Haines is widely considered the most beautiful of the Alaskan cruise ports, a tiny place ringed by mountains, glaciers and forest, and with a position near the mouth of the Lynn Canal, the state’s longest fjord. Fewer ships visit than nearby Skagway, which means fewer crowds and more genuine small-town charm. Like Skagway, Haines offers plenty of flightseeing, wildlife, activity and other excursion options.
Cruise port location
Cruise ships arrive at the Port Chilkoot Dock on Beach Road, close to the town’s historic fort (see below) and about a third of mile (0.5km) south of the small grid of street that make up Haines’ downtown area. Smaller cruise ships may dock at a second jetty a minute’s walk south of the main dock. On the rare occasions more than one large vessel is in town, ships may tender to shore.
Can I walk to places of interest?
The older historic parts of Haines and the newer downtown area to the north, with its museums and cannery, are within easy walking distance of the cruise terminal. Turn right from the terminal and follow Beach Road to the junction with Main Street, or fork left after Totem Street on the Haines Highway to access 1st and 2nd Avenue.
You can get from the cruise terminals and explore Haines on foot, but if you prefer transport, or want a transfer to a hiking trailhead, contact Haines Shuttle.
What to see and do
Haines is most famous for its bald eagles, which congregate in their thousands to feed on late runs of spawning salmon, but be warned that while the region has a resident population of the birds, the big numbers arrive around October, after the main cruise-ship season. Otherwise there’s enough in Haines to keep you busy for a couple of hours, leaving plenty of time to book out-of-town excursions.
What can I do in four hours or less?
A few minutes’ walk from the cruise terminal is Fort William H. Seward National Historic Landmark, a former army base with a grassy parade ground flanked by period buildings. It was built in 1903 in response to border disputes with Canada and the lawlessness of the gold-rush era. Be sure to visit the on-site Alaska Indian Arts to watch (and buy) wood carving, print-making and other crafts.
Combine this with a trip to the excellent Sheldon Museum & Cultural Center for more on the town’s recent history, together with exhibits devoted to the region’s natural environment and rich indigenous Tlingit heritage.
Haines also boasts one of the world’s great offbeat museums, the Hammer Museum, with over 2000 “historic” hammers from around the world.
Explore the source of Haines’ early prosperity at Haines Packing, a fishing canning and packing company that’s been in business since 1917. You can watch the day’s catch being unloaded and view some of the packing process.
Rent a bike hourly or for the day with Sockeye Cycle, which also offers easy, guided three- or four-hour bike tours from $90/£70 per person. Visit seatrails.org for information on self-guided bike trails.
If you prefer to hike, two hours is plenty to tackle the easy four-mile (6.5km) round-trip Battery Point Trail. Download the Haines Hiking leaflet for longer options.
What can I do in eight hours or less?
River excursions are an excellent way to enjoy the local scenery. Contact Chilkat River Adventures or the slower-paced Haines Rafting Company, both of which offer (non-white-water) trips on the Chilkat River into the Bald Eagle Reserve. Rainbow Glacier Adventures also offers a range of four-hour rafting tours from around $140 per person, long with kayaking, photography, wildlife and other water-based excursions.
For more challenging outdoor activities, contact Skagway & Haines Excursions, which offers a wide range of longer excursions, including sea kayaking, wildlife watching (notably bears), rock climbing and hiking, including the six-hour Mount Riley Trek ($139/£108), an eight-hour Haines Summit Tundra Trek ($195) and the seven-hour, off-road Alpine Adventure ($339/£263.50).
A couple of companies – Fly Drake and Mountain Flying Service – offer flightseeing trips to the majestic scenery of Glacier Bay, typically lasting between one and two hours and costing from $120/£93 per person, depending on the number of passengers. Many cruise visitors fly over Glacier Bay from Skagway, but Haines is closer to the best of the landscapes.
Eat and drink
Birch syrup – a poor person’s maple syrup – is a Haines speciality, and is available in many local stores. The Haines Brewing Company usually has around half-a-dozen beers on tap, while the central and long-established Mountain Market and Chilkat Restaurant and Bakery at 5th Avenue and Dalton are popular with locals for coffee and more.
Don’t leave without…
Haines has a scattering of galleries and stores with local art and craft that go beyond the usual Alaskan souvenirs, notably the Fair Winds gallery at 39 Beach Road, Northwest Pewter Co. and the Seal Wolf/Whale Rider galleries.
Need to know
Haines is the epitome of welcoming, small-town Alaska, and though its accessibility by road – rare in Alaska – means more summer visitors than you might expect, this remains a safe place to visit and explore under your own steam.
Best time to go
The warmest months are June, July and August, with average highs of around 65F (18C). May and September have near identical average highs of 57F (14C). The driest months are May, June and July, with around nine rainy days a month and monthly rainfall averages of 1.5in (4cm). Rainfall in August is 2.6in (6.5cm), while September sees 17 rainy days and 5.5in (14cm) of rainfall.
Many businesses and attractions close outside the main cruise-ship season, which in Haines runs from mid-May to mid-September.