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

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Haines, Alaska, is an extraordinary place to visit, filled with natural beauty and unique experiences.

This charming town offers a blend of adventure and tranquility that's hard to find elsewhere. In this guide, we'll highlight nine essential activities that will enrich your stay in Haines.

For your Alaskan adventure, Haines is a treasure trove of activities. Here are nine essential experiences to consider:

  1. Chilkoot River and Lake for Bear Viewing: A top destination for witnessing bears in their natural setting.
  2. Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve & American Bald Eagle Foundation: Discover the largest gathering of bald eagles in the world.
  3. Kroschel Films Wildlife Center: Get up close with Alaska's wildlife in a unique setting.
  4. The Hammer Museum: Explore the fascinating world of hammers across history.
  5. Sheldon Museum: Dive into the rich culture and history of Haines.
  6. Port Chilkoot Distillery: Taste the unique flavors of local spirits.
  7. Ferry to Skagway: Enjoy a scenic ferry ride offering stunning views and wildlife spotting opportunities.
  8. Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center: Learn about the Tlingit tribe's culture and history.
  9. Guided Excursions on the River or by ATV: Experience Haines' natural beauty firsthand.


Among these, the bear viewing at Chilkoot River and Lake is a must. It’s here that we had our unforgettable close encounter with a grizzly bear, an experience I’ll share shortly.

Haines, nestled in the Alaska panhandle and part of the Inner Passage area, shares its climate and natural beauty with coastal Juneau.

Unlike other seaside towns, Haines is accessible by road, offering a scenic drive from Haines Junction, Canada, directly to this charming town.

Now, let's explore the best Haines has to offer.

1. Chilkoot River and Lake (Bear Viewing)

From mid-June until October, the Chilkoot River in southeast Alaska serves as an excellent location for observing bears in their natural habitat.

The river, flowing from Chilkoot Lake to Lutak Inlet, attracts both brown bears and their cubs, drawn by the abundance of salmon. While brown bears are commonly seen, black bears might occasionally visit the area for feeding.

Chilkoot River and Lake

Our experience at the Chilkoot River was unparalleled in bear viewing, even considering our numerous encounters in the wild, including memorable moments at Denali National Park.

The Chilkoot bear viewing stood out for several reasons:

  1. The sheer beauty of the area.
  2. Its status as genuine local fishing grounds beyond the typical tourist spots.
  3. The opportunity to observe several bears, including one that approached remarkably close — about 5 yards away.

Joined by a group of onlookers, some equipped with large cameras, we awaited the bears' appearance. In the meantime, we watched bald eagles fish and inspected salmon remains, likely left from bears' earlier meals.

A young grizzly bear then appeared across the stream, captivating us as it skillfully fished for salmon.

As it approached, seemingly unaware of our presence, we respectfully gave it space. The encounter was peaceful, with the bear continuing its activity without any disturbance.

This extraordinary wildlife viewing spot is just a short drive from Haines and is easily accessible to visitors.

Our two visits, one in the morning and another in the late afternoon, each resulted in bear sightings, making for an unforgettable experience.

2. Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and American Bald Eagle Foundation

The Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

The bottomlands of the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsirku Rivers are home to a significant number of American Bald Eagles, creating the largest habitat of its kind in the world and playing a crucial role in the species' survival.

November is the prime time to witness hundreds of eagles congregating in the trees, making for a spectacular viewing experience.

Visitors can pull over along the designated road section to observe. Depending on the season, the area also offers chances to see other wildlife, including bears and moose, and features a two-mile riverside trail for hiking enthusiasts.

Although our visit in August resulted in seeing only a few bald eagles, the experience was still remarkable, showcasing that even outside the peak season, there's wildlife to be seen.

River tours are available for those interested in exploring the scenery and eagle-watching from a unique vantage point.

Bald Eagle

The American Bald Eagle Foundation

Complementing the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is the American Bald Eagle Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the eagles' habitat and educating the public about southeast Alaska's wildlife through its Raptor Center and Natural History Museum.

The museum offers engaging activities like scavenger hunts for young visitors.

In November, during the American Bald Eagle Festival, the foundation conducts a photography workshop, offering an in-depth experience over several days.

Additionally, the foundation features a gift shop with a variety of items, including children's books, jewelry, and carvings.

Visitors also have the option to sponsor a raptor or contribute through donations, supporting the foundation's conservation efforts. For further details about the American Bald Eagle Foundation, please refer to their website.

3. Kroschel Films Wildlife Center

About half an hour north of Haines, it is a lovely place to see the wildlife of Alaska. Moose, lynx, grizzlies, and more are available for 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 ways such as kissing a moose or 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 Pharaohs 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 on 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.

For more information about the growing exhibits at the Sheldon Museum, check out their website here.

6. Port Chilkoot Distillery

Situated on Blacksmith Street in Haines, Port Chilkoot Distillery stands as the exclusive distillery in the region, celebrated by Travel and Leisure magazine for its exceptional quality.

At Port Chilkoot, innovation meets tradition as the team explores unique methods to infuse the essence of Alaska's wilderness into their distillery products. A dedicated tasting room invites guests to experience these flavors firsthand, offering a true taste of Alaska.

The distillery welcomes visitors with seasonal operating hours: open Monday through Saturday from May to August and Thursday through Saturday from October to May.

Additionally, Port Chilkoot features a store where guests can find a selection of themed merchandise, from mugs to t-shirts, perfect for souvenirs or gifts. For more insights into their recognized offerings, visit their website.

7. Taking the Ferry to Skagway

The 45-minute ferry ride from Haines eliminates eight hours of driving and requires 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, as well as 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.

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.

A teenage boy with a heavy backpack crosses a river on wobbly suspension bridge while backpacking the Klondike Gold Rush's historic chilkoot trail on a rainy summer holiday. Skagway, Alaska, USA.

Places to Stay

Haines is a small town. If you have a car, you can stay pretty much anywhere in town. You'll have to drive around a little to get to Chilkoot River anyway.

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 to provide 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

I hope you found this post helpful. If you need any help planning your 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!)

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

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  1. Hi – Our cruise ship will dock in Haines for one day, July 4. I was wondering if you know how the 4 hour jet boat tours compare to the 2.5 hour bus tours that go to Chilkoot? Are we more likely to see bears, moose, etc. on the bus tour, which apparently stops at various popular wildlife viewing spots, or along the river and creeks from the boat? Do you know where exactly you saw the bears? Thanks!

    • Hi Mickey,
      We saw bears right on the Chilkoot river, but it’s probably also a matter of luck. We were there at the height of the local salmon run, so the bear was in the water, fishing for salmon. July 4th may be too early for that, but I’m sure you can still come across bear and moose. If your choice is between a bus tour and a boat tour, then you won’t have much choice about stopping points anyway, but chances are that your tour guide will be taking you to the best posts anyway. Good luck!

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