A Local's Guide To Haines
Photo Credit: ATIA

A Local's Guide To Haines

A Local's Guide to Haines

Heather Lende has lived in Haines, Alaska since 1984 with her husband and five children. Her nationally acclaimed book about Haines, "If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name" (Algonquin 2005), is in its sixth printing and is a National Geographic Traveler magazine Ultimate Travel Library Selection. She has contributed to National Public Radio, the Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, the Anchorage Daily News, and Alaska Magazine. 

I love living in Haines, it is so beautiful — the mountains rise right up from the beach and river valleys. There are lots of fish and wildlife and plenty of interesting, friendly people. 

I also like the influence my Tlingit neighbors have on our culture and community values. Without traffic or chain stores, Haines is more like older towns than many Alaska communities. The shops are owned by locals and the school is full of children whose families I know. We have sidewalks, a Main Street and not one traffic light. It is a great place to walk, run and ride bikes. I’ve lived here all of my adult life and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Haines is small, but we have everything you need, from books and groceries (including organic ones) to building supplies (thanks to my husband’s lumberyard) and sporting gear. Our library is in the heart of town and was voted The Best Small Library in America a few years back by Library Journal. We have a public radio station (I am a volunteer there, too), and a weekly paper, the Chilkat Valley News (I write the obituaries). The Chilkat Center for the Arts has wonderful acoustics, the Arts Council is active, our ambulance crew is first rate and the clinic is modern. Everyone in Alaska has heard of the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival, a gathering each November of 3,000 or so eagles, and the Kluane to Chilkat International Bike Relay from the Yukon down to Haines is another good reason to come here. Also, the Southeast Alaska State Fair (the last few days of July) is a nice weekend of folksy, small-town music and fun.

1. A taste of art and culture

One the neatest new attractions for both locals and visitors is the new Klukwan Traditional Knowledge Camp. It is great place to spend some time learning about Tlingit culture from the people who have lived here for thousands of years. Haines has more artists per capita than any small town — and not just in Alaska but the whole country. When you live with artists, community discussions change. They see the world in a different way, and I appreciate their attitude toward work and life. It spills over into a town where people don’t live and work all that conventionally. There’s not room to list all the amazing artists in Haines, but to find their work and take some home, visit Whale Rider Gallery, Extreme Dreams Fine Arts Studio-Gallery or Alaska Indian Arts.

Whale Rider Gallery
Whale Rider Gallery. Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Matt Hage

2. Getting from here to there

I like our isolation, but I also like all the ways we can come and go, especially the Alaska Marine Highway. Ferries are such a relaxing, civilized way to travel. It takes about five hours to reach Haines from Juneau, so if you want a quicker, 45-minute trip with flight seeing thrown in for free, try an in-state air carrier. The scenic drive — or bicycle ride — on the Haines Highway to and from Canada, or the rest of Alaska, is also great.

3. Hiking in Haines

My favorite hike, winter (with snowshoes) and summer, is Mount Ripinski. The 3,600-foot peak rises right up behind town and has several trails that offer steep terrain, great views and a quiet wilderness experience from our big woods, and lush coastal brush to the heath and flowered alpine. On the Fourth of July, there’s a race on one of the trails that is more of a rock scramble. It only takes about a half hour, but it may the hardest half hour you’ve ever spent. It is crazy and I love it. If I have an afternoon off — and even when I don’t, but the weather is good — Mount Ripinski is where you’ll find me. Truly, in rain or shine, winter snow or under blue summer skies, even in the moonlight, it is a world-class hike right behind downtown Haines. Every time I’m up there it is like taking a little vacation.

4. A relaxing day in Haines

The coastal Battery Point Trail makes a good, short, lunchtime walk with the dogs, especially since they can swim when we get to the beach. Mount Riley is a longer, woodsy hike, and just as pleasant in the rain. The Seduction Point Trail at Chilkat State Park is a good trail run or Sunday afternoon walk and nice when the blueberries are ripe. I also just like to mosey around historical Fort Seward, especially on summer afternoons when the shops and eateries are open.

Scenic view in Haines
Scenic view in Haines

I like the smell of the smoking salmon from the smokery, and love hanging out in the English-style garden of Mayor Fred and Madeleine Shield’s art shop, The Wild Iris — the view is great, the flowers, fruits and vegetables are incredible, and Fred is always interesting to talk with. From there you can walk along Portage Cove to downtown. I love the giant hammer in front of the Hammer Museum — it is really something when it’s wrapped in Christmas lights. And you can’t pass The Bookstore without buying a book or newspaper.

I like poking around the boat harbor when the gillnet fleet is in, looking at the boats and hearing the conversations and picking up some fresh crab, shrimp, salmon or halibut for dinner. A perfect summer Haines day for me begins with local coffee — Mountain Market roasts their own beans — includes something active outdoors and ends with a big dinner with family and friends of local fish, produce and beer from the Haines Brewing Company. My kids help gather spruce tips from the trees in our yard for the brewery’s spruce-tip ale.

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