From the rugged glaciers of the Chilkat Range to the calm waters of our local fjord we’ll explore the beauty and contrasts of northern Southeast Alaska with this combination rafting, hiking and kayaking trip near Haines.
In a tangle of mountains at the end of the famed Inside Passage lies the small fishing town of Haines Alaska, population 2,200. With North America’s longest and deepest fjord in the front yard and some of America’s tallest peaks out-back, Haines is an ideal place to base our adventures.
Adventure #1 takes you to the foot of a glacier deep in the Chilkat Range where we plan on backpacking, day-hiking and rafting for 3 days. The trip starts with a ride in a 2 person bush-plane; just you and the pilot soaring low over the forests and rivers searching for moose and bear. You’ll land by a grey glacial lake just a stone’s throw from the DeBlondeau Glacier which pours out of Glacier Bay National Park just to the south. After setting-up camp in this spectacular location we spend the afternoon scrambling on the rocks and exploring around the glacier. The gray of the lake dotted by floating icebergs, blue of the glacier and the green of the trees makes outstanding scene. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for mountain goats in the rocks, moose in the willows and wolves on the gravel flats.
With this good start we explore deeper into the mountains into country too rugged to allow airplane access. The narrow valley and braided channels of the river beckon us to explore to the very head of the valley where the Tsirku Glacier creates an icy wall. If conditions permit we may be able to skirt the edge of the glacier and climb high into the alpine areas for endless vistas of mountains, river and glaciers stretching to the horizon. It is a spectacular kingdom of rock and ice and we have a full day to explore the mountains or relax in camp.
On our third day we inflate the raft and negotiate a small rapid. Once past the rapids, we enter the forested portion of the watershed, tundra gives way to lush coastal rain forest and the river gains size. The valley widens the trees grow enormous and after rounding “Devils Elbow” we find the first spring-fed river of the trip. Stow your paddle and grab your fishing rod. The deep gravels of the Little Salmon River provide spawning habitat for salmon among other fish. We’ll definitely be on the lookout for bears here as they like to fish even more than we do. Below the Little Salmon River we enter the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and we can expect to see lots of eagles perched on driftwood along the river. After a day on the river we return to the road.
Adventure #2 Starts just 25 miles away but in a world apart. The austere ice-scraped mountains loom above the the great northern rain-forest with 5 ft diameter spruce and moss several feet thick. Our highway through this forest is the cold and rich Chilkat Inlet, thousands of feet deep and part of an extensive fjord. Sea kayaks provide a good balance of intimacy with the ocean and safety from it. The weather dictates our movements and we can elect to set up a base camp on the beach and do day trips from there, or load the kayaks each day and explore into the next cove and around the next point.
With a 25 ft tidal range the beaches can stretch long and broad at low-tide and when the tide is in we can paddle underneath the drooping hemlock branches. Grassy flats, sandy beaches, cobbles, cliffs and the big tree forests offer a great variety of areas to explore and camp. We’ll loaf in the sunny meadows when the weather allows and seek the comfort of the woods when needed.
Wildlife is unpredictable but the fjord’s rich waters feed salmon, halibut, cod and a host of other fish, which in-turn feed, humpback whales, harbor porpoise, and stellar’s sea-lions in the water and bears, wolves, fox and eagles on land.
A sturdy and warm camp, blazing beach-fire, and food fresh from the sea make a perfect end to a day exploring on the water and in the woods.
Last updated: August 6, 2020
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide for a pre-trip meeting at your hotel in Haines at 5 pm. Lodging included.
Weather permitting we fly, one at a time into the Upper Tsirku and land next to the glacier. Set up camp and let the fun begin!
A full day to hike in the upper Tsirku. We could hike to the very head of the valley and day-hike into the peaks above the glacier. Or stay closer to camp and paddle around in the glacial lake or scamper on the ice. It is dramatic and challenging country and there is no end to the adventures we can invent.
Down the River. We’ll paddle and row our raft captained by your guide through the initial rapids and down through the braids. Once we pass the rapids we enter the forest and tundra gives way to lush greenery on the banks. If water levels and time permit we’ll have a chance to explore and fish in the Little Salmon River before paddling the remaining miles to the Chilkat River and the road. We spend this night at a local B&B in Haines. Lodging included.
Showered and with clean clothes ready for the next adventure, we load our gear into the water-taxi for a 1/2 hour boat ride across the inlet and south of Haines to our favorite campsite. We’ll pitch our tents above the tide-line in the grass near a small river, protected from the south-wind and with an amazing view of the mountains and ocean. Welcome to paradise! We’ll have the afternoon to collect driftwood, hike the beach or kayak along the shore in search of wildlife.
Tide and wind are our masters. We can paddle into quiet coves, or kayak across the broad grey sea. We can climb to the top of an island for views up and down the fjord, fish for halibut, or walk in the green woods. No matter where we go we’ll scan the beach for bears and the water for whales. Or if you’d prefer to hike inland, we can trek up the river dwarfed by 1,000 ft cliffs to the glacier. It is a challenging hike to a spectacular destination. There is no end to the adventures we can have on the wild and rocky shores of this northern fjord. With long days we can probably do a bit of everything!
All good things must come to an end. We’ll spend the morning packing-up, hiking and paddling. Mid-day we meet our water taxi for the ride back to Haines. If the weather permits, we’ll ask the captain to swing past a big rookery of sealions on the way back to town. We may miss the quiet of the woods and the rhythm of the tide but Haines is a fun town to end a trip in. Lodging included.
We had a guide whose judgement and advice I trusted unconditionally. I am sure we had the great fortune to benefit from her many years of guiding, especially regarding the food she selected to bring. I found it incredible that the meals never tasted like they were selected for camping but also it always seemed to be very efficient, starting from the good coffee in the morning, to lunches that included gourmet cheeses, to the dinners she prepared that were better than those in many restaurants.
3 nights lodging in Haines
2 nights camping on the Tsirku River
3 nights camping along Lynn Canal
Boating, camping and safety equipment
Food while in the field
Professional Guide Service
Transportation to Haines
Food in Haines
Lodging beyond the 3 nights included in the itinerary
Personal clothing and gear per our Equipment List
Gratuity for guides
The weather in Southeast Alaska is highly variable. It can be almost summery with temperatures up to 75 F with sunshine or we can be visited by powerful storms with heavy rain and temperatures closer to 40 degress. The weather inland tends to be drier and cooler with the coast a bit warmer and damp. Each year is different and each day will be different. Pack for the cold and wet, but bring a short-sleeve shirt in case summer is lovely this year. Weather data is available at here.