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Haines is a small town in a huge landscape, arguably one of the most scenic settings of all towns on Alaska's Inside Passage.
It sits on the shores of the Lynn Canal, the deepest, longest fjord in North America. Haines is 90 sea miles north of Juneau, 14 south of Skagway and just 40 miles from the Canadian border. That fact has impacted much of Haines' history.
Today, Haines is one of the few towns with a road connection to Canada and the Alaska Highway. In the summer months, many tourists arrive with a mobile home. The town is also an important port for the Alaska Marine Highway System. With smaller, historic buildings and a rugged skyline, Haines exudes laid-back, authentic Alaskan character. And in spite of its proximity to Juneau, it lies in a veritable sunbelt by comparison. Haines has less than half the annual rainfall of Alaska's state capital, meaning cruise passengers should be able to shoot some pretty awesome photos in and around the town.
The Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center is well worth a visit. It's committed to collecting, preserving and interpreting the history, art and unique blending of diverse cultures within the Chilkat Valley region, providing a nice cultural overview of the area. Alaska Indian Arts is dedicated to preserving and supporting traditional Native craft and the culture of the region's Native tribes. Not to be missed: the Hammer Museum, which interprets history through the creation and use of the hammer. Really. It's fascinating.
Fort William H. Seward was the last of a series of 11 military posts established in Alaska during the gold-rush era, and was Alaska's only military facility between 1925 and 1940. A number of barracks, officer housing and parade grounds are maintained here. Some of these structures are open to the public as businesses and restaurants.
Haines is famous for its bald eagles, which can be seen across the region but particularly at the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, 48,000 acres of river bottom land created by the Chilkat, Kleheni and Tsirku rivers. In summer, there are 200 to 400 eagles here; between October and February, that number rises to more than 3,000. Passengers can also learn about America's national bird at the American Bald Eagle Foundation Natural History Museum, and meet the rescued inhabitants such as Keene, a bald eagle; Sitka, a red-tail hawk; Zilla, a falcon; and Hans, an eagle owl.
Take a boat ride or kayak out on Chilkoot Lake and you may see some of Alaska's famous bears roaming the shores in search of their next meal. Bears or not, the scenery alone is worth the trip. Take a boat out pretty much anywhere and, like the bears, you can try to catch your next meal in the salmon-rich waters all around Haines.
Haines has a selection of gift and souvenir shops, and some of the museums have gift shops as well. Haines also has authentic Native artwork. One place to find high quality work is Alaska Indian Arts. Signed, numbered silkscreen prints are hand drawn and cut and printed by a master printmaker. The gallery also carries fine silver jewelry by a local artist whose studio is in the building.
Book a flightseeing tour in an airplane over Davidson Glacier or even Glacier National Park. Photos won't come close to the experience but that's no reason not to take them.
Kroschel Alaska Animal Kingdom, 28 miles north of Haines, is where a photographer-filmmaker and his son introduce visitors to rescued and orphaned Alaska wildlife. Those in residence might include Arctic fox, lynx, bears, reindeer, moose, wolverines, mink and more. This is definitely a photo op and an experience not to be missed.
Haines is low-key and casual. This isn't the place for fine dining but it is the place for a fine Alaskan meal. Fort Seward Lodge is a restaurant and saloon featuring simple dishes along with a lively bar scene. At The Bamboo Room & Pioneer Bar , locals and visitors tuck into all-American breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant specializes in seafood and is known for its halibut fish & chips, but the menu also includes house-made chili and soups made daily.
Large cruise ships dock in Haines at the Port Chilkoot Dock in front of Fort William H. Seward. Small ships may dock nearby at the ferry dock. From either it's a short walk to the downtown area.
Many folks visiting Haines opt to rent a car to explore the sights. Some, however, choose to rent bikes instead, conveniently available at Sockeye Cycle near the cruise dock. There are taxis in very limited quantity so it's best to arrange for one in advance.
There are several water passage/water taxi options between Haines and Skagway. The trip takes about 1 hour 15 minutes and the captain usually stops for wildlife sightings on the way.
Need to know
Store hours: Stores are typically open Monday through Sunday, 9 am to 5 pm.
Tipping: All service professionals (waiters, taxi drivers, etc.) expect a 10 to 15% tip for good service.
ShoreFox contributed to this guide.
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Published February 2015
“Just up the street from Fort Seward is a newer Haines institution, the Haines Brewing Company. Renowned across the state for its well-crafted microbrews, you can sample the beers at the brewery and then take some home. ... A few miles up the road from the town proper is one of Alaska's most unique wildlife tours, the Kroschel Wildlife Center, where owner Steve Kroschel cares for an array of wild animals from wolverines to wolves, bears, fox and moose.”