BY LIANA B. BAKER
The Chilkoot Trail does not have to mean blistered feet and achy calves.
That is because you don’t have to hike the entire length of the fabled trail that once led to Lake Bennett and on to the goldfields of the Klondike.
The Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail is open to campers who want to pitch their tents at well-maintained sites at Bennett, Bare Loon Lake, Lindeman City, Deep Lake and Happy Camp.
Parks Canada charges a special fee for camping which is lower than the one charged for hiking the entire trail.
Campers looking for an easy way to Bennett can hop on the White Pass and Yukon Route train at Carcross, only a 45-minute drive from Whitehorse. The train company provides a bus from Fraser, BC for the return trip to Carcross.
This bus route makes day trips to the Chilkoot an option.
The train ride alone from Carcross to Bennett makes for an interesting day trip. The restored antique rolls steadily along the narrow gauge railway, leaving passengers comfy amid the hanging turns and looming cliffs.
On a cloudy Tuesday in July, the sound of Lake Bennett lapping against the rocky shore could be heard from the platform, even over the loud rail clacks.
Lake Bennett is a treacherous lake that extends for almost 30 miles until Bennett, an abandoned Gold Rush boom town.
A couple from Anchorage, Roxanne Chan and Kevin Meyer, were camping at Bennett after taking a week to hike the Chilkoot.
“It’s just beautiful scenery,” Meyer said of the Lake Bennett backdrop. “It’s worth taking your time to enjoy the scenery and the great vistas.”
Meyer, a 56-year-old regional trail specialist with the National Park Service in Anchorage, assessed bridges with Chan on the American side of the Chilkoot. But when they got to the Canadian side, the couple was off-duty and strictly on a “relaxing vacation”, said Chan, 31, who works as an acupuncturist.
While the couple said they were proud of hiking the entire Chilkoot, Meyer said visitors should take advantage of the trail, its camp sites and not necessarily the summit.
“It could make a wonderful three-day, five-day or seven-day trip,” Meyer said of the camping opportunities on the Canadian side.”It wouldn’t be as strenuous as doing the “Golden Staircase” and, if you weren’t as fit, you could do this side easily.”
Dan Verhalle, a visitor activities manager for Parks Canada, said that misconceptions about the Chilkoot are holding many people back from taking a trip. Some hikers think the Chilkoot trek requires months of planning when park staff say many permits reserved daily for last-minute hikers go unused.
Verhalle acknowledged that most Yukoners forget the Chilkoot’s value for shorter trips.
“You can still experience the beauty and it’s a family thing,” Verhalle said. “It’s not the big rush of doing the summit but it’s still the rush of history.”
Indeed, the trail is still littered with boots, bottles an stoves, left behind by Stampeders and arenow relics of the last great gold rush.
For more information about shorter trips along the Chilkoot Trail call Parks Canada at 667-3910.
Liana B. Baker is a freelance writer and an intern with Parks Canada in Whitehorse for the summer.
PHOTOS: LIANA B. BAKER