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Nestled in the heart of Yukon, you’ll find the community of Haines Junction. As the name suggests, this town exists at a junction – between the Alaska-Canadian Highway and the Haines Highway, but that’s not all it’s known for. Framed by the breathtaking Saint Elias Mountain Range and serving as the gateway to Kluane National Park, Haines Junction is more than just a turn-or-straight intersection – it’s a destination brimming with outdoor adventures and cultural experiences.
I’ve been to Haines Junction a handful of times: first, as my family drove the Alcan to Alaska in 1992, and a few more times during family summer vacations to the Yukon when I was growing up. As part of a longer trip dedicated to exploring the Territory as an adult, I spent an overnight in Haines Junction in June 2023 – longer than most people spend when breezing on to explore other parts of the region!
From awe-inspiring hiking trails to rich First Nations heritage, the list of things to do in Haines Junction is as diverse as the landscape itself – and well worth taking the time to stop, rest, and explore. Join me as we delve into what makes Haines Junction a must-visit spot for any Yukon itinerary. In this scenic village where mountains meet the sky, experiences await every type of adventurer.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and Southern Tutchone First Nations peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
1. Visit the Da Kų Cultural Centre
For your first stop in Haines Junction, I recommend swinging into the Da Kų Cultural Centre, which is on the edge of town along YT-1 in the direction of Whitehorse – meaning it will likely be the first main attraction you pass entering town. In any case, the Da Kų Cultural Centre is also the Kluane National Park and Reserve Visitor Centre, and between those two functions, serves as an important introduction to the region and its main natural attractions and Indigenous people.
The Da Kų Cultural Centre portion of the building includes exhibits and artifacts to teach you about the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Dän (people). Over in the park visitor center, you can learn more about the park and the nearly 1.5 million acres of wilderness it protects. The whole building is free, and also houses one of the best gift shops you’ll find in town – or indeed most of the Yukon; inside you’ll find First Nations-crafted goods and art as well as other basic souvenirs to remember your time visiting.
2. See the “Animal Cupcake”
The most iconic roadside attraction in Haines Junction marks the intersection of the Alaska-Canadian Highway (YT-1) and the Haines Highway (YT-3, also called the “Haines Cut-Off”). This monstrous admittedly cupcake-shaped structure is topped with a mountain of frosting – I mean mountains and Yukon animals like bears, moose, mountain goats, and Dall sheep.
I don’t know who designed it or came up with the name, but if you haven’t seen the Haines Junction Animal Cupcake, you’ve definitely missed out on one of the best roadside attractions along the entire Alcan!
3. Go Hiking in Kluane National Park
There are two main ways to visit Kluane National Park: on foot or on the wing.
Let’s start with the less budget-blow-out option, though admittedly you’ll need to work a bit more for this one: hiking. Kluane National Park has 15 formal trails and 8 formal routes (routes seem to generally be longer, usually requiring 1+ days, and more technical, but that’s not a hard and fast rule); you can also go backcountry hiking if you are adequately prepared and knowledgable about bushwhacking in bear country.
In any case, there are a few great trails near Haines Junction to consider:
- Dezadeash River Trail – This short, flat trail can be either 3km or 5km depending on how far you go, but offers lovely views and is very close to town
- Rock Glacier – South of Haines Junction, this short (1km) trail climbs up a Rock Glacier with lovely views of Dezadeash Lake.
- St. Elias Lake – One of the southernmost trails in Kluane National Park, this trail is a bit longer (7.6km) and has a bit of elevation (400ft) to climb up to a lovely little lake away from the crowds. (Kidding – there are no crowds in the Yukon!)
If you’re a bit uncertain about hiking in bear country on your own (as I was since I was traveling solo on my last trip), Yukon Guided Adventures is a great option; my guide Lionel was an absolute delight to hike with and was fully prepared to help us stay safe on the trail.
4. Take a Glacier Landing Flightseeing Tour
As I mentioned, the other great way to explore Kluane is by flying – on a flightseeing tour, that is! In particular, I recommend splurging on a glacier landing flightseeing tour; just like in Alaska’s Denali National Park, adding on the glacier landing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
From Haines Junction, there’s one main company you can book with: Kluane Glacier Air Tours. They offer both flightseeing and glacier landing flightseeing tours, but I recommend booking the latter – if the weather isn’t safe, they will cancel the glacier landing, but it’s always better to plan for the best experience possible.
If you’re up for a drive, you might also book with Icefield Discovery out of Silver City (an hour north of Haines Junction on the banks of Kluane Lake). They offer very similar tours.
The main difference between the two is the route they take to access the icefield for landing; both will have stunning glacier and landscape views and will give you the chance to see Mount Logan up close (the second-tallest peak in North America and tallest in Canada!).
5. Visit Kluane Lake & Silver City
If you decide to head north for your flightseeing tour, be sure to spend some time at Kluane Lake as well; there’s an additional visitor center (the Thechàl Dhâl’ (Sheep Mountain) Visitor Centre) where the Slims River flows into the Lake, plus plenty of beautiful views while driving around the southern and western shores. (There are also a number of other hiking trails at this part of the park.)
For a different adventure, be sure to plug “Silver City” into your navigation before setting out – this is the largest ghost town in the Yukon, and a place I spent a fair amount of time as a kid when my family used to come and stay at the B&B that used to be on this part of the lake (now called Yukon Lake Cabins).
While it wasn’t productive as a gold-rush town, many of the 120-plus-year-old buildings still stand in some capacity even as the trees reclaim the land. If you’re up for a hike, the nearby ridge gives stunning views of both Kluane Lake and the remains of the town, plus is the final resting place for a few of its early residents.
6. Go Canoeing on Kathleen Lake
Weirdly, boating on many of the Yukon’s best lakes is kind of hard: you’ll soon discover there aren’t a lot of tour companies to choose from and a lot of the rentals you’d think would be available aren’t. Kayaks/canoes/SUPs is one of those examples – there are no rental companies in Haines Junction or at Kluane Lake, so boating on that big beautiful lake is very uncommon unless you bring your own boat.
The same goes for the smaller but equally beautiful Kathleen Lake south of Haines Junction. The only way I found to go canoeing at Kathleen Lake is on a tour based out of Haines, Alaska. Tatshenshini Expediting offers half and full-day canoe trips on the lake.
If you’re not up for an organized tour, you can just visit Kathleen Lake; there are a number of hiking trails (of varying difficulty) along the southern shore of the lake, and a nice campground. (Swimming isn’t common at Kathleen Lake, but Pine Lake north of town is a popular spot for that.)
7. Nosh Poutine at a Local Restaurant
As you might expect since the Yukon Territory is as Canadian as any of the other territories and provinces, poutine is a common dish on a few of the (admittedly limited) restaurant options in Haines. If you haven’t had it yet during your trip to Canada, Haines Junction is as good a place as any – especially if you’re headed on to Alaska in Haines or by way of the Alcan!
Mile 1016 Pub, my top suggestion for where to eat in Haines Junction, has the best poutine in town; their “classic” plate has french fries topped with cheese curds and smothered in beef gravy, but they offer two upgrades – pulled pork, or onions and bacon. Go for the latter and let your doctor worry about your cholesterol! 😅
Bonus: Learn at Long Ago People’s Place
If you are making the drive from Whitehorse to Haines Junction, there’s one more spot you need to stop – it’s not technically in Haines Junction so I can’t say it’s “one of the best things to do in Haines Junction,” but it’s on the way and is a really incredible experience if you plan ahead to make it happen. (It can be done either en route from Whitehorse to Haines Junction or reverse.)
About halfway between the two, Long Ago People’s Place (Kwäday Dän Kenji) is an interactive, living history museum that teaches about the traditional Southern Tutchone First Nations culture through instruction, cooking, structures, and tools. You must book a day tour; the facility isn’t open to the public without an appointment, but having the chance to learn about the Indigenous history of the area and how people lived on this land since Time Immemorial is an important part of responsible travel in the Yukon. (And the American West as a whole!)
Have any questions about these top things to do in Haines Junction, or have you heard of other activities too? Let me know in the comments below!