The Slim's River West trail takes two days to complete; one day in, and one day out. But if you are going through all the trouble of walking all the way to the toe of the Kaskawulsh Glacier, you might as well spend at least one more day exploring near it. You can hike to the toe of the glacier, or up Observation Mountain
to an expansive view overlooking the glacier. Or both! You will have to decide ahead of time how many days you are going to be camping, and then register with Park Canada. Overnight registration is mandatory in the park and so are bear-resistant food canisters, which you can rent from the park. For more information, visit the Parks Canada Kluane registration
page or the Parks Canada Visitor Center in Haines Junction.
Hiking up Observation Mountain
makes for a long day, but is worth the effort. Expect 8-10 hours for the 22 km day hike, and 840 m of elevation gain. To hike to the toe of the Kaskawulsh Glacier instead, expect about 3-4 hours, which allows for time to explore.
The trail passes through a gate and follows an old road which is wide and easy to follow. After 2 kms you will come to your first creek crossing, Sheep Creek. Try crossing towards your right (upstream), near the cliffs. You may even find a log across the creek and may not even need to take your boots off. Otherwise, prepare for the creek crossing.
Continue following the old road past the Bullion Plateau information plaque. A boardwalk will then lead you across a marshy area. Unfortunately, the boardwalk stops quite short of the end of the marsh, so you will get your boots wet regardless. The next landmark is Bullion Creek at about the 6 km mark. Bullion Creek is a little larger than Sheep Creek and can be crossed towards your right (upstream), where the remains of cemented logs posts can be seen on the other side of the creek. During really high water levels, sometimes you have to go downstream to where the creek is more braided to safely cross.
After Bullion Creek, the trail disappears for a few hundred meters, but if you stay roughly in the center of the open area, you should come across the trail eventually. 2.3 kms after Bullion Creek you will come across some sand dunes. Camping is prohibited before Bullion Creek and is not recommended at the sand dunes either (it is a special preservation area).
Your route for the next 7 kms will depend on how wet the ground is. If the mud flats are fairly dry, then this is the easiest route to take. Otherwise, you may have to take detours in the trees towards the mountainside, but this will add up to 2 extra hours. Try the mud flats, and if you start to sink, turn around and detour.
Around kilometer 16 of the trail you will come to an alluvial fan (a wide creek delta of rocks and boulders). Follow the cairns (piles of rocks used as markers) to pick your way across the fan. Afterwards, you will encounter more marshy areas which you will again have to decide if you can walk through them or if you have to detour up into the trees. The detours always take longer, so if the marshes are not too wet, try and walk through them.
After 20 kms you will leave the side of the river and follow a path into the trees. The path meanders up and down and will also climb steeply for a short while. The views will start to open up after a while and you can see the toe of the Kaskawulsh Glacier is getting much closer. It is 2.5 kms through the trees to the campsite.
At the campsite, there is a fire-pit with benches, an outhouse, and tenting areas. There is a nice clear stream near the campsite where you can get fresh water (not the little stream a couple meters from the fire-pit, but a little further down the path). This area is well known for the amount of grizzly bears around, so keep your food and smelly items in a Parks Canada approved, bear-resistant food canister away from tent (these are required by Parks in the backcountry), such as down by the fire-pit.