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Hiking the Chilkoot Trail: A Travel Guide

Photos and narration by Murray Lundberg

Chilkoot Trail Links

Trip Chronology

(from start of day's hike to camp, including breaks and side trips)


Day 1 - 8.7 hours, 12.6 miles
    Trailhead to Sheep Camp
Day 2 - 13 hours, 13.4 miles
    Sheep Camp to Lindeman
Day 3 - 4.7 hours, 9.5 miles
    Lindeman to Log Cabin

Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it

    From July 19-21, 2009, my son and I hiked the world-famous Chilkoot Trail which starts at Dyea, Alaska. This was my second crossing, Steve's first (you can see the lengthy article about my mid-May, off-season hike in 1998 here). Although we had rather poor weather this year, it was typical weather for the trail, the trail was in very good condition and it was an extremely fine adventure regardless.

    I had several prompts to make the hike again. First, I've been saying for the last 2 years that I had to either hike the Chilkoot again or paddle from Whitehorse to Dawson City again - I'm 59 this Fall and who knows how many more years I'll be able to do either. Steve is about to leave the Yukon to start his training with the RCMP, so when a friend in Carcross asked if I wanted to join his group of 3, I immediately said yes. As it turned out, Steve and I started the trail a day after they did but we camped with them both nights on the trail.

We decided to take 2 vehicles, dropping one off at Log Cabin, the end of the trail. That would save a great deal of fuss getting back to our vehicle at the trailhead. We were on the road before 6:00am, under mostly-clear skies. This photo of Montana Mountain was shot at 6:12 am. It clouded over as we reached the White Pass, a common situation - the Coastal Mountains do a very good job of blocking moisture and keeping the Yukon skies clear.

We dropped the Tracker at Log Cabin, had a good breakfast at the Sweet Tooth Cafe, and were at the NPS office when they opened at 8:00 (9:00 Yukon time) to pick up our permits.

My last 3 encounters with rangers in Alaska and the Yukon have been negative to the point that I said I'd never hike in a park again, but the Skagway ranger was excellent. She told us what we needed to know without assuming that we were totally ignorant about hiking.

We drove to Dyea, parked at the campground, and were on the trail at 10:03am Yukon time. For consistency, I'll use Yukon times throughout this article - this was 9:03am Alaska time. Many people had picked up their permits yesterday and were already on the trail this morning.

The first 1/3rd of a mile is very steep, perhaps an intentional routing to discourage those who shouldn't be here.

The trail then drops down "Saintly Hill" to the valley bottom. Here Steve is crossing the Taiya River on a 93-foot-long steel bridge at Mile 1.5, at 10:43am. The river level is very high.

At 11:02am we reached a spot where trail crews are battling high water to keep hikers' feet dry. When I hiked the trail in 1997 no crews were out yet and I had to wade through knee-deep water for a considerable distance.

The boardwalk that carries the trail across this beaver-created pond (one of many in this area) is quite impressive. This photo was taken at 11:07am.

The Irene Glacier. In this area, the Ferebee, Chilkat and Irene Glaciers are the only glaciers that have been named - several large ones remain nameless. Like most glaciers in Alaska, the Irene is retreating.

Mile 4.8 - Finnegan's Point:

We reached the first campground at 12:17pm. In 1897 Pat Finnegan and his two sons established a ferry service. They later built a corduroy road through the boggy areas approaching the Point and operated it as a toll road. Today the campground has tent spaces, a warming shelter with a cookstove and a pit toilet.



Mile 7.5 - Canyon City:

We reached the second campground at 2:00pm and stopped for a short lunch break. Although we seldom met any other hikers on the trail itself, there were people at most of the campgrounds. We were hiking at about the same speed as a group of about a dozen hikers from the Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand so leap-frogged them a few times.

The side-trip to the Canyon City townsite is taken by most hikers. We crossed the suspension bridge at 2:07pm.

It's about half a mile to the boiler, which we reached at 2:25pm. The largest of the artifacts at Canyon City, it was used to power one of the aerial tramways that allowed well-financed stampeders to have their ton of goods sent across the Chilkoot Pass the easy way.

Although few hikers explore beyond the boiler there are things to see, such as these cabin ruins that we reached at 2:27pm.

This pin, one of many we saw at Canyon City and other locations, marks an artifact site. This photo was shot at 2:37pm.

Back on the main trail at 2:57pm, starting a steep climb to get around the canyon that the Taiya River flows through for a few miles. During the Gold Rush the trail went up the frozen river through the canyon, with ladders and stairs installed to get up some of the waterfalls and rapids.

There is a lot of Devil's Club in the valley, and it's a plant that you really don't want to brush up against. This photo was taken at 3:28pm.


At 3:46pm we finally got to a spot that had a long view down the valley - up to this point all you see is the forest except for the brief look at the Irene Glacier. It's a particularly beautiful forest, but it's great to have the larger perspective as well.

There are a few artifacts left from the telephone line that went up the trail during the Gold Rush. We reached this fairly complete pole at 3:47pm.

Some of the Kiwi hikers, seen crossing the 30-foot-long bridge at Mile 9.6 at 4:24pm.

Mile 10.6 - Pleasant Camp:

We reached the 3rd campground at 4:49pm. This is a very small campground, as its location makes it very difficult to get over the summit to Happy Camp in one day. The vast majority of people continue on to Sheep Camp, another 1.2 miles.

At 5:23pm we crossed the longest of the cable suspension bridges, 83 feet long.

Every hiker with a camera seems to have taken advantage of the photo op offered by the bridge seen above. Here Murray is crossing the bridge.

As we neared Sheep Camp the mountains quickly got very close and very impressive. At this point you're nearing the north end of a continuous belt of granite that starts on the north side of the Fraser Valley at Vancouver, British Columbia. This waterfall was seen at at 6:19.

Mile 11.8 - Sheep Camp:

The end of Day 1 hiking - setting up camp at 7:00pm. I should have taken a photo after we were finished - this makes it look like our campsite was a mess and it wasn't. Given the normal weather conditions (wet) and the ground (rocky, uneven and/or wet), the raised wooden tent platforms are a very welcome feature of these campgrounds.

This photo was taken during the ranger's presentation at 8:08pm. He did a very good job of explaining the history, some of the natural features, and the conditions to be expected ahead. Passing around historic photos gave everyone a much better idea of what occurred here.

The cabin at 8:10pm - it was as cozy inside as it looks from this angle.

One of the bear-safety features is this set of steel lockers for campers to keep their food, fuel and other attractants in. This was shot at 9:48pm.

Day 2 - Sheep Camp to Lindeman Lake

We were, of course, hoping for good weather but this was the view from my pillow at 5:24am. The ranger said last night that everyone should be on the trail by 6:00am (7:00 Yukon time) to avoid soft snow and most people were.

The Sheep Camp outhouses, at 6:11am.

Leaving Sheep Camp at 6:56am.




first snow 7:52am








The view from the top of the Golden Staircase, at 10:32am.


Mile 16.5 - Chilkoot Pass Summit:


Past the Summit, the trail (which can be seen on the left side of this panoramic photo) is on angled snow, which can be tough on knees and ankles. 12:22pm.



Steve and I on the shore of Crater Lake (map) at 12:35pm.




At 1:33pm we had almost reached the point where the trail leaves Crater Lake - it roughly follows the shore for about a mile and a half as the raven flies.







Happy Camp:

We reached Happy Camp at 2:58pm. The name is sarcastic, due to the severe weather that's common here - a sign in the cabin is more honest: "Happy Camp - where happiness goes to die!". It would be a great deal better than camping at the summit, though!

This was the view from our dry position on the porch of the Happy Camp warming hut at 3:34pm. After a fair bit of discussion we decided that continuing on in the light rain to Lindeman, or at least Deep Lake, was our best option given the weather that appeared likely and the exposed positions of the tent platforms here.



Steve is reading an interpretive sign above Long Lake at 4:15pm. It describes the transport along the lakes that was available during the Gold Rush - with a ton of goods to move, sailing or sledding would have been a very welcome option for well-financed stampeders.


You can see a 1:50,000 topographical map of the area from here north here.


Approaching Deep Lake campground at 5:26pm. Looking back up the trail, we could see that the weather at Happy Camp was very nasty.


Deep Lake:

We stopped for dinner and thought briefly about camping here for the night but decided to continue on to Lindeman, partly because Denis, Ron and Maureen had kept going and partly because it looked like the nasty weather was going to reach this far. This was shot at 5:40pm.

The trail along Deep Lake at 6:29pm.

One of the cooler artifacts along the trail, the steel frame of a small boat, is at the north end of Deep Lake. This was shot at 6:40pm.

"The Gorge" at 6:45pm. The trail has a nice gradual descent from Deep Lake to Lindeman Lake - the elevation of Deep Lake is 2,813 feet, Lindeman is 2,181 feet.



Lindeman Lake:

Lindeman Lake at 8:08pm. This had been a very long day and everyone was in their tents soon after dinner was finished.

Day 3 - Lindeman Lake to Log Cabin

The Lindeman City viewpoint at 8:22am. The sign says: "Thousands of tents crowded the frozen shore. The surrounding forest almost disappeared as stampeders rushed to build boats in the time for spring breakup. Boating from Lindeman was a gamble, however. In the mile-long rapids between Lakes Lindeman and Bennett, boats, gear and even lives were lost."

One of the classic views on the Chilkoot Trail - the first view of Lake Bennett, at 9:00am. Once Lake Bennett was reached, the worst of the journey to Dawson City was over for most of the stampeders (though there were many accidents and deaths on Bennett and beyond at places such as Windy Arm, Miles Canyon and Five Finger Rapids). The furthest mountain in this view is in the Yukon Territory. An image of this view from my 1998 hike was one of the first stock photos I sold after moving north.



Bare Loon Lake:

We reached this particularly scenic campground at 9:35am.

The outhouse at Bare Loon Lake at 9:39am. It's on rails so that the house can be slid off the barrel that holds the "deposits" - a helicopter then hauls it away on a regular basis. Much of the trail use fee apparently goes to the helicopter contractor.

Cutoff Trail: Note that the trail described below no longer exists - it was blocked in 2010 and then all boardwalks and bridges removed. Walking along the tracks back to Fraser, or to Carcross as I did on my first Chilkoot hike, is no longer an option.

At 9:45am we reached the Cutoff Trail, a shortcut back to the highway at Log Cabin. While I would have liked to go to Bennett so Steve could see it, it would have added a day to our hike and neither of us could justify that. It was hikers who originally created this route, and Parks Canada upgraded it some 20 years ago because so many people were using it.





We reached the WP&YR tracks at 10:20am. This sign has been posted for many years, but the railway employess don't care whether you hike along the tracks or not.

As we started up the tracks, we met Dan Grec, who was well into a 22-month trip during which he planned to driving 65,000kms on the Pan American Highway from the Arctic Ocean in Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego, the southern-most point of South America. You can see his photojournal at TheRoadChoseMe.com.

At 10:48am we reached the massive washout that closed the rail line for many weeks early this summer. To keep the employees based at Carcross working the railway trucked some passenger cars to Carcross and started a "Washout Special" service - a day-trip from Carcross to Bennett and back. It proved to be very popular with Yukoners in particular.



Beaver Lake, at 11:10am

At 11:54am a helicopter flew over with a couple of outhouse barrels - I wonder if "the poop pilot" ever admits to people what he does exactly.

At 12:46pm we reached the parking lot at Log Cabin.

Dan's nicely-decorated Jeep at the Dyea Campground at 1:52pm.