About the hike
The Chilkoot is best suited to experienced backpackers. 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 challenging and the weather often extreme. 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.
The Chilkoot Trail is 53 km (33 miles) from Dyea, AK to Bennett City, BC with an elevation gain of over 1000 meters (3500 feet). Over 750 meters (2500 feet) are gained in the 5.7 km (3.5 mile) section between Sheep Camp and the top of Chilkoot Pass.
“Crossing the Pass” can be a very demanding day. It often takes 12 hours to travel from Sheep Camp up and over Chilkoot Pass to Happy Camp, a distance of only 12.1 km (7.5 miles). The Golden Stairs (the final push towards the top of the pass) is a route and not a trail. While the route is marked, low visibility due to weather conditions often make the markers hard to follow.
Most find that it takes as long to hike from Chilkoot Pass to Happy Camp as the climb from Sheep Camp to the pass. Plan your day accordingly, and take the time needed to rest.
Descending the talus slope on the Canadian side of the pass requires slow travel and deliberate steps and can be very hard on the knees. Hiking poles are helpful. Beyond the pass the trail travels through avalanche terrain that can be active into mid-July. Snowfields between the Scales and Happy Camp also persist throughout the summer months. Be prepared to camp on snow at Happy Camp until late June/early July.
During the 2020 hiking season Parks Canada and U.S. National Park Service staff patrol the trail from June 1 to September 13. 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, you are responsible for your own safety and may be expected to pay for rescue/medical costs. You should have international travel insurance that covers these types of expenses.
Extensive snow travel is required and travel conditions may be very difficult. Winter travel equipment and winter travel experience is recommended. Snow camping is likely. There will be few other hikers on the trail and the days are wonderfully long. 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 to early July
Early season backpacking
Expect significant amounts of snow especially at higher elevations. As the season progresses, the snowfields become "punchy" and 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 to early August
The trail/route 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 to mid-September
The trail/route is generally snow free though a few snow patches may still persist. Weather is wetter; daylight hours are shorter and nights are colder (often below freezing). The colours are turning.
There are fewer hikers on the trail at this time of year.
Mid-September into October
There is no regular patrol presence on the trail and the trail/route is not marked. Up-to-date information on trail conditions is no longer reliably available. Fall weather is wet; daylight hours are short and nights are cold (below freezing). As the season progresses fresh snow becomes increasingly likely. Fall hikers need to be self sufficient and accept a high level of responsibility for their own safety. Winter travel experience, route finding, avalanche hazard evaluation and self rescue skills are required.
There are no fees in the off-season, however hikers must contact the U.S. National Park Service in Skagway (907-983-9200) or Parks Canada in Whitehorse (1-800-661-0486) prior to their trip. Border crossing procedures apply.