Haines and Skagway Alaska
June 6, 7th 2015
Haines and Skagway in Alaska are located on North America’s longest fjord, the Lynn Canal. The area is part of the Alaskan Panhandle. It is interesting that you can only get to Haines and to Skagway by road, by going through Canada. You can drive down from Whitehorse along the South Klondike Highway to get to Skagway. To get to Haines you can drive down the Haines Highway from Haines Junction, Yukon – the road we took. Otherwise, to get anywhere else in Alaska the Alaska Marine ferries travel between the Pacific coast towns like Juneau, the capital of Alaska, for example.
We left the Kathleen Lake Campground at about 8:00 in the morning and arrived in Haines, around three in the afternoon. There was low cloud cover and some drizzle. We had looked up some RV parks and headed to the one that sounded like it had a great location, right on the waterfront. We drove down the “main” street and did find the RV park – a large open parking lot with a great view of the harbour. I went into the office. It had an old sofa in the middle of the small room, two coin operated washing machines, a shower room at the far end and on the wall in front of the shower room was a piece of paper taped to the wall where you wrote your name to get in line to take a shower! The shower was coin operated. We decided that we would try a second place. It was in a nice wooded area but the office building was a bit run down and the shower rooms were damp and dark. So we went back up to the highway. The third place did not have much ambience – a large parking lot really. But the office building was crisp and tidy with nice flowers planted outside, always a good sign for me. The shower rooms were spotlessly clean and despite being on the highway there was very little road noise.
It was also an easy walk down to Haines. We went down to the waterfront. I walked along a nice stretch of sandy beach – the Pacific Ocean! It was quite picturesque even though the low clouds hid the tops of the mountains. There were actually two grocery stores in Haines, and probably three times as many liquor stores. So we picked up some meat, a salad, and nice California wine for dinner. We also reserved the ferry for the next day to take us to Skagway. There was only one ferry and it left at noon. You paid for the number of passengers and for the length of the vehicle so it was not inexpensive – about $150.00 US.
The next morning was drizzling so we drove out to check out the road to the ferry. The coastal rain forest was dense and lush compared to the almost stunted trees of the Yukon. To be exact we were no longer “north of 60” but actually at about 58 degrees latitude. The highlight of the drive was spotting a group of bald eagles, adults and young birds. The air and water were very still and quiet. We watched as the adults soared over the water and then came back to sit in the tall pine trees. They had the classic proud eagle poses. We were close enough so that we could see their white heads and large yellow beaks. They were amazingly well camouflaged blending right in with the tree branches.
We went back to Haines to a small coffee shop and enjoyed a cappuccino and a muffin. There was a huge map of the world on the wall with lots of tiny red pushpins. A young couple was seated on a sofa when we came in. The young man got up to put a pushpin on the map – he was from Hamburg, Germany . We started to chat with them. They were hikers and had hiked some trails in the area. He warned us that the trails were quite wet and there were also streams to be crossed. As we had read in the “staying safe” booklets, the stream levels rose quickly and could be very treacherous. He had hopes that we were heading their way so we could go hiking with them because they also had come to understand that we were in bear country. They told us that they had done a walk with stunning views on a trail outside Carcross but had come across a bear. So they were leery of doing anymore hiking. We told them that we had done the Sheep Creek Trail in Kluane PArk and that there were other people on the trail too. They were so excited and enthusiastic about being in the Yukon and Alaska.
The ferry had what I would say were a colorful group of travelers. There was a family with young two toddlers happily running across the deck – German-speaking. There was what I would describe as a “hippy” like couple with tents and all their gear in large back packs. They strummed a guitar and sang most of the way to Skagway. There was a young woman with two red-headed toddlers. We saw her getting off the ferry on a bicycle with the two boys in a little cart at the back. We also crossed paths with the German couple that were camped next to us at the RV park.
Luckily it had stopped raining and the 45 minute ride went by way too quickly. The water was completely still. We could not see the tops of the mountains but the views were still beautiful. With the spring melt we could see many long waterfalls cascading down to the water.
As we arrived in Skagway harbour the sun popped out giving us a splendid view of the inlet, the town and the mountains surrounding it.
Skagway’s location is stunning. The town was the starting point for the Klondike Gold rushers on their way to Dawson City. Today it is a stop for the Alaska cruise ships. In my opinion it feels a bit like a theme park. There are the usual jewelry and t-shirt stores you see wherever the cruise ships stop. But it also has preserved some of the rail cars from the White Pass Railway which were interesting to see.
The plan was to reach Whitehorse today so after a brief walk around Skagway we headed up the South Klondike Highway.