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Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site of Canada

Natural Environment

chilkoot pass crater lake
© Parks Canada / Diane Volkers

The Chilkoot Trail is one of only three glacier-free corridors through the Coast Mountains between Juneau and Yakutat. When you hike the Chilkoot, you will pass through spectacular and rugged terrain. The trail begins at tidewater and passes through the Pacific northwest coastal forest in Alaska. It climbs above treeline into the alpine tundra, reaching an elevation of 1074 metres (3,525 feet) at the pass. It then descends into the subalpine boreal forest of British Columbia around Lindeman and Bennett Lakes.

Climate

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 or overcast. The section of the trail above tree line 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 warmer and drier -- a pleasant contrast to conditions which prevail on the rest of the trail.

Pacific Northwest Coastal Forest

Pacific Northwest Coastal Forest
Coastal Forest
© National Park Service / Kari Rain

This forest extends from sea level to the 914 metre (3,000 foot) level in Alaska. Nearly all of the dense stands of alder, cottonwood, aspen, western hemlock and Sitka spruce of this forest are second-growth. Understory plants such as mosses, ferns, devils club and blueberries flourish in the mild marine climate. Black and grizzly bears are attracted to the Taiya River by the annual spawning runs of pink and chum salmon. Boreal toads, bald eagles, river otters and the American dipper also live in this mild coastal habitat.


Alpine Tundra

Alpine Tundra
Alpine Tundra
© Parks Canada / Christine Aikens

As you approach the 914 metre (3,000 foot) level near the summit of the Chilkoot Pass, the climate becomes sub-arctic and the vegetation changes dramatically. Large areas on the Canadian side of the trail are devoid of trees. Mosses, lichens, heaths, dwarf shrubs and low-growing willows survive on the thin alpine soil. You may see arctic ground squirrels, hoary marmots, pikas, the occasional mountain goat or ptarmigan.


Subalpine Boreal Forest

Subalpine Boreal Forest
Subalpine Boreal Forest
© Parks Canada / Christine Hedgecock

You will hike out of the alpine tundra into a subalpine boreal forest on the descent from Deep Lake into Lindeman City. This forest is drier than the coastal forest because of the "rain shadow" created by the Coastal Mountains. Its forests are less dense and consist mainly of subalpine fir, lodgepole pine, willow and alder. Moose, wolves, black and grizzly bears, porcupine, wolverine, ruffed grouse and white-throated sparrows can all be found here.