Haines, Alaska – “Valley of the Eagles” – is situated at the north end of the Southeast Alaska panhandle, about 100 miles north of the capital city, Juneau. The town is surrounded by the Takshanuk, Chilkat, and Coast Mountain ranges and is part of the Haines State Forest.
The area is part of the temperate rainforest here in Southeast Alaska and so, receives it share of moisture. By November the rains begin to turn into snow and Haines becomes a winter wonderland that can last into early April. In the winter of 2011-2012 the area received 360 inches of snow, which broke the record that was set in the winter of 2006-2007.
The record year began in mid-November when it dropped a foot of snow on us almost every day until the end of the month, leaving eleven feet of snow to plow and shovel. Good muscle toning while pushing the snow around and preparing for that first snowshoe of the year with your poles.
Haines has numerous trails to snowshoe, from flat to mountainous including: Mt. Ripinsky, Mt. Riley, Seduction Point and Battery Point trails. The Chilkoot and Chilkat State Parks’ roads are not maintained in the winter and provide a great place to explore on snowshoes. Because the area can receive large amounts of snow, you may need to break trail as you go.
The Valley of the Eagles golf course at two-mile Haines Highway has a trail that is kept groomed most of the winter and is approximately 1.6 miles in length. This is a great place to warm up for more strenuous snowshoeing later in the winter, provided you live here. For visitors it’s easily accessible for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing with incredible views.
The Chilkat river valley and Cathedral Peaks are to the west of the trail and Mt. Ripinsky is to the north. The river flows down through the Valley from the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve where it flows into Chilkat Inlet and eventually into the largest fjord in the world, the Lynn Canal or the “Inside Passage.”
In the summer it flows deep and is a major route for salmon making their way up the river to spawn in the many tributaries and lakes. The Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is prime habitat for the resident eagles and the other few thousand that travel to the area in early winter, October through February to feast on the spawned out salmon.
Haines has an abundance of wildlife that wanders through the valley in search of food all winter long. Moose mainly feed on willow in the winter and can be found seeking refuge in the flats. If you see any wildlife, keep a safe distance away.
Mt. Ripinsky which is part of the “Takshanuk Range” at 3600’ has several trails to climb within a short driving distance from downtown. The mountain is rugged and should only be attempted by those who are experienced in mountain climbing, reading maps and in top physical condition. The trail is not marked well, and the markers that are there may not be visible during heavy snow times. Check the weather forecast before starting up the mountain. If bad weather moves in, stay on the trail and do not attempt to descend the south side of the mountain (side facing town), the terrain is steep and impassable.
It might be a good idea to explore the golf course prior to attempting Mt. Ripinsky, while out there you can gain a better perspective of the mountain. A cell phone tower is visible that sits on the trail just above town.
The trailhead closest to town is called the Young Road trail by locals and is easily accessible by following 2nd Ave. north then turning left onto Young Road and following it to the end where there is a small parking area.
Another way up the trail starts at seven mile Haines Highway. The beginning of the trail is a boardwalk which takes you across a slough area and then begins its ascent. This end of the trail is steeper, but a shorter climb to the summit, and during the shorter days of winter it is better to be off the mountain an hour before sunset to ensure a safe descent.
Before attempting these remote areas, be sure to have all necessary survival gear with you including: a map of the area, extra food, space blankets, fire starter/matches, flashlight, knife, extra clothing and outer wear such as gloves, hats, etc. It’s always a good idea to let someone know which trail you will be taking and the approximate time you will be arriving back in town. The sun drops behind the mountains to the west early in the afternoon and the land is dark by 4 pm.
Traveling to Haines is an adventure in itself. The first step is to fly from Seattle to Juneau. This is where things can become tricky; you will need to either fly from Juneau to Haines with one of the small airline companies at the Juneau airport (no jet service), or take the Alaska Marine Highway System (the ferry). Flying is quick, only 35 minutes if the weather is cooperating, if it isn’t you may have to wait until the weather clears. Another way is to schedule your airline reservations to coincide with the ferry. It travels up the Lynn Canal from Juneau to Haines one or two times a week in the winter, and takes approximately 4.5 hours.
For more information on Haines visit www.haines.ak.us or call 907-766-2234 or toll-free 800-458-3579.
The best time for snowshoe activities is February through mid April, sometimes earlier depending on the weather patterns.
Accommodations while in town include:
Lynn View Lodge and Cabins which offer suites with a king size bed, refrigerator, microwave, and a jacuzzi tub to warm up in. The cabins each with a double bed, a set of bunk beds, shower, microwave, refrigerator. All wheel drive car rentals. Pick up at the airport or ferry. For more information or to see pictures inquire at www.lynnviewlodge.com or call 907-766-3713.
For snowshoe rentals and gear you may need while in town visit www.alaskanaturetours.net or call 907-766-2876.