footsteps of the stampeders
Overview: The Chilkoot Trail is one of two main routes to the Klondike that originate in this area. Long before the gold rush, the trail was established by Tlingit people as a trade route into the interior of Canada. Fish, seal oil and seaweed were traded with the First Nations peoples for moose and caribou hides, plant materials and other goods unavailable on the coast.
The most challenging way to follow in the footsteps of the stampeders and natives is by hiking the 33-mile-long Chilkoot Trail, accessible only on foot. It is a difficult hike and usually takes three to five days. The trail begins at the Taiya River bridge near the Dyea townsite and travels over the Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett.
Camping There are a total of nine designated and maintained campgrounds on the Chilkoot Trail:
Warning: While in the summer there are full-time rangers and wardens on both the U.S. and Canadian sides, the Chilkoot Trail is still by no means without its risks.
Bears Bears are the primary concern in the park. It is very common for hikers to encounter them. Firearms are not permitted. Almost all parties take bear spray and/or bear bangers as repellents (bear bells are now considered an attractant), but more importantly both sides of the park mandate smart bear practices. It is required to safely stow your food in a bear-safe location whether that be provided lockers or bear poles as to prevents bears from associating humans with food and thus creating "problem bears." There are constant notices and reminders of how to react if one sees or encounters a bear. Because of the well-coordinated bear education campaign by park officials, bears remain just a potential for problems and have yet to actually become a problem.
Weather and terrain Weather and terrain also pose challenges to hikers. While there are very few risks in the forest regions of the trail, once hikers start hiking in the alpine problems become prevalent. Snow bridges in the Taiya River valley before the pass don't really have potential to create serious injuries or situations but are a hazard hikers should look out for to prevent unnecessary bruises and wet gear. A larger problem is lack of preparation, poor weather, or a combination of both of the above. These factors often result in groups not making the jump from Sheep Camp to Happy Camp. Often the ranger from Sheep Camp sweeps late in the day up to the pass to check for straggling groups and suggests that those who don't look like they'll be able to make it to Happy Camp stay in the warming shelter at the summit for the night instead of risking it on the barren alpine between the summit and Happy Camp.
Another danger in the winter or spring is that of avalanches. While those hikers in the mainstream season don't need worry about this, early-season hikers are often briefed of potential chutes and suggestions of navigating them.
Parks Canada and United States National Parks Service staff patrol the trail from early June, when the route over Chilkoot Pass is first marked, until early September. USNPS Rangers are stationed at Sheep Camp and Parks Canada Wardens are stationed at Lindeman City and Chilkoot Pass.
Early June: Winter like conditions persist. Travel may be very difficult. Avalanche hazard. During this time you will want to cross Chilkoot Pass early in the day to reduce your exposure in avalanche terrain. There will be few other hikers on the trail. Check with Trail Center for seasonal conditions.
Mid-June - early July: Early season backpacking, significant amounts of snow, variable travel conditions. Avalanche hazard persists until mid-July. During this time you will want to cross Chilkoot Pass early in the day to reduce your exposure in avalanche terrain.
Mid-July - mid-August: Peak Season. Trail is generally snow free though some snow patches persist. Travel conditions are highly variable and dependant on weather. Peak visitor use occurs during this period.
Mid-August - late September: Fall Backpacking. Trail is generally snow free though some snow patches still persist. Weather is wetter; daylight hours are shorter, nights are colder (often below freezing). The route over Chilkoot Pass is not marked after patrol staff leave the trail in early September.
Weather Mountain weather is known unpredictable. It can quickly change from one location to another. Regardless of the season, hikers can expect wet, cold, windy and/or whiteout conditions; severe rain or snow storms are possible even in the middle of summer. Avalanche hazard persists until mid-July . If hiking in the early season you should be properly equipped with shovels, avalanche transceivers and probes, so as to be able to find and rescue a member(s) of your party if they get caught in an avalanche.
Most weather systems blow in from the coast. As moist ocean air rises to go over Chilkoot Pass, it cools and loses its ability to hold moisture, producing precipitation. As a result the US side of the trail tends to be rainy and/or overcast. The section of the trail between Sheep Camp and Deep Lake is above tree line and frequently experiences severe weather conditions - driving rain, sleet, hail or snow, low temperatures, high winds and fog - as weather systems move through the area. As cool air descends from the alpine tundra to the shores of Lindeman Lake, it becomes warmer and its ability to hold moisture increases, creating a "rain shadow". Weather in the low lying areas at the north end of the trail tends to be drier, a pleasant contrast to conditions which prevail on the rest of the trail.
Difficulty level The Chilkoot Trail is isolated, strenuous, physically challenging and potentially hazardous.
The Chilkoot Trail is located in an area home to both black and grizzly bears. Remember that national parks are not a zoo and the animals are not tame. Do not approach any wildlife. View them from the safety of your vehicle. If an animal reacts to your presence, you are too close. Keep your distance and stay safe and you will see more of an animal's natural behavior and activity.
Careless food storage or feeding spells death for bears. Allowing a bear to obtain human food, even once, often results in aggressive behavior. The bear is then a threat to human safety and must be removed or killed. Do not allow bears or other wildlife to obtain human food. Be alert for tracks, do not approach carcasses, and avoid surprising bears in any location or situation.
During the day when on the trail, always keep your backpacks within arms reach. Once at campgrounds, securely stow all food and other attractants. Bear poles or food-storage caches are provided at each campground. You need to bring your own rope (9 m / 30') for use with bear poles. Cook and eat only at designated eating areas (shelters or picnic tables) not at tentsites.
If precautions fail and you are charged, bear pepper spray is a good last defense. (Personal self-defense pepper spray is not effective.) Become familiar with bear pepper spray, read instructions, know its limitations. It must be instantly available, not in your pack. Remember, carrying this spray is not a substitute for vigilance and good safety precautions.
If you are injured by a bear (regardless of how minor), or if you observe a bear or bear tracks, report it to a park ranger as soon as possible. Someone's safety may depend on it.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.