Haines is wedged between mountains and glaciers on the Lynn Canal, the deepest fjord in North America, out-of-sight from cruise ships headed to Skagway. It was the last stop on my two week vacation in Alaska with kids and it’s where we experienced everyday life in small town Alaska.
You might write off Haines because it’s not on most cruise ship itineraries but it’s easily accessible by a 45-minute narrated fast ferry from Skagway and the majority of guests on our tours were on organized cruise ship excursions from Skagway. You can also fly in with Wings of Alaska, drive in from Canada or arrive on the Alaska Marine Ferry.
My kids describe Haines as a place where “parents let their kids run around.” It’s immediately comfortable with a compact downtown surrounded by Alaska wilderness. The bounty of history, wildlife and active adventure in Haines solidified my crush on the 49th state. While Hollywood has discovered Haines and tourism thrives here, it’s not overrun with cruise ships and never feels like a tourist town.
A stroll around the white buildings of Fort Seward is the first stop for many visitors. Constructed in 1902 to maintain order during a time of border disputes with Canada, the fort was decommissioned in 1947 and the buildings are now apartments, hotels and restaurants. Kids can run around on the huge lawn and check out a real cannon.
Before the Russians and the U.S. Army arrived in Haines, the Tlingits presided over the area. You can see their art around town but the Sheldon Museum provides the most thorough introduction to their culture as well general history about Haines and occasional hands-on educational activities and demonstrations.
The two-story hammer outside marks the entrance to the quirkiest museum we’ve ever visited. When Dave Pahl’s wife told him he couldn’t collect more than 100 hammers he created the Hammer Museum, the first museum in the world dedicated to man’s first tool. Age appropriate scavenger hunts keep kids busy while adults try to find the Egyptian hammer – the oldest in the museum.
The list of outdoor activities in Haines goes on forever. We chose popular activities that are offered by the cruise lines as that’s how most families visit Haines.
My 10-year-old son chose fishing as his must-do Alaska activity, hoping to catch the big one. However, we missed the King salmon, the Sockeye weren’t running yet and there had been a huge, very rare thunder and lightening storm the night before so the fishing was a bust.
Our hours on the lake were saved by the great snacks that our guide from Chilkoot Lake Tours brought along, the incredible scenery of Chilkoot Lake and the eagles. A pair of bald eagles watches the fishing boats and when a fish is caught and released, one swoops down again and again until it grasps the stunned fish from the surface and then flies away to the nest.
I’m always skeptical of tours that include a meal because the food is usually sub-par and I feel like I’m wasting sightseeing time. Not so with Takshanuk Mountain Trail Tour. Our three-hour tour up and down winding mountain trails on Kawasaki Mules had great views, adventure and a delicious halibut and chicken meal. The kids can’t drive but the bumpy ride is enough excitement.
If you can only do one tour in Haines and wildlife is a priority, the River Adventures Jetboat Tour in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is it. These flat-bottomed jetboats glide through the waterways where we saw moose, eagles sitting in trees, eagles drying their wings from the tremendous storm the night before, eaglets in their nests, owls, trumpeter swans and more. The tour is well organized and everyone is given warm jackets and blankets. The hot dog roast at the end sealed the deal for the kids.
If you can’t get out in the wilderness, The American Bald Eagle Foundation, located a few minutes from downtown, has resident, non-releasable eagles and other birds with knowledgeable volunteers to tell you all the facts.
The Kroschel Wildlife Center Tour is an opportunity to get up-close and personal with Alaska wildlife with Steve Kroschel, a wildlife filmmaker who rescues and trains orphaned animals. It’s not a zoo but the animals are in pens. You can feed a banana to a moose, lettuce to a porcupine and learn the secret of how they film meerkats in their underground tunnels.
The Disney movie, White Fang, was filmed in Haines and the Dalton City movie set was moved to the fair grounds on the outskirts of town. Unless you’re a big fan, the reason to visit is the miniscule Haines Brewing Company which has unique Spruce Tip Ale, the “best root beer in the world” according to my kids and a steady stream of locals happy to chat while their growlers are refilled. More recently, The Discovery Channel cashed in on Haines’ gold mining past and filmed several seasons of Gold Rush: Alaska at nearby Porcupine Creek where you can try your hand at gold mining too.
We spent two nights at Fort Seward Condos in a two-bedroom apartment. These former officers’ barracks have spectacular mountain and water views and you can walk to anything in the downtown. The inside decor is pure 1960s and 70s which enthralled my kids who had never seen such cool lamps. We spent our other night in a cabin with bunkbeds at the Lynn View Lodge. You need a car if you’re staying here as it’s out of town on the way to Chilkoot Lake, but if you visit Haines when the bears are here this is a prime viewing spot. Need a car? Lynn View Lodge has rentals and Hotel Halsingland in Fort Seward has Avis rentals.
Editorial Note: Kristi received media rates during her stay in Haines. All photos by Kristi Marcelle unless noted.
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