03 Day

Sheep Camp to Happy Camp

Today is summit day, the most challenging day on the trail. From Sheep Camp, you’ll gradually climb above the tree line and follow a stream up to the Scales. It was here that the stampeders had their supplies weighed before they were permitted to go any further. As the gold rush got underway, Canadian authorities quickly realized that they were going to have a major problem if tens of thousands of people turned up in the wilderness with no supplies. They instituted mandatory supply requirements which were strictly enforced.

In all, approximately one ton of goods (enough for a year) were required. As you explore the assortment of rusted old relics here, be thankful that you don’t have to carry one ton of gear. From here, it’s a steep climb up the Golden Stairs to the Canadian border. At the top you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views and an epic we-made-it moment! Continue through the gorgeous alpine terrain to Happy Camp.

04 Day

Happy Camp to Bare Loon Lake

With the most strenuous part of the trail behind you, it’s on to Bare Loon Lake. This stretch of trail meanders past mountain streams and scenic lakes. After Deep Lake, you’ll leave the alpine and enter the boreal forest as you continue on to Lindeman City. During the gold rush, a huge tent city grew up here as stampeders set up camp on the shores of Lake Lindeman during the winter of 1897-98. After lugging their supplies over the pass they stopped here to wait out the winter and build boats that would carry them down the Yukon River to the Klondike.

Parks Canada has an exhibit here which will give you a sense of what life was like during this extraordinary era in history. After exploring the area, continue on to the scenic campground at Bare Loon Lake for your final night on the trail.

05 Day

Bare Loon Lake to Skagway

An easy hike this morning takes you through an impressive landscape with phenomenal views to Lake Bennett. At the same time the tent city at Lake Lindeman was forming, another one was springing up at Lake Bennett. This one was the largest in the world with over 20,000 people. Most of them left within two weeks of the ice breaking on the lake in late May, 1898. In the eighteen hours following the breakup alone, more than 7,000 watercrafts of all shapes and sizes left the camp.

The area still shows the effects of all those people a century later. As you wander around the old church, which still stands as a lonely sentinel over the lake, it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like back then. From the historic station, you’ll take the White Pass and Yukon Route railway back to Skagway. The train travels via White Pass giving you a chance to see the other route stampeders used to get to Bennett Lake.

Additional Option: Check out the Paddling the Yukon River itinerary if you’re interested in retracing the entire journey of the stampeders from Skagway to Dawson City.

Paddle through history

For a truly classic Yukon journey, join a canoe or kayak trip on the Yukon River. You’ll spend the long, relaxed days of summer paddling, camping in tents and eating by the campfire under the midnight sun. Combine all that with wildlife viewing, beautiful mountain vistas and gold rush history, and you have a wilderness experience you won’t soon forget.

Trip Itinerary

01 Day

Whitehorse to Lake Laberge

The excitement will be palpable this morning as you meet your guide and fellow travellers. After gear inspections and provisioning, this epic adventure starts right from downtown Whitehorse. Paddle past eagle nests, cliff swallows, shore birds, and ducks. And be sure to keep your camera ready in case larger wildlife, like a bear or moose, appears on shore.

It’s hard to escape the fact that you’re paddling through history. From prehistoric times until the late 1950s when all-weather roads arrived, the Yukon River was the region’s highway for settlement and development. At its peak during the Klondike gold rush, nearly 30,000 gold seekers in 7,000 boats travelled the river on their way to the goldfields in Dawson City.

The first night of your trip will be spent at Lake Laberge, made famous by the poet Robert Service in "The Cremation of Sam McGee". Camping on the lake shore under the Yukon’s glorious midnight sun, you’ll get to make new friends around the campfire, perhaps catch fresh fish for supper or take a short hike.

02 Day

Lake Laberge to Carmacks

Leaving Lake Laberge, you’ll spend the next seven days paddling north to the community of Carmacks.

As you travel along the shoreline of Lake Laberge, there are plenty of excellent day hiking opportunities before reaching the section of river known as the Thirty Mile. A little further on is Hootalinqua, from the Northern Tutchone word meaning “running against the mountain”. It was a popular gathering site for trade and visiting between the Tlingit, Southern Tutchone and Northern Tutchone people. When gold was discovered in the region, it became a supply point for the miners. A Northwest Mounted Police post was also built here. The roadhouse and telegraph office are still standing along with the remnants of other buildings.

Nearby Hootalinqua Island is the final resting place of the steamship “Evelyn”. This stretch of the river is also a great location for fishing for Arctic grayling or northern pike.

At the confluence with the Big Salmon River, you’ll pass by the abandoned First Nations village of Big Salmon before reaching the derelict Cyr’s gold dredge. A product of true Yukon ingenuity, it was made from a stripped-down caterpillar tractor, a car motor and various other homemade parts.

Carmacks marks the halfway point on the journey where you can resupply before leaving for Dawson City.

09 Day

Carmacks to Dawson City

Back onto the river for the second half of your journey. Over the next nine days, the mighty Yukon will carry you on to Dawson City.

Just out of Carmacks, Five Finger Rapids is one of two rapids on the route (Rink Rapids is the other). It’s a stretch of water that presented real danger to river boats. But by now, you’re an experienced paddler and your guide will navigate your way safely through this area.

Spend some time in Ft. Selkirk exploring the old school house, homes and churches. Some say you can feel the presence of settlers in some of the buildings—sightings of spirits are a common conversation here.

Sadly, like all great expeditions, yours must come to an end. Before the final leg into Dawson City, spend your last night enjoying the endless twilight and sharing tales of an unforgettable journey.

18 Day

Dawson City

Spend the day exploring this gold rush town. After following in the footsteps of gold seekers on the river, this is the culmination of the journey. It’s where thousands arrived with dreams of gold. The town still evokes the heartbeat of gold rush times and you can feel the ghosts of those long gone adventurers as you stroll along the wooden boardwalks.

Note: There are three basic itinerary options:

Whitehorse to Dawson City: approximately 17 days

Whitehorse to Carmacks: approximately 8 days

Carmacks to Dawson City: approximately 9 days


Whitehorse to start of Lake Laberge: 35km/22mi.

Whitehorse to end of Lake Laberge: 85km/53mi.

Whitehorse to Carmacks: 320km/200mi.

Carmacks to Dawson City: 415km/260 mi.

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