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The 7 Best Things to Do in Haines, Alaska’s “Adventure Capital”

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Nestled at the edge of Southeast Alaska’s deepest fjord and surrounded by towering snow-capped peaks, Haines boasts an enchanting blend of rich cultural heritage and extraordinary outdoor adventures. From exploring the thriving art scene and indigenous Tlingit culture, to indulging in world-class fishing and wildlife viewing, a visit to Haines promises an unforgettable exploration of the Last Frontier’s unparalleled allure.

I’ve been fortunate to visit Haines recently – twice in 2022 – as well as in my childhood growing up in Alaska. During these more recent visits, I decided to put on my travel blogger hat and savor as much as I could of what this small Alaskan community has to offer.

Things to Do in Haines Hero

You might be thinking: Valerie, are there really only seven things to do in Haines? Of course, there is more – but these are the seven best things to do in Haines. And it’s important to remember that Haines is a small, seasonal community from a tourism perspective. It doesn’t even have a cruise terminal, and is home to only around 2,000 citizens year-round. This means it has “less” to do – but it packs “more” into those experiences, as you’ll soon discover.

So whether your Alaska travel plans take you to Haines on a cruise ship, the ferry, or down the Haines Highway as part of adventuring on the Alcan, there is plenty to do, I promise. Let’s discover that together.

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the Lingít Aaní (traditional lands) of the Tlingit people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands, which were traditionally called “Deishú” by the Tlingit people. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in June 2023, and was updated most recently in February 2024.

Go Wildlife Spotting

Haines is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, offering opportunities to spot an array of captivating creatures in their natural habitat; this is why it tops my list of things to do. It’s a place where Mother Nature herself seems to have conspired to create a wildlife-spotting paradise.

Among the diverse species inhabiting this region, perhaps the most famous residents are the American bald eagles. Thousands of these magnificent birds converge in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve during the late fall and early winter, transforming the area into the world’s largest gathering spot for bald eagles.

Other wildlife sightings can include brown and black bears, especially along the Chilkoot River where bears frequently fish for salmon. You might even spot whales, sea lions, or other sealife in Chilkoot Inlet – from shore or a boat if that’s how you find yourself in Haines.

Support Eagle Rehabilitation

The American Bald Eagle Foundation (ABEF) is at the forefront of eagle rehabilitation in Southeast Alaska, dedicated to the conservation of the bald eagle and its habitat. The Foundation’s Raptor Center in Haines houses several non-releasable eagles and birds of prey that, due to injury or imprinting, cannot survive independently in the wild.

Visiting Haines, you can get a first-hand experience of this rehabilitation effort by visiting the American Bald Eagle Foundation. Here, you can see the rehabilitated eagles and other raptors, learn about the various aspects of their life, and understand the intricacies involved in their rescue, recovery, and rehabilitation process. It’s not uncommon for visitors to be able to observe feedings and watch the birds in their large, outdoor aviaries.

Additionally, the Foundation often offers educational talks and live raptor presentations, which provide a unique chance to see these birds up close. This immersive experience not only educates visitors about the dangers to bald eagles (from humans, predominantly) but also instills a greater appreciation for these birds and the importance of preserving their natural habitats.

Raft the Chilkat River

Things to Do in Haines - Chilkat Rafting

Since my Alaska rafting adventure in 2022 with Momentum Expeditions along the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers (which actually started in Haines!), I’ve been hooked on rafting. If you feel the same way, Haines has something to offer!

Floating down the Chilkat River is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that offers not only a thrilling adventure but also an unmatched connection with nature. This glacial river, with its clear, blue water flowing through the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, is the perfect combination of serene landscapes and calm water (there are no rapids on the part of the river that you can float).

Several well-rate companies operate rafting trips in the Haines area, providing guided tours that cater to both novices and experienced rafters. Among these, companies like Haines Rafting and Rainbow Glacier Adventures offer day tours including a float down the Chilkat.

Explore the Sheldon Museum

Visiting the Haines Sheldon Museum is like stepping back in time. The museum, named after its founders, Steve and Wanda Sheldon, is a treasure trove of Alaskan history and culture. As Haines’ first (but not only) museum, the Sheldon Museum provides insight into the history, culture, art, and lifestyle of the native Tlingit people, as well as the pioneers and settlers who have called this region home.

The museum showcases a diverse range of exhibits, including artifacts, photographs, and artworks that collectively tell the story of Haines and its surroundings. Among the most significant artifacts are those from the local Tlingit tribe, featuring intricately designed ceremonial masks, traditional garments, and handcrafted totems. These provide a captivating glimpse into the tribe’s rich culture and tradition. The museum also offers an extensive collection of artifacts from the Gold Rush era and a visual history of Haines’ early pioneer days.

Beyond the historical artifacts, the Sheldon Museum has a revolving display of contemporary exhibits, often showcasing the work of local artists and photographers, thus, highlighting the vibrant and evolving cultural scene in Haines. Interactive exhibits and special programs for children make it a perfect family-friendly activity, too.

Visit the Hammer Museum

Things to Do in Haines - Hammer Museum

The Hammer Museum is a one-of-a-kind institution that’s sure to strike your curiosity…. 😆

This unique establishment is the world’s first museum dedicated entirely to hammers, featuring over 2,000 pieces from around the world and throughout history. The collection covers a range of hammer varieties, from ancient tools used by early humans to modern-day hammers used in various industries, showcasing the evolution of this essential tool and its impact on human progress.

A visit to the Hammer Museum offers a quirky and fun yet surprisingly informative experience; each hammer has a story to tell, whether it’s about ancient civilizations, specific trades, or historical events. The museum, with its friendly and knowledgeable staff, does a brilliant job of bringing these stories to life.

Stroll through Fort Seward

Fort William H. Seward, also known as Chilkoot Barracks, is a national historic landmark located in Haines. Established in 1902, it was the first permanent U.S. military installation in the state, constructed to maintain peace and order during the Klondike Gold Rush and all the activity it inspired in nearby Skagway. Today, it stands as a testament to Haines’ rich history and provides an interesting exploration ground for visitors.

While the military fort has been decommissioned, several of its original buildings have been preserved and repurposed. Some structures house local businesses, galleries, and even residences, while others have been transformed into attractions such as the Alaska Indian Arts Center, where visitors can watch traditional Tlingit art being created and even take part in workshops. The Parade Grounds, the heart of the fort, is now a well-maintained park offering a stunning view of Portage Cove, perfect for picnics or leisurely strolls. You can also stay in Fort Seward at the Halsingland Hotel, one of the places I recommend for where to stay in Haines.

Notably, Fort Seward hosts the annual Alaska Bald Eagle Festival in November, when thousands of eagles flock to the nearby Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Visitors during this period can enjoy a myriad of activities, including photography workshops, presentations, and guided tours, making it a must-visit destination for bird lovers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Sip Local Spirits & More

You might be surprised by this one: Haines is home to some delightfully delicious drinking spots.

First, and most notably, Port Chilkoot Distillery is an essential stop for anyone who loves spirits; their Alaskan-made vodka, whiskeys, gin, rum, and absinthe are truly awesome for such a “backwater” corner of the world not known for its distilling. I make it a point to swing in each time I visit, as their craft cocktails are also knock-out.

You might prefer something with a little bit less of a kick, in which case I recommend either Haines Brewing Company – whose lineup includes awesome options like Captain Cook’s Spruce Tip Ale and the Bigger Hammer barleywine so named for the local museum – or Three Northmen, a cidery and meadery that covers the rest of the drinking spectrum. (I’ve been trying to visit Three Northmen every time, but they’re always closed when I’m in town!)

It goes without mentioning too that there are some nice restaurants in Haines too.

Bonus: Catch the Fast Ferry to Skagway

Taking the fast ferry from Haines to Skagway is a beautiful and convenient way to explore more of Southeast Alaska. The journey, which lasts about an hour, offers stunning views of the mountain-lined fjords, cascading waterfalls, and potentially, an array of marine wildlife. The ferry itself is comfortable, with both indoor seating and outdoor decks that provide a great vantage point for taking in the breathtaking landscape and snapping photographs.

Upon reaching Skagway, visitors step into a town that seems frozen in time, known for its significant role during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century. The well-preserved historic district, featuring wooden boardwalks and buildings reminiscent of the gold rush era, offers a fascinating glimpse into the town’s past. Here, you can visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park visitor center, which provides informative displays and guided tours about this pivotal period in history.

Skagway also boasts access to scenic hiking trails, such as the famed Chilkoot Trail (a short distance away in Dyea), and the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, a vintage locomotive ride that winds through spectacular mountainous terrain. With its rich history and natural beauty, Skagway promises an exciting and memorable day trip from Haines.

I have several articles about Skagway including things to do, places to eat, and where to stay… but if you’re just planning a day trip from Skagway, my guide for making the most of one day there will be the best thing to read next.

Have any other questions about things to do in Haines and how to make the most of your time there? Let me know in the comments below!

Haines 2024 Mockup

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


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