Follow the stampeders' trail on the infamous Chilkoot Trail. The trail wanders through a diverse landscape - from wet coastal rainforest, up to the rocky alpine and then to dry, lichen covered forests. There are campsites along the trail and facilities are provided at every site. Note registration is required with Parks Canada (Yukon) or the National Park Service (Alaska).
If you plan on camping along the trail, you must book ahead of time. Check the Parks Canada
website for details.
The trail begins through coastal rainforest. It starts with a steep climb and 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.
As you leave 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 carefully scrambling on the boulders up to the border.
At the border you will be rewarded with an amazing view overlooking Crater Lake (if the weather is good). 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 subalpine 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 ito a more dry, mostly pine 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, or hire a floatplane to take you to Whitehorse.
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.
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 obviously 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.