Active + Adventure

America's Best Hikes

by Sarah Tuff

Chilkoot Trail, Alaska

The hike: Gold! Gold! Gold! Not for 100-plus years has there been a fervor equal to the Klondike Gold Rush. In 1898, 100,000 hopefuls charged into the Alaskan backcountry in search of their fortune. Today, 50 backpackers per day can retrace their steps. Formerly a trade route for the Tlingit people, the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail begins near Skagway, Alaska, crosses over the Chilkoot Pass into Canada (remember to pack your passport), and ends at the Yukon's Lake Bennett. Negotiating the trail's steep, icy pitches, such as the Golden Stairs at about mile 18, is the only way to access the area's turquoise lakes and untouched forests. The three- to five-day trek is best for hardy history buffs who can handle the white stuff (snow and ice can prevail throughout summer) and an elevation gain of 3,700 feet.

Peak experience: Experiencing what's been called "the world's longest outdoor museum"—once lined with tent cities, the Chilkoot Trail is littered with artifacts such as log cabins, bedsprings, and shoes.

Need a shortcut?: From the start of the Chilkoot Trail in Skagway, head nearly five miles (one way) through the rain forest to take in the classic Alaska views from Finnegan's Point.

Base camp: The Historic Skagway Inn, which has been hosting travelers since 1897, is a ten-minute drive from the Chilkoot trailhead. The Victorian-style rooms aren't as gussied up as their monikers imply (they're named after Grace, Cleo, Flo, and other Gold Rush–era ladies of the evening), but stove fuel is complimentary and hikers who book at least two nights get a free lift to the trailhead (doubles with full private bath from $159).

When to go: Conditions are best for hiking in the summer. Reserve a trail permit in advance.

Next: Meet the Presidents in New Hampshire ›

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Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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