Samuel Glacier is no doubt one of our top 5 places we visited while we were in Yukon this past summer. This is a place we insist you check out if you’re in the area. Though keep in mind that Samuel Glacier isn’t actually in Yukon, but in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, the most northwestern tip of British Columbia. It’s not far from the British Columbia/Yukon border, by Kluane National Park, about 70 miles one-way from our boondocking site next to Quill Creek. We left the Toaster behind and took a day trip there.
There are no obvious signs at the trailhead that say Samuel Glacier, so instead look for the Chuck Creek Trail interpretative signs to know that you’re in the right place. There’s also a green outhouse in the fairly large parking lot (there’s space to park a large rig like the Toaster as long as there aren’t a lot of other vehicles already there).
It’s more common for people to hike or backpack the 13-mile roundtrip out and back trail to see the Samuel Glacier, but bikes are allowed. We opted to venture in on our mountain bikes. While the trail itself isn’t technical at all and doesn’t include much elevation gain (just a few short climbs), the thing that made the ride a major bitch was the willows. Dense willow bushes covered both sides of the trail for long sections. These bushes were so overgrown that it was impossible to stay on our bikes and ride the trail. Even when we got off and pushed our bikes, our handlebars, arms and faces got tangled in them. I carried my DSLR over my shoulder the whole way so I could easily and quickly get photos, but the downside is that it also got caught and beat up by the willows.
There are numerous creek crossings along the trail and sections of the trail are really wet. We gave up trying to keep our bike shoes dry early on and just went with the flow. A Kluane National Park staff told us that there’s one creek, about 3.7 miles in, that may get too deep for bikes if it’s been raining a lot. It wasn’t an issue when we visited.
The scenery, the remoteness, and the glacier made this trip one of our favorites. The views were absolutely stunning. It felt surreal to ride our bikes in this environment. The valley bottom was covered with fireweed, river beauty, huge cow parsnips, Alaska wild rhubarb, Siberian aster, and Scheuchzer’s cottongrass.
We love being in the middle of nowhere and this ride offered that. It’s a pretty remote area; the last gas station north is in Haines Junction, Yukon and south is Haines, Alaska. Despite being in this vast untouched land, we did see a handful of hikers and one other cyclist on the trail. Mountain biking to see a glacier is a first for us and that’s one of the reasons Samuel Glacier got us so excited!
The trail disappears around mile 4 and becomes a bog instead. The trail description on Yukon Hiking suggests hikers take the higher ground on the left or right side. There’s a distinct trail on the left side if you’re able to find the start of it, which we didn’t (we only saw it because of the hiker that was on it). Somehow despite trying to avoid the bog, we ended up right in the middle of it until we reached a large rock field. At this point in your ride/hike, be prepared to find your own route to get as close to Samuel Glacier as you want. Although the interpretive sign at the trailhead says that it’s possible to walk to the toe of the glacier, we chose not to because of time. Also, I’m curious how much the glacier has receded since the sign was installed – it looked pretty far away still.
On our way back out through the rock field, my wheel threw up a rock and ripped my rear derailleur. I even had a spare derailleur hanger ready for incidents like this, but unfortunately the hanger wasn’t the issue. Jerud did his best to bend my derailleur back into a position that would be useable, but it wasn’t possible. So he removed my derailleur and set my bike up as a single-speed. I'm so glad that was possible because hiking my bike out for 6.5 miles would have sucked!
We think that my derailleur was already damaged because of the willows. Without realizing it, Jerud was able to protect his derailleur with his body when he was pushing it through the tunnels of willow. But I stood on the non-derailleur side of my bike, which meant my derailleur most likely got into several fistfights with the bushes.
All in all, our ride took 5 hours including lunch, lots of photos, staring at the glacier, and fixing my bike.
- Visit Yukon Hiking for trail details.
- Save this hike for a sunny day. The scenery and glacier are the highlights of this trail.
- If you drive from Kluane National Park, I would recommend hitting the road by 8 AM. The drive on Haines Hwy to the trailhead is so beautiful in the morning light! By afternoon the mountains are blown out.
- If you mountain bike in, make sure you have spare parts and tools in case something happens (multi-tool, derailleur hanger, tube, pump, spare chain link, etc.). Also make sure you know how to use it all.
- Stand on the derailleur side of your bike if you have to push it through dense bushes.
- Wear waterproof shoes if you want to keep your feet dry.
- Bring layers.
- Make sure you fill up before heading to the glacier as there’s no gas stations after Haines Junction until Haines, Alaska.
We visited Samuel Glacier on July 31, 2016.
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