Photo Credit: National Park Service, Alaska Region

It was the most popular and direct route pioneers of the Klondike Gold Rush could take to reach the headwaters of the Yukon River. But it was also the hardest, and known to travelers as the “meanest 33 miles of history.” Not only was it steep and unyielding, but in the winter the Yukon can reach sub-arctic conditions. All the same, over 30,000 men, women and children made this daunting voyage, burdened with all of the supplies they needed and fueled only by the will to survive and the dreams of striking it big in the Yukon Territory. The image of so many making such an epic journey is inspiring. Today, the Canadian Gold Rush Trail (aka the Chilkoot Trail) is alive and well – though, not nearly as popular or well known. Hikers and adventurers can brave the 33-mile journey through North American ruins, over Chilkoot pass, across national borders, and into the heart of one of Canada’s most spectacular regions to explore what life was like on the final frontier.

Photo Credit: Ed Uthman

The Route

The Trail starts in Dyea, Alaska and bridges the Canadian-American border at the summit of Chilkoot pass. Only 50 backpackers are allowed to begin the hike each day, and pre-reservations and permits must be obtained (costing about $55 USD). In return for the fees, the park has established top-notch campsites along the length of the trail, ranger/warden stations, maintenance crews, and signs noting the historic landmarks that litter the Chilkoot Trail.

Both Skagway and Dyea were once bustling tent cities full of hopeful prospectors lured to the area by sensationalist newspaper headlines. But because so many died in the harsh winter conditions, the country declared that new hopefuls could only enter Canada if they had at least 1 ton of gear! Once the Gold Rush was over, the trail was almost altogether abandoned and forgotten until 1976 when Klondike Gold Rush National Park was established, making it an intriguing destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

This map offers an idea of just many stopping points there are along the route. Hikers can also venture off trail fro day hikes through the gorgeous surrounding mountains . But be wary, bears are listed as the primary safety concern so keep your food stored correctly and take all the proper precautions.

Photo Contest: Joseph

Finnegan’s Point

The first campsite available to backpackers is Finnigan’s Point. This part of the trail is still in Alaska, and is relatively flat without any substantial obstacles. It is easy to get around, and doesn’t require a great deal of energy. Enjoy the mild terrain while it lasts…

Photo Credit: Joseph

Canyon City Ruins

A common stopping point on the first night for those moving at a slower pace or getting a late start, Canyon City is a very interesting area to explore. Giant rustic stoves, parts of tramways designed to haul prospector gear, and the decaying foundations of century-old buildings are scattered amongst the trees and camp sites here.

Sheep Camp

The last campground on the American side of the trail, it is also the largest of the campsites on this side of the border. It serves as a last resting point before backpackers begin making the daunting hike up the “Golden Stairs.”

Photo Credit: Joseph

Chikoot Pass

You will probably need to take a breather at the top of this mountain pass, 3,501 feet above sea level, but you'll be rewarded for your efforts with an amazing view of both Canada and Alaska, along with a quaint warming cabin that's a part-time Warden’s station.

Photo Credit: Joseph

Happy Camp

Welcome to Canada! And what a better place to kick off those boots and crash for the night than a placed named for the warm feeling it inspires? Happy Camp is in the high alpine zone of the trail, so if you plan on staying the night, make sure you have some warm weather gear and enjoy the roaring fire.

Photo Credit: Joseph

Deep Lake and Long Lake

The Trail decends into the Boreal Forest and passes a couple alpine lakes before reaching timberline. There is a campsite across Deep Lake if you feel compelled to stop for a day or two and get some fishing in.

Photo Credit: Christine

Lake Lindeman Campground

The trail will take you along the river, where many boat and water-related artifacts remain from the days of the gold rush, before depositing you at the emerald-turquoise colored Lake Lindeman. Here there is a campground that acts as the headquarters for all Canadian trail operations.

Photo Credit: Joseph

Bare Loon Lake

The trail passes by Bare Loon Lake and campground, the last stop before the finale of the Chilkoot Trail. After this the trail diverges: one route takes you to Bennett (the most popular destination) and the other tracks the old White Pass and Yukon Railroad route. When the roads diverged, did you take the path less traveled?