In late fall, Alaska’s scenic byways are beautiful, adventurous drives. With summer’s end, tourist traffic departs, and the threat of upcoming, heavy snow sings in the air. In crisp November, the Haines Highway offers unique, memorable beauty. From Haines, one of only three cities in Southeast Alaska that is accessible by road, a beautiful drive unfolds along the Lynn Canal, through the Chilkat Mountains’ Valley of the Eagles, past the United States-Canada border into British Columbia, past the Three Guardsmen Lake, and up to the summit of the Haines Highway. Beauty, nature, hiking, fishing, camping, and photographic opportunities abound along the Haines Highway between Haines, Alaska, and the Haines Highway Summit in British Columbia
America’s longest fjord and more
If you start your scenic drive at its southern end in Haines, Alaska, you are most likely to arrive with your car via the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system. On arrival, take the time to explore Haines and its scenic location along the winding shores of America’s longest fjord, the Lynn Canal. If you head south upon departing Haines’ ferry terminal, you’ll enjoy the fjord’s waters and discover Lutak Inlet and the lovely Chilkoot Lake, a state recreation area. Even with the salmon run season departed, the occasional bear visits the area, especially near the weir, and regal bald eagles are visible in the Sitka trees along the Chilkoot River’s bank. In late autumn’s quiet, graceful mist hangs in the evergreens along Chilkoot Lake while cold rapids swirl and flow swiftly past stretches of the Chilkoot River, artfully strewn with boulders and rocky river beds.
If you head north from the Alaska Marine Ferry Terminal, you’ll travel into historic Haines. Heading into Haines, you’ll spy historic Fort William H. Seward’s white buildings at the top of the hillside. Also, in Haines, you’ll find the Bald Eagle Foundation that is both a natural history museum and a live raptor center, the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center that offers a taste of pioneer history, and over a dozen, small galleries and gift shops. Be sure to stop at the Visitor’s Center, where you can pick up a pamphlet to guide a History and Walking Tour of Fort William H. Seward as well as an Alaska Wildlife Checklist and a Wildlife Viewing Guide.
November’s congregation of eagles
The Chilkat Valley is year-round home to hundreds of bald eagles. However, in November, the warm waters of a specific stretch of the Chilkat River and a late run of salmon transforms the Haines Highway, especially between miles 19 and 26, into what native Americans called the “Council Grounds of the Eagles.”
In mid and late November and December, the numbers of eagle attracted to Haines can soar as high as 3,000. As you drive the Haines Highway along the Alaska Bald Eagle Preserve, you’re certain to spot bald eagles in the branches of cottonwood trees, resting or feeding on sandbars of the Chilkat River, or soaring through the skies with the snow-capped Chilkat Mountains behind them.
If you love nature photography, consider joining the enthusiastic photographers, who flock to Haines during the eagle congregation. Haines is a genuine eagle viewing and photography hotspot. During Haines’ annual Bald Eagle Festival, guided eagle viewing and workshops are available. During the peak of the congregation, Bald Eagle Photo Tours are available from Expedition Alaska and Rainbow Glacier Adventures.
Summit of the Haines Highway
The US portion of the Haines Highway is designated as a National Scenic Byway. The highway connects the coastal community of Haines with Haines Junction in the Yukon Territory. Along its American stretch, the Inside Passage views of Lynn Canal and the snow-capped mountain views of the Chilkat Mountains are glorious.
As you continue north on this well-paved highway, you pass through customs at the United States and Canada border at milepost 42, Dalton Cache, and travel into British Columbia. You leave behind the lush coastal rain forest, the Valley of the Eagles, and climb into Canada’s St. Elias Mountain range, drive along beautiful evergreen slopes, and into alpine tundra. Canada’s Alsek-Tatsenshini Wilderness Park stretches westward from your winding road, and you drive through Three Guardsmen Pass and Chilkat Pass. At about milepost 120, you reach the summit of the Haines Highway, where you can see and feel the cold embrace of winter.
The drive’s scenic beauty can unfold further, but to taste its wild nature, it’s not necessary to drive its entire length. From the Haines Highway summit point, perhaps dependent upon the weather, you’d either turn around and drive back to Haines or continue on to where the Haines Highway connects with the Alaska Highway at Haines Junction, Yukon, Canada, approximately 155 miles north of Haines, Alaska.
Delightful scenic drive
A scenic drive on the Haines Highway in late fall is a natural adventure filled with beauty. The glorious, winding drive offers views of coastal fjords, majestic eagles, an historic town, stunning snow-capped mountains, and a route that stretches onward to connect Alaska’s coast with Canada’s Yukon.
Find the take in this article to be helpful? National and International Travel and Recreation as well as National Education and Industry materials come from a husband and wife creative team, who travel extensively in retirement as photonaturalists and writers. One is an experienced research scientist with a doctorate in Material Sciences and background in optics research. The other holds a graduate degree in humanities and is the former Vice President of GKE (Global Knowledge Exchange), who served as a US Web-based Education Commissioner during the Clinton administration, and was a former US National Tech&Learning Teacher of the Year.
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