Our main reason for visiting Hyder, Alaska was to see more bears. There are two salmon runs in Hyder, which is at the head of the Portland Canal, a 90-mile fjord. Salmon come up the ocean to the fjord and up the Salmon River to Fish Creek to spawn. And the bears frequent the creek to feed on the salmon.
The U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game manage a viewing platform that was built over the creek, the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area, that allows visitors to watch the bears safely (for both visitors and bears) as the bears feed on the salmon.
We had initially planned to be in Hyder earlier in the season to catch the end of the salmon run but we took our time further north and got there quite late. But we also wanted to visit Hyder to see the Salmon Glacier, the world’s largest road accessible glacier.
We spent the morning walking around Stewart with Angel. It is quite a charming little town, with restored as well as rustic old buildings, and a number of shops and restaurants. The little grocery store there, Harbor Lights, offers great free Wi-Fi which we of course took advantage of.
We walked Angel over a boardwalk that was built over a large wetlands area, a very nice little walk.
Our original plan was to head to Hyder, Alaska after Haines, with a stop in Whitehorse but we made a few changes. We were now chasing the Aurora Borealis. There was a forecast for a strong Aurora on the evening of the day we left Haines.
We had to head out on the Haines Highway once again, since we made quite a detour to see Haines, which was totally worth it. Leaving quirky Haines was definitely bittersweet but driving through the spectacular Haines Highway a second time was certainly not going to be a hardship.
As we left Haines, we drove along the Chilkat River, the other beautiful river in town. So much beautiful nature there.
We were now leaving Alaska once again and crossing back into Canada. Going through customs was quite easy, with just a couple of the standard questions and a wave through. For some reason, it is still always stressful for me.
The weather continued to be cloudy but the views from the Haines Highway were still beautiful. We had a slightly better view of the mountains this time around and the clouds were much prettier.
Some of the peaks that were bare when we drove into Haines were now covered in snow. Winter is coming. Continue reading →
When we planned our trip to Alaska, I never once thought about seeing the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, were something that I believed only happened in the dead of winter.
Then, when we stopped in Talkeetna and visited the Aurora Dora gallery, Dora, the photographer, told us that she had seen the Aurora Borealis as early as August 22nd. Dora gave Hector the name of an application that provides forecasts about the Aurora, based on NASA spacecraft observations of the sun. Hector began to monitor the app sometime in August.
Hector discovered that there were a couple of days with strong Aurora forecasts during the time we planned to be in Haines. We checked the weather and found that one of those days also had a clear weather forecast.
A couple of days later on the cloudy day with a strong Aurora forecast we looked outside late at night and saw light coming from the north behind a couple of the thinner clouds.
That evening we in fact “saw” the Aurora for the first time ever, but it was just a faint colored light moving behind the thinnest clouds. There was one fleeting moment when an intense moving light pierced the clouds. It was not a photographable event but it was pretty amazing.
The following evening was the next strong Aurora forecast and to our delight, the weather was only partly cloudy that day.
That evening we headed back out to the same spot by the water. And this time we truly saw the Northern Lights.
We spent a lot of our time visiting the Chilkoot River in Haines. This beautiful river is where the salmon run, and where we found the Chilkoot bears, as well as eagles, seagulls and others vying for the nutrient-rich fish.
The Chilkoot is surrounded by forest and and empties into a lovely lake, the Chilkoot Lake, which in turn empties into another section of river, where we visited frequently.
The rain was beginning to catch up with us and we had a couple of pretty dreary, rainy days, but most days we made at least one visit looking for the bears. No luck the first couple of times, but we finally spotted a sow and her cubs at the mouth of the Chilkoot River where it then dumps into the Lukat Inlet.
These two cubs were our first grizzly cubs of the year! We saw several black bear cubs back in Yellowstone and we saw quite a few grizzly bears in Yellowstone and Denali, but no grizzly cubs.
Grizzly bear cubs have an adorable feature, they have white fur around their necks. Since they are born early in the year, during the sow’s hibernation, the white fur is almost gone on one of the cubs, but the other still has an almost complete white collar.
We watched the sow and cubs fishing along the beach. Then we saw another bear on the other side of the river mouth, also feeding. The other bear was working his (we assumed he was a male) way towards the beach where the sow and cubs were.
All of a sudden, he got in the water and started swimming towards the beach.
While in Haines, one of our neighbors mentioned that they saw lots of whales on the ferry to Juneau. We were pretty happy with our whale watching this summer, but we never have enough of the whales, and thought it would be fun to take a day trip to Juneau.
An added bonus was that Juneau has drugstores and we could take care of filling Angel’s prescription. In fact, a lot of people in Haines take the regular ferry to Juneau to buy supplies especially since there are both a Costco and a Walmart there.
We were able to get a pet sitter for Angel and made our reservations for the day with the best weather forecast. Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated. And, after having had great luck the rest of the summer, we were off on a ferry on a completely cloudy, kind of dreary windy day. And the sea was quite choppy, in fact the day before they had to turn back once already underway and cancelled the trip, something that has happened only about twenty times over a several year period.
The good news was that the boat we were scheduled to go out on, the Fjordland, is a catamaran that sails pretty smoothly over rough waters. And when we set off the waters were quite still because we were at the mountainous end of the protected Lynn Canal.
Shortly after departing, we stopped to look at stellar sea lions on the rocks. There were several groups, all males. This is the end of the mating season when they don’t eat. Amazingly, these big fellows are usually much bigger than this! Continue reading →
There was something we really liked about the quirky town of Haines when we visited eight years ago. We had some delicious fish and chips for lunch and a beautiful float down the Chilkat River, where we saw lots of eagles.
But this was also the place where we almost missed our cruise. After our rafting trip, we had scheduled a ferry back to Skagway, our port of call. We scheduled the next to last ferry that would get us back in time so that if something went wrong, we had one more ferry we could take.
When we got to the dock we found out that one of the ferries damaged a propeller and was out of service so the entire schedule was disrupted. Now there was no ferry scheduled that would get us back to Skagway in time. This is the danger of going off on your own from a cruise, they will not wait for you if you are late. We freaked out.
Because of an extremely nice and resourceful lady at the ferry office, we were saved. She got one of the tour cruises that had gone out from Skagway and was on its way back there, not scheduled to stop in Haines, to detour and make a very brief stop at the dock. We literally had to run down the dock and jump on the boat.
She also arranged for the cruise line to have a car at the dock ready to drive us straight to the ship on the other end. And we just made it! One little door was open on the side of the giant cruise ship. And we jumped in with seconds to spare.
So Haines had a really good vibe for us and we have been looking forward to returning. Now we were back. Driving down the Haines Highway after crossing the U.S. border we saw the Chilkat River that runs alongside the road. To our disappointment, but not terribly surprising, we did not see many eagles.
The Haines area is known as The Valley of the Eagles because thousands of eagles come to the ice-free section of the Chilkat for a very late salmon run in November, but most of these visitors leave between spring and summer. But there are still several hundred resident eagles that you see all the time around town.
And the town has a lot more to offer than eagles. There are museums, a brewery, a distillery, a farmers market, shops and restaurants, hiking, boating, fishing and more. This little piece of Alaska is connected to other Alaska towns by sea – ferries take you to Juneau, Skagway and on to other towns in the Inside Passage.
But it is also pretty isolated, and the only road to town is part of Canada. There is no drugstore here, which we found out when we needed to refill a prescription for Angel, there is no really large grocery store etc.
And yet there is something about this town. The Tlingit were the first settlers in the area about 11,000 years ago and the first to discover its riches: the abundance of fish, game, and edible plants and berries.
We left the Dempster and headed back to Alaska. Our next to last stop in Alaska was going to be Haines, a town we first visited on our last trip there. On that trip, our cruise stopped in Skagway, but we had our hearts set on seeing eagles, so we took a ferry to Haines, where we rafted on the Chilkat River and saw about 30 eagles. It was quite a memorable experience.
We split the drive to Haines into two days, first traveling on the Klondike Highway to Whitehorse, our third stop there.
On the way, we crossed the mighty Yukon River that was once the travelled by sternwheelers transporting miners and their supplies.
We stopped at the Montague Roadhouse Historic Site. A log cabin ruin that used to be a hotel, bar and restaurant, whose walls are still fairly intact. As I stood inside the structure, I could feel the energy of the stories that have been a part of this place.
And in honor of the old roadhouses, we stopped at a present-day roadhouse, the Moose Creek Roadhouse. It has a gift shop, and a restaurant, and lots of folksy art about the place.Continue reading →
After our awesome time in Denali National Park, we drove east to the Yukon. We had ambitious plans to see some fall colors and more wildlife before our drive south to the lower 48, crossing borders a couple of more times. So this was a time to move a bit more quickly.
Our next stop was Fairbanks, where we stayed for a couple of days. We had quite a few chores: washing the car and the RV, laundry and groceries as well as an appointment with a veterinarian for follow-up tests and a checkup for Angel.
It rained heavily during our brief stay in Fairbanks and we just did not have energy left to explore, so we did not really see the town. Next time.
Alaska Day driving day 9 recap
Road Name: Parks Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Generally good, expansion joints are bumpy and there are a few frost heaves
Miles Today: 156
Driving Time: 3:30
Total Miles in Alaska: 1913
Total Miles since entering Canada: 3907
Continuing to Tok, we drove through the small towns of Nenana and Delta Junction to check them out.
Nenana is currently best known for its Nenana Ice Classic, a lottery that requires entrants to predict the time, to the closest minute, when they think the winter ice on the Tanana River will break up.
A large striped tripod is placed on the frozen river and connected to a clock and the moment that the tripod moves and stops the clock is the winning time. Last year the pot was about $330,000CAD, serous money! But it is extremely popular so they had 22 winners.
Delta Junction is the official end of the Alaska Highway, so we had to have the obligatory photo there. And I just had to get my photo by two of Alaska’s giant mosquitoes.
It is sad to say that our wonderful summer in Alaska is winding down. It is going so fast.
We have travelled over 4000 miles since we crossed into Canada in May and driving the Alaska Highway across Alberta, British Columbia, and the Yukon.
Then we made a clockwise loop around Alaska.
We are still basking in the glow of Denali, and will be sharing a few more posts about the park. It was a wonderful experience and Hector took so many fabulous photos.
And although the Alaska portion is now over, we have more adventures ahead. So since we are moving along in our travels, we would like to let our friends and followers know where we are and where we are headed.
After leaving Denali, we made quick stops in Fairbanks and Tok Alaska, have crossed the border into Canada. We drove up the Top of the World Highway into Dawson City, Yukon Territory and will be here for a few days.
We plan to make one last turn north up the Dempster Highway (a scary road) towards Inuvik to visit Tombstone Territorial Park hoping to catch some fall colors on the arctic tundra. And maybe, just maybe an Aurora Borealis (fingers crossed!).
Then we will drive down the Klondike Highway and cross the border back to the U.S. for a stop in Haines, Alaska. There are lots of eagles there, and we hope to catch the salmon run and see some bears. Not to mention the world famous Hammer Museum 🙂
Afterwards we will drive down the Cassiar Highway to our last planned destination Hyder, Alaska to see bears at Fish Creek. Timing may be a bit late, but we hope to arrive in time for the end of the salmon run.
Afterwards we cross the border again (that will make five border crossings) into Canada and head south as slowly as the weather allows, crossing the border once again back to the U.S. and to Washington state sometime in September.
We will publish posts on all of this later, but meanwhile, back to Denali.