Few things can spark interest in a preschooler, a pregnant mama, her husband, and about 30 other people of varying ages and backgrounds….all at once! That one thing? A trip on a mule into the gorgeous reaches of sub-alpine terrain in Haines, Alaska. You rarely hear about adventure beyond halibut fishing and whale-watching when you speak to someone who has just been to Southeast Alaska or on an Alaskan Cruise, but don’t let them fool you. There are many “hidden” adventures that await!
If you’ve traveled in Southeast Alaska and you’ve made it to Haines, then you are probably aboard a cruise ship or our personal favorite method of travel while in town, the Alaska Marine Highway System (or simply known as “the ferry” if you’re local). Though not as frequented by the large cruise ships as Skagway across the big blue, Haines is a quaint city with some pretty epic adventures for such a small town. No matter the reason for being in town, make sure you book a trip with the kind folks at Takshanuk Mountain Trail for a 4×4 Sub-alpine mountain explorer adventure!
You will pile onto “mules” or Utility Terrain Vehicles (some carry two passengers, some four) and tear off (at a leisurely, safe pace) from the parking lot where a tour bus has dropped you off. Then you’ll head up the mountain in a small fleet of four-wheeled fun machines! We were at the end of the pack. We thought this would be a drag — we’d positioned ourselves in the first buggies so that we might have “the best shot at seeing wildlife” — 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 people in the frame. It just felt like a private tour!
We didn’t go very fast at all. Really it was the perfect cruising speed with a three-year-old in tow and for photos. Some of our best photos are from aboard the Mule–Christmas card worthy pictures and even more special memories emblazoned in my gray matter for what I hope is forever!
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.
If the scenic vistas didn’t enthuse the group, maybe finger-lickin’ chicken and juicy halibut will get them excited. That comes with sides like potatoes 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.
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 thirst for adventure in Alaska satisfied, we all agreed this was a trip highlight from our 32 days and 6100 mile road trip!
If You Have More 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.
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 focal point of many films. The tour may be a tad scripted, but the passion with with Steve Kroschel presents is magnificent and contagious! Make sure to schedule your visit, as hours are strange and seem to ebb and flow with the tide. Or the cruise schedule.
Grab a Coffee and a Pastry at Sarah J’s Cafe – Yummy and very unique. Green space for a picnic. Caffeine.
What more do you need?
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. We were put right on an eagles nest, where we were able to show our preschooler what a baby eagle looked like, sitting in the stick nest! We also went on a guided hike into the rainforest, complete with pint-sized walking sticks!
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You might even see John Schnabel of the Big Nugget Mine (and the show Gold Rush) sitting outside his dwelling in town on bluebird sky sunny days! 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.