Haines is Alaska's center of odd or unusual museums and attractions, each somehow reflecting the character and contributions of local personalities.
You can't miss the Fort William H. Seward National Historic Site, a collection of large, white, wood-frame buildings around sloping parade grounds overlooking the magnificent Lynn Canal fjord. (Get the informative History Walking Tour brochure of the National Historic Site from the Haines Convention and Visitors Bureau to learn about each building.) The fort led a peaceful life, for a military installation. By the time the U.S. Army built it, in 1904, the Klondike gold rush was over, and there's no evidence it ever deterred any attack on this little peninsula at the north end of the Inside Passage. It was deactivated at the end of World War II, when it was used for training.
In 1947, a group of World War II veterans from the Lower 48 bought the fort as surplus, with the notion of forming a planned community. That idea didn't quite work out, but one of the new families from Outside helped spark a Chilkat Tlingits cultural renaissance in the 1950s. The Heinmillers, who still own a majority of the shares in the fort, formed a youth group that evolved into the Chilkat Dancers. A pair of elders led the group in construction of a Tlingits tribal house on the parade grounds. The Alaska Indian Arts Cultural Center (tel. 907/766-2160) grew from the same movement. Lee Heinmiller, a member of the family's second generation, still manages the arts center, where you can see totem carving and silversmithing practiced. It's open from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday. The center occupies the old fort hospital on the south side of the parade grounds. Check out the coffee shops, small galleries, and smoked salmon shop while walking around the area.
In the downtown area, the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, 11 Main St. (tel. 907/766-2366; www.sheldonmuseum.org), contains an upstairs gallery of well-presented Tlingits art and cultural artifacts; downstairs is a collection on the pioneer history of the town. There's a uniquely personal feel to the Tlingits objects, some of which are displayed with pictures of the artisans who made them and the history of their relationship with the Sheldons, for whom the museum is named. The museum also has a new gallery hosting traveling exhibits and contemporary work by local artists. It's open in summer Monday through Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 1 to 4pm; in winter, it's open Monday through Saturday from 1 to 4pm. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children 11 and under.
The entirely unique American Bald Eagle Foundation Natural History Museum, at 2nd Avenue and Haines Highway (tel. 907/766-3094; www.baldeagles.org), is essentially a huge, hair-raising diorama of more than 200 eagles and other mounts of Alaska wildlife. A falconer is on the staff, and the museum has a falcon for presentations and a resident bald eagle and owl. Admission is $10 adults, $8 seniors, $5 children ages 8 to 12, free 8 and under; children need to be with an adult. It's open during the summer daily from 9am to 5pm and during the winter daily from 10am to 2pm; call for the time of live bird presentations and for any off-season visit.
You'll recognize the Hammer Museum, 108 Main St., across from the bank (tel. 907/766-2374; www.hammermuseum.org), by the 19-foot-long hammer out front. Longshoreman Dave Pahl created his collection of hammers over a couple of decades of building a homestead and added to it using the Internet. He found the prize of his collection, an 800-year-old Tlingits war hammer, while digging up the foundation of the museum itself. More than 1,800 hammers from all over the world, old and new, exotic and ordinary, fill the four rooms (Pahl has another 4,000 in storage). It's open summer Monday through Friday 10am to 5pm, closed off season. Admission is $3 adults, free for children 12 and under.
The Kroschel Films Wildlife and Education Center, at Mile 1.8 Mosquito Lake Rd. (tel. 907/766-2050; www.kroschelfilms.com), is a wild animal park containing a dozen Alaskan species, including wolverines, lynx, a grizzly bear, wolves, and a snowy owl. The large enclosures are good for photography. Filmmaker Steve Kroschel and his teenage son, Garrett, show the animals off with infectious enthusiasm on a 2-hour tour. It's a funky, unscripted, and very Alaskan experience among the mountains 30 minutes outside Haines. To visit the Wildlife Center, you must book a tour. Call for more information and pricing.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.