Eagles, Hammers & Bears: Haines, AK

by Allen Cox  

On a peninsula between the mouths of the Chilkat River and the Chilkoot Inlet in rugged Southeast Alaska sits the town of Haines, snugly nestled between mountains and sea. Like an old-timey, sourdough Alaskan, it sports a personality unlike any other and harbors distinct eccentricities.   

Yes, Haines is a port of call for cruise ships, but many passengers bypass Haines for a day excursion to nearby Skagway. This leaves Haines for the rest of us. Whether it’s wildlife watching, touring the town’s collection of quirky museums, outdoor adventure or experiencing Tlingit arts and culture, Haines is a delight to explore for independent travelers who can blaze their own trail.  

Start your discovery of Haines in its walkable downtown with a self-guided walking tour. You can download a tour map or pick one up at the Visitor Center. First stop is Fort William H. Seward National Historic Landmark for a slice of early Haines history. The fort was home to the region’s military presence tasked with bringing law and order to the Klondike Gold Rush and its more unruly characters. At the fort, be sure to visit the Sculpture Garden, which showcases local artistic talent.   

Next stop: The Hammer Museum. This is a first for everyone who walks through the door of this little museum, which is packed with 2,000 hammers on display and 8,000 more in storage. If you’re picturing the hammer aisle at your local hardware store, you’re way off. These are hammers (and hammering implements) throughout the ages, and no two are alike. Many just breeze through the museum, and then there are some who are captivated by the sizes, shapes, materials and the eras from whence they hail. The oldest dates from roughly 2,500 B.C.E. and was used in constructing one of the pyramids at Giza.   

Another must-see museum is the Haines Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, exhibiting numerous Tlingit artifacts. For even more Native Alaskan exhibits, head to the Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Center, located in the village of Klukwan, 22 miles north of town. This museum is well worth it as it displays priceless monumental artifacts and totems, many of which were eventually repatriated to the Chilkat people.   

In Haines and the surrounding area, you don’t have to make a special effort to spot bald eagles. They are a common site on the beach and in the trees. When it comes to bear viewing, midsummer to early fall is when to visit. Brown bears emerge wherever the salmon are running. Book a wildlife watching tour for the best and safest opportunities to spot bears, whales and more.   

Plan your Haines vacation at visithaines.com. In town, stop in at the Haines Visitor Center to chat with a local travel expert and get more ideas for your stay.