The Chilkoot Trail, the epic trek undertaken by over 30,000 gold-rush stampeders in 1897–8, is sometimes known as the ‘Last Great Adventure’ or the ‘Meanest 33 Miles in America.’ Its appeal is legendary and, consequently, more than 3000 people spend three to five days following the historic route every summer.

The trail crosses the US–Canadian border, takes in numerous climate zones, and traverses terrain etched with the discarded remnants of one of the 19th century’s most incredible journeys. For contemporary hikers, it’s a chance to connect with the past, emulate erstwhile struggles, and relive an adventure that played out in an age before motor cars and the internet made everything so damned easy.

The trailhead is at Dyea, 9 miles northwest of Skagway, site of a once rambunctious gold rush town that came and went in the space of just six years (1897–1903). The hike ends at Lake Bennett in BC, Canada, which has a good campground, a railway station and an unusual wooden church dating from 1898. A special ‘hiker’s train’ using the historic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad leaves from Lake Bennett for Skagway four times a week (3:15pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and 2:15pm on Saturday). Experiencing the Chilkoot and returning on the train is probably the ultimate Alaska trek, combining great scenery, a historical site and an incredible sense of adventure.

Before starting the trail, all hikers must call in at the Trail Center in Skagway to obtain backpacking permits (adult/child $55/27.45), check out trail conditions and watch a bear-safety video.

Parks Canada allows only 50 hikers per day on the trail and holds only eight permits to be handed out each day at the trail center. It is definitely wise to reserve your permits ($11.70 per reservation) in advance through Parks Canada if you intend walking mid-July to mid-August. Don’t forget your passport.

For transport to the Dyea trailhead call the reliable Ann Moore at Chilkoot Trail Dyea Transport.