Ultimate Adventure in Haines, Alaska for All Ages

Few things hold the interest of a preschooler, a very pregnant mama, an outdoorsy husband, and around 30 other people of varying ages and backgrounds. Somehow, we managed to find exactly the thing which fit this description. This fun adventure for all ages is a trip on a mule into the gorgeous sub-alpine landscape of Haines, Alaska. Make sure to do the halibut fishing. Take the cruise if you must. (Though we recommend this route instead.) But once you’ve done the obligatory adventures in Southeast Alaska, take part in this “hidden” gem and you’ll remember it forever!

tree root rainforest Southeast Alaska

Photo Credit: Pixabay / evag

Takshanuk Mountain Trail

If you’ve made it to Haines and you’re not a local, then you are probably aboard a cruise ship. Our personal favorite method of travel while in town and in Southeast Alaska at large is the Alaska Marine Highway System (simply known as “the ferry” to locals.) Haines is a quaint city with some pretty epic adventures for such a small town and is quieter, since it’s not on the main cruise line frequented by the big freighter class colossal ships. No matter the reason for being in town, make sure you book a trip with the folks at Takshanuk Mountain Trail for a 4×4 sub-alpine mountain adventure!

Haines, Alaska – Riding a Mule

The journey starts with you piling onto “mules” or Utility Terrain Vehicles (some carry two passengers, some carry four) and set off at a leisurely, safe pace from the parking lot where a tour bus has dropped you and other cruise excursionists off. Then you’ll head up the mountain on your mule. We were at the end of the pack. We thought this would be the very worst spot — we’d strategically, if selfishly positioned ourselves in the first buggies so that we might have “the best shot at seeing wildlife” — but we took off in reverse order. Oops! The best laid plans… but being very last turned out to be such a treat! We were able to hang back for a few extra seconds to take photographs with our son and have vistas open up to us without 20 other machines and groups in the frame. It felt like a private tour! There was a guide on either end of the pack, book ending everyone.

We didn’t go very fast. Really it was the perfect cruising speed with a three-year-old in tow and for photography purposes. Some of our best photos are from aboard the Mule–Christmas card worthy pictures! We stopped at mini-babbling brook waterfalls for my son to frog around for a moment. Such amazing memories!

Make sure to bring your camera, a bottle of water, and a light layer to put on once you get up to the sub-alpine area — it’s a tad cooler, but on the sparse summer days of Southeast, you may not need it! You don’t even have to “rough it” — there is running water, electricity, and a pretty posh and modern “cabin” to relax upon the cozy furniture and just digest while watching Stellar’s Jay birds hop around from branch to branch outside the place where you’ll lunch up. And again–it’s not PBJ or MREs. Wow. Lunch was fantastic!

temperate rainforest Southeast Haines, Alaska

Stellar Jay – Photo Credit: Pixabay / newmediapractitioner

Takshanuk Mountain Trail Lunch

If the scenic vistas didn’t enthuse the group, maybe finger-lickin’ chicken and juicy halibut will get them excited. The chicken was good, but we wanted to enjoy the Alaskan chickens…that is the halibut nuggets. The main meat dishes come with sides like potatoes and beans and fresh-baked cookies and lemonade or coffee too! We were impressed by every bite of the meal — even our notoriously picky eater found that the potatoes and halibut were too delicious to pass up. And we didn’t even need to smother it in ketchup, the usual plating method for our kids.

Our favorite memory was showing our son the difference between plants and the surrounding area where we started  (at the bottom of the mountain) and the atmosphere of  the sub alpine area at the top. Our group was diverse and this tour  could be enjoyed by my 83 year-old grandma or an adventurous three-year-old–like ours! As our morning came to a close, bellies full and appetite for adventure in Alaska satisfied, we all agreed this was a trip highlight from our 32 days and 6100 mile road trip!

The Haines Difference

We spent only two days in tiny Haines and three in Skagway. If given the opporunity, we’d have swapped those numbers, opting for more time in laid-back Haines. Skagway is great too, but we hadn’t planned a hike on the Chilkoot trail, so we spent each day there driving back and forth to Dyea to avoid the tourist rush from the cruise ship off-loading. So not our jam! Haines is much more the city of real people — not the Caribbean-inspired junk shops and pricey stores of the harbor areas in any cruise port town.

In the time since we were in Haines, which has been nearly two years — I heard a book review on NPR one day. I heard “Haines” and tuned in. It turned out, an obit writer in the small town had written a book and it had such a pleasant, if morbid, premise–finding the good. In fact, the name of the book is Find the Good. I’m loading it on my audible account now. I won’t ruin the book for you, but it’s worth a read if you get a chance! Plus, the authors website has some pretty idyllic shots of what Haines life is like.

Haines Adventures if You’ve Time

Once you’ve spent a morning or afternoon (the tour takes exactly half the day) zipping up and down the mountain, stuffing your belly, and relaxing in the sub-alpine serenity, here are a few other adventures that are around the Haines area for families to partake. We do recommend the morning tour though — if it doesn’t conflict with something else you’d like to do, it’s a fresh way to start the day!

Kroschel Wildlife Center – Not a zoo, this is where the wildlife lovers can go to see and interact with animals that are trained and have been the focus of many films. Make sure to research times and schedule your visit, as hours are strange and seem to ebb and flow with the tide. Or the cruise schedule–probably more likely.

Grab a Coffee and a Pastry at Sarah J’s Cafe – Yummy and very unique. Green space for a picnic. Caffeine. ‘Nuff said.

The American Bald Eagle Foundation is worth a peek, but if you’re short on time, skip it and go see the real deal down at the waters edge. You can even book Alaska Nature Tours to customize an experience that will fit you and your families’ interests and needs. This is the route we went (though we did go to the Foundation, too.) We were put right on an eagles nest, where we were able to show our preschooler what a baby eagle looked like, sitting right in the stick nest! Yes, there are Eagle Cams everywhere on the internet, but this is so much more REAL! We even had an active nest in our backyard for several years, but didn’t ever see the eaglets like we did on this tour! We also went on a guided hike into the rainforest, complete with pint-sized walking sticks!

There is a mind-blowing playground across from the American Bald Eagle Foundation and the set of “White Fang” can still be visited today. It was filmed entirely in the town of Haines. Both the Big Nugget and Porcupine Mountain mines (as seen on the Discovery Channel Gold Rush show) are in Haines. We were in the area when John Schnaubel was still in the nursing center in town, but he’s since passed. You would never have known at the time that Discovery Channel was filming there — it’s such a quiet, picture-perfect town. (Probably why it’s such a hit with the pictures!)

There’s a lot of good in the little town of Haines, Alaska –  if you take the time to discover it as if it’s your own home.

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