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Published: October 30th 2015
The Inside Passage is only available by ferry with the exception of two towns, Haines and Skagway. Located in the Northeast corner, they are connected by road to Cananda and to each other at the far ends of a 350 mile triangle. Ironically, they are a quick 1.5 hour ferry ride apart by sea.
Haines is very laid back and modest, known for good hiking and outdoor activities, while Skagway has a very built up touristy downtown and is a gateway to the legendary Gold Rush White Pass and multi-day Chilkoot Trail and Hike.
Deterred by the descriptions we heard of commercial Skagway, we decided to home base in Haines and take a day trip via the fast ferry to Skagway. As we stepped off the ferry and headed towards the terminal with our heavy packs, we heard a loud call over the sound of the ships and cars “NEW YORK”! We turned to see our friends from the Sunflower State at the railing of the ferry which would go on to Skagway. I spread my arms and yelled back "KANSAS!" in fond farewell.
Our Haines campsite was run by the Halsingland hotel situated on the historic Fort
Seward square, the former grassy military parade ground. The hotel itself is a charming set of venerable old buildings, former officers’ baracks built in 1903, with lovely morning coffee and sensational mini scones offered in the lobby to guests.
The campground is behind the hotel, reportedly a fairly new acquisition and offers a neglected slope of laughable campsites, a rundown laundromat and barely lit bathroom/shower complex. It took us a while to select a campsite as none actually had a level, adequately sized space to set up a tent. Even after we picked the least pitched, concave, root-bound site, we had to hunt around to find a picnic table that had enough slats on the top and side (none had two seats) to cook a meal and enjoy sitting down. There were also no bear lockers so it was one of the few times we used the old hang the food and toiletries in the tree method.
After setting up our tent, we walked down past the square towards the port and took care of the business of purchasing seats on the Fast Ferry to Skagway two days later. These reservations fill up quickly with cruise passengers so
it couldn't be put off. We then headed out of town on the Beach Road towards the trailhead for the low-key hike to Battery Point. It started a lot further from the end of Beach Road then expected but provided some pleasant views of a pebbly beach once we found it.
The decision for the next day was whether to hike Mt. Riley or Mt. Ripinsky. We settled on Mt. Riley only because Mt. Ripinsky seemed to a much longer day’s hike. From the “Haines is for Hikers” brochure, there were 3 ways to get to the trailhead and we chose to approach it via Mud Bay Road which ran past our campground.
It soon became apparent it was going to be a longer walk than we first thought, so we stuck out our thumbs to get a ride. Within a few minutes, a really nice young man with a disheveled car pulled over and picked us up. It turned out he was the pizza maker at a local restaurant, Fireweed, who had gone to work in flip flops and had to run home to get more suitable shoes. Originally from Washington state, he was a former accountant
who abandoned his career to live the outdoor dream and had been in Haines for several years.
After he dropped us off, we headed up Riley Mountain. The summit provided spectacular views of the town of Haines and the Chilkoot Pennisula. On the return, we walked the entire way along the water, enjoying really interesting vantage points along the Chiklat Inlet.
There was no question as to where we’d have dinner. Returning the favor, we selected Fireweed and gave a big tip to the pizza guy which they added to his running tab. The food was fantastic! http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g31005-d406225-Reviews-Fireweed_Restaurant-Haines_Alaska.html#REVIEWS
I had a grilled halibut sandwich with apple fennel slaw which was really fresh and tasty. Terry had the special of the day, mac and cheese, a sensational update of traditional comfort food. We returned to Fireweed the next night we enjoyed it so much.
Haines also boasts a lovely little local library that earned the distinction of "Best Small Library in America, 2005", http://www.haineslibrary.org/. As travelers starving for internet access, local libraries were our favorite resources and we found Alaskan libraries to be particularly well designed, inside and out. For fans of the reality show "Gold Rush", the
Schnabel family hails from Haines and there was a donation tile on the library floor with Parker Schnabel's name on it.
On our last day in the area, we took the pre-scheduled ride on the Fast Ferry to Skagway. It is town of 1,000 (2,000 in the summer) population that handles 900,000 visitors during the cruise season! It was the entry point along with nearby Dyea for gold prospectors heading for the Canadian Yukon Territory over the White and Chilkoot Passes respectively during the Gold Rush in the 1800s. Famous images of men hauling their belongings single file over the Chilkoot Pass are even featured on Alaskan license plates. Dyea lost out to Skagway for tourism from cruise ships because its port is too shallow. The streets of Skagway are filled with all types of buildings that try to recreate the lawless atmosphere of their golden era. There is also a ranger station where modern adventurers must pick up their registration from both the US Park Service http://www.nps.gov/klgo/planyourvisit/beforeyouhike.htm
and Parks Canada to hike the 33 mile Chilkoot Pass.
Tourists, especially cruise ship passengers, most commonly take the rail excursion on the White Pass & Yukon Route
Railway. This several hour rail trip goes over gorgeous mountain terrain and costs over $200 each. Here's another blog's summary of that trip, http://www.davevdw.net/08-Trip/WhitePass.htm. We heard from fellow independent travelers that the better choice is to drive along the same route to Canada because the railroad trip is only a taste of the beauty. If we ever returned to the area, we would cover the “Golden Triangle” from Whitehorse to Haines and Skagway and hike the legendary Chilkoot Pass.
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