Canadian side of Chilkoot Trail to open this season, but don't expect the same experience: Parks Canada

·3 min read
Hikers leave Happy Camp on the Canadian side of the Chilkoot trail in B.C. in this file photo. (Philippe Morin/CBC - image credit)
Hikers leave Happy Camp on the Canadian side of the Chilkoot trail in B.C. in this file photo. (Philippe Morin/CBC - image credit)

The Canadian portion of the Chilkoot Trail will reopen this season, and starting April 27, visitors can start booking their hiking itinerary by phone for trips on or after June 1, according to a news release from Parks Canada.

But like most things under the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be a different experience than previous years.

The trail — once a historic route of Tlingit traders and Klondike Gold Rush prospectors — is a 53-kilometre hike that crosses the international boundary between the United States and Canada. It takes about four to five days complete.

The trailhead is near Skagway, Alaska, and the hike stretches to Bennett Lake, B.C., near the Yukon border. In previous years, the trail would see thousands of hikers each season, but last year it was closed due to COVID-19, and those with bookings were issued refunds.

This year, Parks Canada says visitors shouldn't expect to have the same experience as they've had in the past.

For one, the route between Bennett to Chilkoot Pass and back will be open, but due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, cross-border hiking into Alaska won't be allowed.

The park will also be taking bookings for trips on a rolling reservation system for two-week blocks of the season. That means, the week of April 27-30, bookings can be made for hikes between June 1-15. Bookings made between May 1-15 will be for hikes between June 16-30 and so forth.

COVID-19 restrictions

There won't be the usual train service this year either — access to and from Bennett is available by air charter or boat by landing outside of the national historic site boundary.

Natalie Haltrich is a visitor experience manager for the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site with Parks Canada.

"The border is clearly out of our control. It's closed and will remain closed along the corridor of the trail this year," Haltrich said. "But rest assured the trail is just as beautiful as it was two years ago."

Visitors will have to follow provincial and territorial travel restrictions.

The Chilkoot Trail near Lake Bennett in Yukon.
The Chilkoot Trail near Lake Bennett in Yukon.(Sandi Coleman/CBC)

Parks Canada says social distancing and B.C. provincial guidelines will apply while within site boundaries and hiking parties have to be limited to core bubbles.

There will be camping available at Bennett, Bare Loon Lake, Lindeman City and Deep Lake, meanwhile day-use shelters will be operating at reduced capacity.

People will have to wear masks in all indoor spaces and where social distancing cannot be maintained, including in outdoor spaces and along the trail.

Those needing to self-isolate will need to do so ahead of time as it won't be permitted within Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site.

Parks Canada says it's asking visitors to be "cautious and conservative" in their use of all its parks and "to make every effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep one another safe."

"We've been working diligently to get to this point really over the last year as we've all gotten used to COVID[-19] and the restrictions," Haltrich said. "We want to … encourage people to look at this as a new opportunity."