Perched at the upper end of North America’s longest and deepest fjord, Haines is a quintessential Alaskan town. Surrounded by the Chilkat Mountain range and the Chilkat River on one side and the Lynn Canal on the other, this small multicultural community of about 2,400 people draws it life and inspiration from the surrounding natural beauty.
Haines was named for Mrs. F. E. H. Haines, the secretary of the Presbyterian National Women’s Missionary Board in 1881. Two years earlier a Presbyterian missionary and the naturalist John Muir arrived in the Chilkat area with the goal of establishing a mission. Today Haines is known as the “Valley of Eagles” because 2,000-4,000 eagles descend on the nearby river in the fall to feast on the late salmon run. You may be familiar with this town because it was here that Disney filmed “White Fang” and the reality television show “Gold Rush” on the Discovery Channel was also filmed in Haines.
Haines is a lot quieter than Skagway, its closest town, even though Haines has a larger population. Skagway hosts thousands of cruise ship visitors daily and Haines hosts only about one ship a week. The town itself is compact and very walkable and overlooks a lovely small boat marina. There are several restaurants, museums, grocery stores, and other stores in town. We found the residents of Haines to be very genuine, friendly, and willing to help us.
In the city limits, there are several small interesting museums that we took in. The first one that we visited was the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center. Its nationally recognized collection highlights the history of Haines and that of the First Nation tribes. They have artifacts related to weaving, basketry, canoe making, totems, wooden boxes, etc. It also boasts ledgers and journals of the first non-native explorers of the Chilkat Valley. Moreover, it has the lens from the Eldred Rock lighthouse on display. The Sheldon Museum is a great place to visit to become more familiar with the region’s historical significance.
The second museum that we sought out was the Hammer Museum. One of only two museums in the world that focus on this utilitarian instrument. This private collection has more than 7,000 hammers and it displays 2,000 of them at a time in this museum. I did not know that there were that many different types of hammers!
The third museum in Haines is dedicated to the wildlife in the Chilkat Valley. The Bald Eagle Foundation’s Raptor Center and Museum has a collection of over 200 different animals on display. In addition, they have a raptor center that features peregrine falcons, owls, and bald eagles. These animals suffered an injury that prevents them from surviving in the wild. There were well informed and friendly docents and trainers that gave presentations about the animals throughout the day.
These three museums proved informative and we were glad that we visited all three of them. To save on admission fees, there is a pass that you can purchase for $20.
In the early 1900’s, the Army built a post in Haines. Fort Seward was named for the man who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia, William H. Seward. This complex covered 4,000 acres overlooking the harbor. The buildings’ foundations were cut from local granite and the officers’ houses boasted the latest conveniences like indoor flush toilets and bathtubs. This post was decommissioned after WWII and these buildings now house B&Bs, art galleries, and hotels. When we did a walking tour of the Fort, we went to the Alaska Indian Arts that is located in the former hospital building. They have a small museum and also a workshop where they carve totems. While we were there, we talked to a man who has lived in Haines all his life. He remembers what Alaska was like before it became a state. He told us that when the military left, his father bought several of the houses around the main parade grounds. He still owns three of these historic buildings and his family members live in them. As we talked with him, we learned about how Haines has changed over the years. He also told us that he knows almost everyone in town. Many of them are full time artists. Actually Haines has the highest per capita number of artists in the U. S. with more than 150 artists in this small town. We enjoyed talking to one of the local residents and our walk through history in Fort Seward.
There is plenty to do outside of Haines too. We explored several of the state parks that are a short drive from town. The Chilkoot Lake State Park is about 11 miles from Haines and is known for its fishing and bear watching. Luckily we got to experience both while we were there. We also spotted a bald eagle and a seal in the Chilkoot Lake.
Since it was salmon fishing session, there were lots of people who come to fish the Chilkoot River. We met a couple from Whitehorse, Canada who had come for the weekend to fish. They caught some sockeye salmon and other fish the day before. The bears also come here to fish. As we were leaving the state park, we spotted a bear. It was coming up the bank and crossed the road in front of us. We stopped because in Alaska, the bears have the right of way. We thought he would go up into the woods but instead we watched as the bear started walking up the road toward us. He passed right beside our truck and kept on walking up the road. It was unbelievable to be that close to a coastal brown (grizzly) bear!
About 7 miles on the other side of Haines is the Chilkat State Park. We spotted another bald eagle there, too. The most impressive part about the park are the incredible views of the Chilkat Mountain range, the glaciers, and the waterfalls. Across the inlet you can see Rainbow and Davidson Glaciers. Rainbow Glacier is the most prominent and it has a huge waterfall that cascades down from its base. Off to the left is the Davidson Glacier. Although most of it was hidden from our view, we could see the toe or end of the glacier. It was fascinating to see how the water, light, and wind played off of these magnificent mountains.
On our way back to Haines, we stopped at the Haines Cannery. They process and ship out salmon and halibut and they also have a retail store there. As we were pulling into the parking area, we spotted another bear across the inlet. We watched as the bear played in the surf, made its way along the shoreline, and disappeared up a creek bed nearby. It was a wonderful sight. While we were there, we also purchased some fish.
Speaking of food, we went to a number of coffee shops and restaurants during our stay. Thanks to the recommendation of our friends, Wendy and Dennis, we enjoyed a good dinner at Pilotlight. Their halibut enchiladas were delicious. David also got some halibut and chips from Big Al’s Salmon Shack food truck. He thought it was good. There were several nice coffee shops, Mountain Market and Rusty Compass. The former has GF items for sale as does the Chilkoot Bakery. As you can tell we did not go hungry while in Haines.
We also went to the Farmers Market on Saturday. It was a small market compared to the one in Homer but we found some great fresh produce and baked goods.
Although we were in Haines for a week, we still did not get to do everything that we wanted to do. We really like Haines a lot because it has something for everyone: wildlife, history, nature and trails, scenic views, good food, and a warm welcome.