Haines Travel Guide

Overview

Haines, Alaska, is situated on a spit of land on the west side of the Lynn Canal along one of the deepest fjords in the Inside Passage. It is one of only three ports in southeast Alaska with access to North American roads. As a result, Haines is a busy place in the summer. Many vacationers (and their vehicles) ride a ferry to Haines and head up the Haines Highway to the Alaska Highway into northwestern Canada and the Alaskan interior. Other visitors arrive by cruise ship. In warm-weather months, the town's population swells considerably.

A haven for bald eagles and artists, Haines is distinctive, with the officers' quarters of historic Fort William H. Seward nestled around a parade ground and the snowy 6,500-ft/2,015-m Cathedral Peaks towering in the background—all visible from the water. The first permanent army post in Alaska, the fort now houses hotels, restaurants, art galleries, Alaska Indian Arts and the Chilkat Center.

Each fall, more than 3,500 eagles flock to the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve on the Chilkat River to feast on a late run of salmon. Several hundred remain in the area throughout the year.

Geography

The rainy maritime climate of southeast Alaska meets the drier continental climate of interior Alaska and Canada at Haines, resulting in warmer and drier conditions during summer than most southeast Alaska communities. The area sports not only the hemlock and spruce forests of the Alaska's Inside Passage rain forest but also pines, birch, cottonwood and other deciduous trees prevalent in the interior. Wild berries abound, drawing 120 species of birds, foremost among them the American bald eagle. Haines has the world's largest congregation of bald eagles each fall. About 3,500 eagles congregate along the Chilkat River in the Valley of the Eagles.

Tucked on a peninsula between Lynn Canal and the Chilkat Inlet, Haines is further defined by a backdrop of mountains. Chilkat Range peaks tower 3,500-6,000 ft/1,085-1,860 m above the small community. A short flight to the west is Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, home to 11 tidewater glaciers. The drive northwest along the Haines Highway skirts Kluane National Park and Preserve and the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, both part of the first binational World Heritage Site, 20 million acres/8.1 million hectares of protected wilderness that includes the largest nonpolar ice cap in the world and 350 valley glaciers.

History

Haines has a lot to offer the history buff. Originally called Deishu (pronounced DAY-shoo), meaning "end of the trail," it was a trading post and ancestral home for both the Chilkoot and Chilkat Tlingit tribes. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was one of the gold-rush gateways to the Klondike. An early entrepreneur, Jack Dalton, used the Tlingit Trail through the coastal mountains to create a toll road and charged miners en route to the Klondike. Part of that trail became the picturesque Haines Highway.

Missionary S. Hall Young and naturalist John Muir chose Haines as the site for a Presbyterian mission. The town was named for Francina Haines of the Presbyterian Home Missions Board. Commercial fishing, three canneries employing imported Chinese laborers, the timber industry and agriculture flourished in the fertile area.

An ongoing border dispute between the U.S. and Canada prompted construction of Fort William H. Seward, named for the secretary of state who arranged Alaska's purchase from Russia in 1867. Men, mules and oxen cleared the land. Foundations for the buildings were cut from local granite, and by 1904, officers stationed in this wilderness outpost had ornate Victorian fireplaces and beautifully carved door and window frames in their quarters. It was the only military base in Alaska for the next 20 years. The fort was decommissioned after World War II and is now a National Historic Landmark.

Sightseeing

As you would expect, sightseeing in Haines is heavy on nature and the history of the Native American people who live in the area. The scenery is compelling. The Valley of the Eagles is at the foot of mountains with year-round snow, wedged between two rivers and at the start of a National Scenic Byway.

Nightlife

Haines doesn't have much of a nightlife, particularly by Alaskan standards.

Dining

Haines has an excellent variety of restaurants for a city its size, and many of them are chef-owned. Seafood is the biggest item on most menus, and the locally caught halibut is tasty wherever you get it. Most restaurants are in the downtown area.

Expect to pay within these general guidelines for a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$15; $$ = US$16-$30; $$$ = US$31-$50; and $$$$ = more than US$50.

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