About the hike
A safe and enjoyable trip on the Chilkoot requires careful planning. You must be well equipped, self sufficient and in good physical condition as the terrain is rough and the weather often extreme. Plan your trip with the least experienced member of your group in mind.
Who should hike the Chilkoot
The Chilkoot should only be attempted by persons who are physically fit and experienced in hiking and backpacking. It should not be attempted by novice hikers. Individuals who have previously injured their ankles, knees or back, or who have chronic pain frequently experience flare-ups while hiking the Chilkoot. To avoid unnecessary problems test your strength and endurance on shorter, less demanding overnight trips prior to hiking the Chilkoot. Hiking with a partner or small group is preferable.
This hike is not recommended for young children. Children tend to speed ahead of their parents and frequently end up coping with hazards on their own. Parents should be particularly observant and watch for the onset of hypothermia in their children as well as in themselves. Practise good leadership and teach your family the importance of low impact camping.
A “custodial group” is a group affiliated with an institution, where at least one person is a minor and not in the company of his/her parent. Parks Canada has developed specific Guidelines for Custodial Groups hiking the Chilkoot Trail.
The Chilkoot Trail traverses rocky, very steep and sometimes snow covered terrain. The trail can be rough with deep mud, standing water, unstable boulders, slick rocks and roots making footing difficult. The portion of the hike from the Scales over Chilkoot Pass is a route not a trail. While the route is marked, extreme weather conditions can complicate route finding.
“Crossing the Pass” is the most demanding day. It often takes 12 hours to travel from Sheep Camp to Happy Camp, a distance of only 12.1 km (7.5 miles). Some hikers are challenged by vertigo or by balancing on unstable slippery snow and rocks, as they carry a heavy pack up to and down from the Pass. Snowfields between the Scales and Happy Camp persist throughout the summer months. Be prepared to camp on snow at Happy Camp until late June/early July.
Mountain weather is highly unpredictable. It can change quickly and/or vary greatly 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. Most weather systems blow in from the coast. 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.
Parks Canada and United States National Park Service staff patrol the trail from early June, when the route over Chilkoot Pass is first marked, until early September. NPS Rangers are stationed at Sheep Camp and Parks Canada patrol staff are stationed at Lindeman City and Chilkoot Pass. This however does not guarantee that someone will be at these locations at all times should you require assistance. Regardless of the season, visitors are responsible for their own safety and may be expected to pay for rescue/medical costs which can run in excess of $2000.00. Ensure that your health insurance covers these types of expenses.
Winter like conditions persist. Travel may be very difficult. Winter travel equipment and experience is recommended. Snow camping is likely. There will be few other hikers on the trail. Check with the Trail Center for seasonal conditions.
Avalanche hazard. During this time you will want to cross Chilkoot Pass early in the day to reduce your exposure in avalanche terrain.
Mid-June - early July
Early season backpacking: significant amounts of snow. As the season progresses, snowfields develop snow/ice bridges over streams and between rocks which can collapse without warning. Travel conditions are highly variable and dependant on weather and time of day.
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
Trail is generally snow free though some snow patches persist. Travel conditions are highly variable and dependant on weather. Severe rain or snow storms are possible even in the middle of summer.
Peak visitor use occurs during this period. Campgrounds can be crowded. Reservations are strongly recommended.
Mid-August - early September
Trail is generally snow free though some snow patches still persist. Weather is wetter; daylight hours are shorter and nights are colder (often below freezing). There will be fewer hikers on the trail.
The route over Chilkoot Pass is not marked after patrol staff leave the trail in early September.
Early September - October
Outside of the summer hiking season, there is no regular patrol presence on the trail. The trail/route is not marked. Up-to-date information on trail conditions is no longer available. Weather is wet; daylight hours are short and nights are cold (often below freezing).
Fall hikers need to be self sufficient and accept a high level of responsibility for their own safety. Extensive winter travel, route finding, avalanche hazard evaluation and self rescue skills required.