One of the most interesting hiking trails in the world, the historic Chilkoot Trail is a challenging 53 kilometer (33 mile) long hike up 3,500 feet. The Chilkoot high mountain pass is located in the Coast Mountain range between Dyea, Alaska and Lake Bennett, British Columbia.
Originally this trail was used by the Tlingit natives for trade. On August 16, 1896 a gold nugget was discovered in Bonanza Creek and the Klondike gold rush was on. To get to the gold over 100,000 prospectors sailed to Skagway, Alaska and hiked loaded up one of two routes. The White Pass trail (nicknamed dead horse trail) is today a railway line.
In hiking up the Chilkoot Trail, the prospectors were required to carry sufficient supplies to support themselves for a year, generally 900 kg of food and equipment. At the top of the Chilkoot Pass the North West Mounted Police (forerunners of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) checked to ensure they had the required amount. It could take the prospectors over three months to move the supplies from cache to cache.
The goods carried included 350 pounds of flour, 150 lbs. of bacon and 100 lbs. each of beans and sugar, sleds, stoves, medicine, picks, shovels, etc. It was said that if you stepped out of line along the trail, it could take as long as half a day before someone would let you back in line. Along the sides of the trail, even today, are littered rusting equipment the prospectors left out of exhaustion. Of the 4,000 who actually discovered gold, only a few hundred ultimately emerged rich.
However today it is a rewarding experience for many hikers. You can plan the hike yourself and obtain the required hiking permits. There are also tour companies you can get the permits and handle the logistics.
The Chilkoot trail can be hiked in either direction, but almost every one chooses the west to east option, and for a good reason. Leaving from Skagway puts the steepest part of the trail, the Golden Stairs, on the uphill side. This is the quarter mile section where you climb over 1000 vertical feet. The weather on the Chilkoot can be seriously bad, by starting at the coast and working inland, most of the wind and rain rolling in off the Pacific will be at your back.
The character of the Chilkoot Trail changes along the way, first it climbs steeply from sea level at Skagway to the summit, and then descends only slightly over to 2,000 feet at Bennett Lake. Check out the Parks Canada website for more information on this area.
On the return you may continue your visit of Whitehorse and the Yukon or take the restored White Pass & Yukon narrow gauge railway down to Skagway. This railway was completed in 1901 and today is used mainly by cruise passengers for day trips. In fact it is the busiest tourist railroad in the world today.
Are you up for this challenging hike? Get packed and join the people hike the Chilkoot Trail for the history and the natural beauty.