Haines, Alaska

The big outside on the inside passage

Jan 8, 2004
Outside Magazine
best American towns Haines, Alaska

Sunset along the Chilkat River Valley near Haines    Photo: John Hyde/Southeast Alaska Tourism Council

MANY A TRAVELER washing ashore in Haines can't resist mentioning the TV show Northern Exposure. Original, no; understandable, of course. Nestled on a peninsula between soaring 7,000-foot peaks at the northern end of the Inside Passage, the town is passed over by much of the typical Panhandle rain and gloom. Aside from native Tlingits, most year-rounders blew in from elsewhere and became true believers, so community spirit flourishes: Volunteers staff the Dolphins swim club, the fire department, the board of the brand-new library. Need to locate someone in town? Phone in a "listener personal" to radio station KHNS.

OUTDOORS: Twenty million acres of protected wilderness start right here, so a local's quiver is incomplete without a kayak, Gore-Tex hikers, and a pair of backcountry skis. Sea kayakers head north to glaciers on the Lynn Canal fjord, mixing with sea lions and whales. Nearby raft trips range from lazy floats on the Chilkat River, past a wildlife refuge where thousands of bald eagles convene in late autumn, to weeklong (or even longer) whitewater epics on the Class II–IV Tatsenshini and Alsek. Trails for hiking and skiing start in town and head for hills like 3,650-foot Mount Ripinsky.
REAL ESTATE: Forty percent of property owners stay only seasonally, but their presence props up prices accordingly. Still, it's not hard to find a simple cottage on an acre, with views of the mountains or the Chilkat, for less than $100,000. For something fancier on more land, the price shoots up to around $250,000.
HIDEOUTS: The Hotel Hälsingland was once the commanding officers' quarters at the Army's Fort William H. Seward, and harks back to Haines's Klondike gold-rush roots (doubles, $89–$109; 800-542-6363, www.hotelhalsingland.com). Klatsches convene over coffee at the Mountain Market and over halibut and chips at the Bamboo Room.