Best Things to Do in Haines, Alaska (Including our bear viewing video!)

Haines, Alaska, is a fantastic destination! We really enjoyed our stay in this lovely small Alaskan town and I’d like to share the highlights of visiting Haines with you in this post.
Best Things to Do in Haines, Alaska (Including our bear viewing video!)If you’re planning a trip to Alaska, these are the 9 things you should be looking into when visiting Haines –
  1. Chilkoot River and Lake (bear viewing)
  2. Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and American Bald Eagle Foundation
  3. Kroschel Films Wildlife Center
  4. The Hammer Museum
  5. Sheldon Museum
  6. Port Chilkoot Distillery
  7. Taking the Ferry to Skagway
  8. Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center
  9. A Guided Excursion on the River or in an ATV

Of the above, I would say the first one is your must-do bucket-list item in Haines. This is where we’ve spent most of our time and it’s also where we got close to a grizzly bear. I’ll share more of that story in a minute (including a video too!).

Located in the “Alaska panhandle”, Haines is technically part of the Inner Passage area. Which means it has climate, fauna, and flora that are similar to those of coastal Juneau. Unlike the other towns along the coast, you can actually drive to Haines. There’s a very good road that will take you from Haines Junction, in Canada, all the way to Haines itself.

So, let’s take a look at what there is to see and do while visiting Haines.

1. Chilkoot River and Lake (Bear Viewing)

From mid-June until October, a great spot for watching bears in the wild is the Chilkoot River in southeast Alaska. The Chilkoot River flows from Chilkoot Lake to Lutak Inlet. Brown bears and their cubs also come to the salmon-rich areas. The area offers opportunities to view brown bears but black bears may show up to feed occasionally.

Chilkoot River and Lake

For us, the Chilkoot river area provided our most amazing bear viewing experience to date. And that’s saying something considering we’ve viewed more than a hundred bears in the wild so far. Including some awesome bear encounters in Denali National park. The Chilkoot bear viewing experience was phenomenal for several reasons –

  1. The area is beautiful in its own right.
  2. These are an authentic local fishing grounds, not a “touristic” park.
  3. We got to see several bears – one of them got really close too.

When I say “really close” I mean approximately 5 yards.

We were standing by the river, along with a couple of dozens of visitors – many of whom were armed with huge cameras on tripods – waiting for the bears. While waiting, we could observe bald eagles fishing in the water and inspect the remains of salmon on the grass, probably leftovers from another bear meal earlier that day.

A young brown (grizzly) bear showed up across the stream. For about 10 minutes we all stood there, at awe, watching the bear fish for salmon. He would reach in with a paw and just bring up huge fish, one at a time. Taking a few bites of each fish, and moving on to another spot, the bear was gradually crossing the river and making its way to where we were all standing. It seemed oblivious to our presence.

As the bear got closer, we all began stepping backward, literally to make room. The bear was a few yards from where we all stood, camera shutters ticking away. At some point, it lifted its head and appeared to notice all of us for the first time. I was glad I had the bear spray with us but even more relieved that there were other people between us and the bear. Nothing happened, though. The bear just kept on fishing and moved further along down the bank.

You can visit the area anytime you want. It’s a short drive from Haines itself and easy to reach. We visited twice, once in the morning and once in the late afternoon and saw one bear in each visit.

2. Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and American Bald Eagle Foundation

The Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

Large numbers of American Bald Eagles have made the bottomland of the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsirku Rivers into their habitat. Not only is it largest American Eagle habitat in the world, but one that is important to their survival.

November is the best time to see the eagles as hundreds of them gather on the trees in that area. All you have to do is get to that road section and pull over. Of course, depending on the season, you may also see other Alaskan wildlife such as bears or moose. You can also hike the two-mile riverside trail.

We visited in August and still managed to see a couple of bald eagles. This is nothing compared to the numbers you’d see in November, but then again, November isn’t the best month for visiting Alaska.

River tours can be booked to see the eagles and scenery from a different point of view. For information on the above, click here.

Bald Eagle

The American Bald Eagle Foundation

While mentioning the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, we can’t leave out the American Bald Eagle Foundation. In addition to helping protect the habitat of the eagles, this organization highlights the wildlife of southeast Alaska in a Raptor Center and Natural History Museum. Children will enjoy the scavenger hunts at the museum. Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for children ages 2 through 12. Under age 2, admission is free.

During the American Bald Eagle Festival in November, they offer a photography workshop to three lucky amateur photographers. The workshop is for several days and the fee is $1500.

The hours are 10 am to 2 pm, Monday through Friday. The museum is closed on the weekend. In addition, the American Bald Eagle Foundation offers a gift shop for visitors to browse in that includes children’s books, jewelry, and carvings.

There is also the opportunity to sponsor a raptor or make a donation. For more information about the American Bald Eagle Foundation, click here.

3. Kroschel Films Wildlife Center

About a half an hour north of Haines is a lovely place to see the wildlife of Alaska. Moose, lynx, grizzlies and more are available for the viewing. Close-ups present themselves for easy shots for photo buffs.

Some visitors go to the center directly from their cruise ship. Visitors mention interacting with the animals in such ways, such as kissing a moose, patting a porcupine, or wolverine. The Kroschel Films Wildlife Center describes itself as a rescue center instead of a zoo and as the name implies, some of the animals here also take part in films.

Open May through September. If you’re going, wear hiking boots as you will be walking on forest trails. We skipped this tour as we couldn’t budget for it.

For more information, check out this website.

4. The Hammer Museum

Hammer Museum Exterior, Haines, Alaska
Exterior shot of the Hammer Museum in Haines, Alaska | Photo by Scott McMurren

Hammers from nearly every age and every part of the world have found a home here. They measure from twenty inches to twenty feet in length. The museum’s collection of hammers includes specimens from the time of the Pharoahs up until the modern age.

In fact, you’ll realize you’ve reached this fun museum when you see the 20-foot hammer out front. Hours are Monday through Saturday, with the museum closing for Sunday.

The Hammer Museum opens in May and closes for the winter in September. Admission fees are $5.00 for adults with children under 12 being free. Click here for more information about this unique museum.

5. Sheldon Museum

The Sheldon Museum highlights the history and culture of the local area, including the native residents of the land, the Tlingits. In addition to the permanent exhibits, the museum selects three or four artists each year to showcase their work for six weeks in temporary exhibits. Also, the museum features a monthly exhibit, called the object of the month.

This is a relatively small museum, as to be expected from a small town. An hour should be sufficient for a visit to the museum. Visitors mention enjoying watching totem pole carving and the stone sculptures.

The gift shop offers items relevant to the displays. Located on Main Street, the fees for adults are $10 while children under 12 are free. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, being closed for Sunday.

Hours are 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm throughout the winter. For more information about the growing exhibits at the Sheldon Museum, check out their website here.

6. Port Chilkoot Distillery

Located on Blacksmith Street in Haines, the Port Chilkoot Distillery is the only distillery in the area. Travel and Leisure magazine gave top honors to Port Chillkoot’s gin. The folks at the Port Chilkoot Distillery continually experiment to find ways to implement the wild taste of Alaska in their alcohol. There is a tasting room where visitors can sample the wares and see whether the spirits really do taste like Alaska or not.

Opening hours for summer are Monday through Saturday, May through August. Winter hours are Thursday through Saturday, October through May.

Also, the distillery has a shop where visitors may purchase mugs, t-shirts, and other merchandise if they wish. For more information on the award-winning liquor, check out their website here.

7. Taking the Ferry to Skagway

The 45-minute ferry ride from Haines eliminates eight hours of driving as well as crossing two borders to get to the neighboring town of Skagway. According to the Haines Skagway Fast Ferry website, the short trip is scenic with some wildlife viewing opportunities. The 45-minute trip will have a naturalist who will provide information and answer questions. Visitors taking the ferry may see glaciers, the  Long Falls, Twin Falls and Sawmill Falls, craggy rocks, and cliffs.

Fast ferry Skagway
Fast Ferry to Skagway | Photo by gillfoto

If you go, make sure to take binoculars to catch sight of the seals, sea lions, humpbacks, minke, and orca in the water as well as the eagles perched in the trees.

Fees for adults are $183 and for a child, the cost is $91.50. If you wish, you may make reservations by phone. Take a look at the website for more information.

We almost took the ferry to Skagway. The combination of having to wait for several hours for the afternoon ferry along with the steep prices made us drive on instead.

8. Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center

This land, located in southeastern Alaska, has remained the home of the Tlingit tribe. The Heritage Center helps to address the needs of the Tlingit clans and protect their culture.

This is not a visitors center per se but they do hold special events occasionally, so check out their website here to see if there’s something you can work into your itinerary.

9, Guided Excursion on the Chilkoot River or in an ATV

If you’re an outdoorsy type, you may enjoy one of the guided tours available in the Haines area. Visitors may choose a guided ATV tour to see the sights. Although the sound of the ATVs may keep wildlife at bay, you can still enjoy the beautiful scenery. A quieter option would be to tour the area on the river. Either choice will show its advantages in the expertise and local knowledge of the guide. You need to decide which type of tour is most appealing. Some companies offer photography tours while others may focus on fishing.

The cost and length of the tours may vary from a day trip of fewer than two hundred dollars to a tour of several days where fees may climb to $4000.

Visitors mention hearing the calls of the Eagles during their sightings as well as viewing bears, including a mother and cubs, playing in the river.

Places to Stay

Haines is a small town. If you have a car, you can stay pretty much in any part of town. You’ll have to drive around a little to get to Chilkoot river anyway. With that in mind, here are a few good options that get good reviews on Booking.com.

Captain’s Choice Motel

Set amidst the scenic, snow-capped mountain views of the Takinsha Mountains and Chilkat Range, with the Takshanuk Mountains to the north and the Coast Mountains to the east, the motel gives visitors a convenient five-minute walk to shops and restaurants in Haines.

In addition to the mountain view, the motel also is waterfront. An airport shuttle is provided to guests at no cost.

Rooms at the Captain’s Choice Motel provide a private tub and shower combo along with a hairdryer and toiletries. Every room offers a microwave and refrigerator in the room’s private dining area along with cable television.

The decor, rustic wood walls, and beams include an emphasis on comfort with extra blankets on the beds providing a homey touch and extra warmth needed on cold nights.

Click for more information on the Captain’s Choice Motel

Aspen Suites Hotel

Located about 1500 feet from the town center, the Aspen Suites Hotel offers weary travelers large, comfortable rooms. Equipped with a microwave, refrigerator, and sink in a small kitchenette, you can shop at the grocery store across the street and fix yourself a quick meal in your room.

This is a pet-friendly hotel with on-site washers and dryers (always a plus!)

Click to make a reservation or get more info

House No. 1 B&B

Perhaps, instead of staying at a hotel or motel, you’d prefer the quiet ambiance of a bed and breakfast. You need to look no farther than the House No. 1 B&B. Praise has been lauded on the delicious breakfasts available at this home.

Guests may choose a continental or American breakfast. Free WiFi is provided here, along with a garden for the guests to enjoy. Some rooms may feature a patio or terrace. History buffs may get a thrill staying overnight in an original part of Fort Seward.
To find out more, take a look at House No. 1 B&B here.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you need any help with planning your own visit to Haines, leave me a comment here and I’ll do my best to help!

Best Things To Do In Haines, Alaska (Including Our Bear Viewing Video!)

 

 

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