How Many Days in Haines?
Haines is one of the most beautiful places in Southeast Alaska. The combination of giant mountains jutting straight out of the sea, and the wide Chilkat River valley cutting through a dramatic landscape are inspirational. It’s also a place full of friendly, quirky locals passionate about their home, which contributes to the small-town feel. Some visitors even become residents! One old-timer said it best: “It’s the beauty that brings you to Haines, but it’s the people that keep bringing you back.”
Cruisers only get a few hours in port. If traveling independently, 1-2 nights is best!
Most cruisers make the most of their time in port by opting for a guided excursion. Our recommendations include:
- Sockeye Cycle bicycle tours. Tours are 3- 7 hours.
- Rainbow Glacier Adventures rafting & kayaking excursions, or photography and wildlife tours. Tours are 3 - 6.5 hours.
- Alaska Mountain Guides rock climbing & ziplining or sea kayaking. Tours 3.5 - 6.5 hours
- Haines Skagway Fast Ferry. Take the ferry to neighboring Skagway! Ferry is 45-minutes one-way.
Independent Travelers Arriving by Ferry, Road, or Plane
In addition to the guided excursions listed above, there is much to explore in Haines!
Fort William H. Seward
Ft. William H. Seward was the first Army base in Alaska. It’s easy to explore on foot, and the Visitor’s Center has a pamphlet for a self-guided walking tour. Keep a lookout for the newly installed outdoor art sculptures scattered throughout the Fort. Stroll along “Officer’s Row” and then stop by Alaska Indian Arts; you may even see a totem pole carver in action. If you like art, there are plenty of other places to visit while in the Fort, including two galleries featuring the work of local artist Tresham Gregg. Just behind Alaska Indian Arts, Deb Knight-Kennedy’s Forget-me-not Gallery is worth a visit. Take time to smell the flowers at the beautiful garden in front of the Wild Iris Gallery. And go inside to talk to owner and former Haines Mayor Fred Shields. Fred personally picks all the art in his gallery and is something of a geography whiz. Tell him where you’re from and he’ll know something about your hometown, no matter where in the world it happens to be!
Before you leave the fort, stop by Port Chilkoot Distillery and try some of their award-winning spirits. And across the way is Fireweed Restaurant, a local’s favorite. On a nice day, you can enjoy their delicious pizza and salads out on the deck and watch the mountains turn pink with the sunset. Just down the hill is Rainbow Glacier Adventures. This local tour company feature small group tours including photography, kayaking, rafting, and wildlife viewing. Stop by and pick up a copy of founder Joe Ordonez’s book, Where Eagles Gather, the Story of the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, which features gorgeous photographs.
A visit to the Sheldon Museum provides background on the Chilkat Natives, the local history, and the development of Haines. If you’re into museums, (and even if you’re not), don’t miss the two other museums: the quirky Hammer Museum, and the American Bald Eagle Foundation. You can buy a pass to see all three museums at a reduced price.
Depending on the time of year, there are some big events in Haines, like the Great Alaska Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival, The Kluane to Chilkat Bike Relay, and the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival. Even if there’s no big event happening, there’s plenty to do.
Explore by Car
It's hard to get lost, since there are only three roads out of town, and two of them are dead ends. If you have a car, be sure to explore all three; each provides access to a unique environment and has a state park or recreation site.
The Takshanuk Mountains above Haines separate the two main valleys, the Chilkat and the Chilkoot. To experience the Chilkoot, head out toward the ferry terminal north along the waterfront and continue until you see a bridge. Rather than crossing the bridge, turn left and stay on the near side of the Chilkoot River (the other side is a residential area). There’s always something going on along the Chilkoot River and at the lake; this is one of the most active wildlife corridors in Alaska. In May, the smelt (eulachon) spawn in the river, and huge rafts of sea lions and migrating birds follow them. By July, the sockeye salmon are spawning in the lake. Beginning in August, brown bears come down to the river to feed on the spawning pink salmon. (Just be sure to follow bear safety protocols and give the bears plenty of space.) The road ends with a parking area at the shore of the lake—a spectacular place to take a kayaking tour or to fish for pink salmon.
The other main road that deadends is Mud Bay Road. The road leaves town and follows the mouth of the Chilkat River to the salt water of the Chilkat Inlet. Along the way, visit the Letnikof Cove Cannery. The classic red buildings with the Rainbow Glacier and Chilkat Mountains as a backdrop are a photographer’s dream, and you may be able to see salmon processing in action. Ask at the gift shop if they have any fresh salmon for sale. A short way past the Cannery is the Extreme Dreams Art Studio. John and Sharon Svenson are talented artists, and the Studio features their work, as well as work from selected artists. Many of the featured artists are creations of the Svensons’ nearby neighbors: Haines and Mud Bay feature the highest concentration of professional artists in rural United States.
Turn down the gravel road to Chilkat State Park. While the road is bumpy, it’s worth the trip for the million-dollar views of the Rainbow and Davidson glaciers from the ocean’s edge. If you have time, take a hike to Moose Meadows or launch your kayak from the beach.
The last road (and the only one that’s not a dead end) is the Haines Highway, recently named a National Scenic Byway. The Cathedral Peaks and Chilkat mountains dominate the skyline as you wind along the forested banks of the Chilkat River. And keep your eye out for moose. This road also takes you through the heart of the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Stop at 19 mile Haines Highway and read the informational signs, and take a stroll along the river. Still, the best way to experience the Preserve is with a rafting or jet boat tour. (See the tours.)
A few miles down the road is the Tlingit village known as Klukwan. A new museum scheduled to open May 2016 will feature a superb collection of totem poles created in Klukwan. The poles are considered by experts to be the finest examples of Native American Native art.
At 27-mile Haines Highway, there’s a turnoff to Mosquito Lake, and it’s worth the 6-mile detour. This is the way to the Mosquito Lake State Recreation Site, and also where Steve Kroschel’s Wildlife Center is located. Call Steve in advance to find out when tours are available; (907) 767-5463. At the end of Mosquito Lake Road, you’ll find Swan View Cabins, which feature incredible views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Guests have private lakeside access. Call (907) 767-5492 for more info.
Head back out to the Haines Highway and continue north. Another 6 miles takes you to 33 Mile Restaurant, famous for burgers and homemade pies. From there, it’s only 6 more miles to the Canadian border. Stop at U.S. Customs and ask permission to walk to the historic cabin built by Jack Dalton in 1898. The cabin is in great shape, and there are a number of interesting interpretive displays.
Another unique aspect of Haines is that there is road access to the treeless alpine environment. Be sure to bring your passport so that you can continue into Canada and the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park. The road eventually connects with the famous Alaska Highway in Haines Junction, Yukon.
Back in Haines, you may want to try one of the local restaurants. The Hotel Halsingland in Ft. Seward has fine dining, the Bamboo Room is famous for fish-and chips, and the newly opened Pilot Light serves up some amazing dishes.