The Treasures of Haines Highway – Alaska & The Yukon
If you’re exploring Alaska and The Yukon, especially by bike, here are some great reasons why the Haines Highway should be on your route. The Haines Highway has captured many hearts with its grand views of glacial mountains, abundant wildlife and rich history. Any trip to the panhandle of Alaska would be incomplete without a slow road adventure through this magnificent stretch of land. It connects the Chilkat River flats of Haines, Alaska, through alpine valley stretches to Haines Junction in Yukon, Canada. This excellently maintained portion of the Golden Circle Route was awarded the distinction of National Scenic Byway in 2009. The following treasures of the Haines Highway sum up a interesting past. It’s deeply rooted in indigenous nations and trade, as well as the natural splendor unique to northern lands of North America.
Chilkat Dancers perform traditional stories from Southeast Alaska at the Seawolf Gallery
First Nation Trade History
This highway follows the trail used by the Chilkat/Tlingit First Nations in their trading with the Athabascan indigenous people of the Yukon. The passage was known as the “grease trail” for the main commodity traded along it — eulachon oil. Extracted from the plentiful tiny candlefish, the oil would be traded for furs, hides, and copper from the Athabascan peoples. The trading parties often lasted a month and included up to 100 men carrying 100 lbs (45kg) loads. Today, the main village of Tlinglit People is set halfway along Haines Highway, by the Chilkat River which supported their people for centuries. A visit here offers an interesting look into their river-based life.
Jack Dalton and the Dalton Trail
Jack Dalton & The Gold Rush
Explorer, Jack Dalton, happened on the trail in the 1800s and immediately recognized its potential. He established trading posts and developed the “Dalton Trail” with emphasis on easy maneuvering of horse and cattle. The Klondike Gold Rush began shortly after the trail’s completion. Many prospectors used this route, paying a toll to ever-entrepreneurial Dalton, on their way to hopeful fortune.
The Bald Eagle
Wildlife of Chilkat River
The tremendous variety of animals along the Haines Highway is due largely to the rich Chilkat River. Maintaining a unique water temperature to this part of Alaska, it remains ice-free and provides an exceptional environment for salmon and candlefish spawning. The resulting biodiversity is astounding and feeds bald eagles, black bears, and brown bears. The nearby Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve holds prime roosting and feeding grounds for this species. Named “Valley of the Eagles” by the Tlinglit, the area has always maintained a uniquely high population of these beautiful, hooded creatures.
A variety of other mammals and birds call the highway’s surrounding regions home. These include moose, wolf, coyotes, sea otters, mountain goats, lynx, beavers, sea lions, humpback whales and orca whales. For the bird watchers, Trumpeter swans and Arctic terns have been sited in the valley along with 120 other species of birds. On a cycle tour through this region you’ll be guaranteed to see wildlife.
Kluane National Park
The Haines Highway ends its inspiring journey at the vibrant village of Haines Junction in Yukon, Canada. Initially established as a construction town in 1942, it became a cultural kaleidoscope of over 800 people. Residents include Champagne, Aishihik and Southern Tutchone indigenous people who hunted seasonally in this area for 2,000 years. This village is a great starting point for exploring the wilderness on its border – the Kluane National Park and Reserve. Here sits Canada’s highest peak, Mount Logan and ample opportunities for rafting or hiking through pristine wilderness.
A truly stunning experience, deep in the heart of Alaskan and Yukon territory, the Haines Highway offers a glimpse into variety and culture not to be missed. We chose this area to explore as part of our Alaska & The Yukon, Bike & Kayak Adventure, one of the first tours in our North America collection. We assure you it will delight with lasting memories. Hope you can join us!
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A special thanks to the Government of Yukon, the Yukon Photo Archives, Matt Hage, and Reinhard Pantke for the photos used in this article.