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Chilkoot Trail Hike And Float Tour: A Perfect Adventure In Skagway

During an Alaska cruise, Skagway provides a quaint stop to see a gold rush town. With fewer than 1,000 residents, Skagway exudes a charming persona with a wild west feel. Consider the Chilkoot Trail Hike and Float Tour when seeking an adventure off the beaten path.

Most first-time visitors to Sakgway, Alaska, most opt for the White Pass scenic railway. The journey into Canada is spectacular and gives guests an appreciation of the workers who built the railroad in the midst of winter.

Inflated raft on the Taiya River in Alaska

However, if docked for more than eight hours, taking the train and enjoying the Skagway float tour is also possible. By doing two activities in Skagway, you’ll enjoy history, the outdoors, and a wonderful hike.

The History Of The Chilkoot Trail

The Chilkoot Trail Hike and Float Tour combines a hike with a leisurely float in a raft on the Taiya River. By following a section of the Chilkoot Trail, l walked in the same footsteps as the get-rich prospectors over 100 years ago.

The Chilkoot Trail provides one of the best hikes in Skagway. It follows a narrow channel created by ice and glacial water. Years ago, the Chilkoot Trail was used as a trade route from Dyea on the Pacific Coast to Bennett Lake in British Columbia, Canada.

Between 1897 and 1898, the Klondike Goldrush brought prospectors traveled from Seattle to seek out gold. The journey was treacherous, especially in winter.

After the completion of the White Pass Railroad in 1899, the Chilkoot Trail became overgrown and unused. However, the United States collaborated with Canada to upgrade the trail and establish the Klondike Gold Rush International Historic Park.

Fast forward over one hundred years, and the trail sees over 10,000 hikers who travel its route each year. Through fees and a permit system, both countries continue to maintain the route.

Taiya River
Taiya River in Dyea on an overcast day

While the route is 33 miles or 53 km long, tour goers only walk a small section on this tour. Then, they enjoy a quiet float back to Dyea in an inflated boat on the Taiya River.

What To Take On A Skagway Float Tour

Here are items recommended for the trail hike and float tour. Be aware that this excursion goes rain or shine.

  • Hiking boots with good ankle support.
  • Collapsible hiking poles to add stability.
  • Mosquito repellent (a must).
  • Bottled water.
  • A light jacket, preferably waterproof.
  • A camera or smartphone to take pictures.
  • Compact binoculars to see bald eagles on the Taiya River (optional).
Taiya River Bridge
Taiya River Bridge

Who Should Do The Skagway Float Tour?

While the excursion requires some hiking, it isn’t strenuous. So, this tour is suitable for the following:

  • Travelers who don’t want to spend hundreds on expensive tours.
  • Hikers who love the outdoors.
  • People who want to learn more about the Klondike Goldrush.
  • Families that enjoy an adventure.
  • Those looking for an active excursion.

The Trail Head

From Skagway also known as the “garden city of Alaska,”, transportation travels to Dyea for the start of the trail.

This 4 to 4-1/2-hour excursion requires hiking for two miles. While that may not seem long, the path includes stairs, roots, and lots of ups and downs. Expect to take up to two hours to walk the short distance.

Chilkoot Trailhead sign
Chilkoot Trailhead sign

The trail head starts near the Taiya River Bridge and ends in the same place. The 33-mile trail takes three to five days to walk the entire living museum, which features relics from the Klondike Goldrush era.

To the left, the Taiya River Bridge, rusted with age, adds character to the lush green surroundings. An outhouse provides your last stop for a bathroom break before returning to Skagway.

Before we headed out, our tour guide talked a little on bear safety and what to do if we encountered a furry friend.

The Chilkoot Trail

If you’re out of shape or don’t do any hiking, you might find the first section of the trail quite difficult…….think Stairmaster! My guide was patient and allowed my small group to tackle the uphill climb at our own pace. I didn’t find the trail difficult but others did.

My guide, a naturalist, obviously loved the outdoors. During the excursion, he shared stories of living in Dyea, history of the Klondike Goldrush, and pointed out tree varieties.

Walking through the lush Tongass National Forest, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by its beauty. My guide reminded us we were in bear country, so he carried bear spray.

Chilkoot Trail series of steps made of rock
Chilkoot Trail series of steps made of rocks

Shortly after the uphill trek, gnarly roots and rocks on the trail made the hike a bit more challenging. Some hikers got out of breath quickly, and the uneven path proved to be a tripping hazard. The guide asked everyone to take their time and step carefully.

I made the journey in dry season (late May) and found the hiking fairly easy. However, the trail might become a muddy mess after heavy rainfall.

Hiking the Chilkoot Trail gave me an appreciation for those who made the trek over a century ago. I could not have imagined climbing with heavy gear, and making the journey in harsh winter conditions.

Mosquitoes

stairs on the Chilkoot Trail
more stairs on the Chilkoot Trail

Not long into the hike, the mosquitoes crashed our hiking party. When packing for an Alaska cruise, it’s always advisable to include mosquito repellent for this very reason. Even if you’re not hiking, mosquitoes are still present near lakes and rivers.

While I didn’t have a repellent, our guide had an environmental one which he shared with the group. Unfortunately, it did nothing to deter the pesky insects, who followed us the whole two miles.

To prevent the bites, I kept moving, even when we stopped for break. I figured a moving target was harder to bite than a stationary one. Even though the physical hike made me warm, wearing a jacket and long pants helped prevent mosquito bites.

The Landscape

While most imagine Alaska to be a frigid place with lots of snow in winter, the coastal area is the polar opposite. The area around Skagway has high humidity in summer, and receives lots of rainfall, hence the mosquitoes!

Moss on the Chilkoot Trail
Moss on the Chilkoot Trail

During the hike, the forest was thick with moss and lichen. In some areas, the blankets of moss resembled a pillowy duvet.

Streams trickled down the mountains and crossed the trail. Some parts of the path had wild berries, and our guide pointed out which ones we could eat. He talked about how you could live off the land.

Next to the trail, a small tree had black bear claw marks, reminding us that we were in bear country.

Bear claws on a tree on the trail
Tree with bear claw marks

The Float Tour

After I completed the two-mile hike, the trail meanders down to meet the Taiya River. An inflated raft with life jackets was awaiting my arrival.

The Taiya River isn’t wide, and from its minty green tones, I could tell it was cold.

Once we were suited in our inflatable vests, we hopped in the boat to enjoy the non-physical part of the tour. With one pair of oars, the guide steered the vessel, as we took in the views.

The Taiya River gently flows down to Dyea (where we started) and has no rapids. However, depending on recent rainfall, the river may run higher at times.

While the skies were a little overcast, I could still see the snow-capped mountains and hanging glaciers which adorned them. I took this trip in late May when the wildflowers weren’t in season. So, going later might offer a more colorful float experience.

Birds along the Taiya River
Birds along the Taiya River

Along the river, I spotted loons, other native birds, and plenty of bald eagles nesting in the trees. The river obviously provided food for these birds of prey.

The float down the river was a bit brisk with no trees to shelter us from the wind. I was thankful to have a jacket. While a jacket might be unnecessary for hiking, it’s essential on the river.

It takes approximately 20 to 25 minutes, to return to the starting point. As we neared the end, I could see the rusty Taiya River Bridge, where we started. While the tour operator loaded the raft onto a truck, we enjoyed complimentary bottled water, juice box and a granola bar.

Return To Skagway

On the return trip to town, we stopped at a scenic overlook. From here, I could enjoy views of Skagway and see the cruise ships in port.

I found the Chilkoot Trail Hike and Float Tour enjoyable, and a pleasant change from the crowds on the White Pass train. When seeking an adventure and want to escape the cruise passengers in Skagway, this excursion delivers!

Raft on the Taiya River as part of the Chilkoot Trail Hike and Float tour in Skagway