We first saw the wide, braided Chilkat River on Tuesday as we drove along the Haines
Highway on our way to the town of Haines.
After the dramatic descent from
Chilkat Pass the road flattens out for 30+ miles as it closely follows the
Klehini and Chilkat Rivers downstream to Haines and the Chilkat Inlet. We passed
Klukwan, the only remaining Native Indian village in the area, and drove
about ten miles through the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.
Fish wheel operated by the Alaska Dept. of Fish &
Two days later we took a day drive along the river
for 21 miles upstream from town, stopping at several of the overlooks
and the Council Grounds in search of mountain scenery and bald eagles.
Although the clouds were low over the mountains to the west in the
morning, they lifted some by the time we turned around and headed back
Low clouds in the glaciated
Takhinsha Mountain Range west of the Chilkat River
Viewing platform on the Council
The most developed wayside along the Chilkat River is the site of the
Council Grounds, where up to 4,000 bald eagles congregate each November
in search of spawning salmon. The river never freezes in this section of
the river so the salmon continue swimming upstream later in the fall
than in other places in Alaska. Bears and eagles have a feast!
There is a handsome interpretive kiosk at this turnout, as well as a
paved trail with boardwalks along the river to enhance viewing the
wildlife and scenery:
Although we didn't see any bald eagles that day, we did see some
closer to town and on bike rides and hikes during our stay. We are here
too early for the large gathering of the eagles in late October and
early November when the salmon are running strong in this part of the
river, which never freezes.
About a mile north of the Council Grounds the Native Village of
Klukwan lies between the Haines Hwy. and the Chilkat River.
It was the largest of the Tlingit Chilkat communities in the northern
Panhandle of Alaska (with about 600 people in 1880) and is the only one that
remains today. The village operates under a tribal government today.
Outdoor gardening and a
Village members and elders are working hard to revive and preserve
traditional Tlingit art and skills during cultural workshops that are
held each summer. The village also offers tours that feature artists in
residence, storytelling, traditional fish processing demonstrations, and
Although we didn't participate in any of those activities we did drive through
the small village and I could see some of the buildings from the river
when I did my float trip.
CHILKAT FLOAT TRIP
Surrounded by mountains, glaciers, wildflowers, and lush green
trees on both sides of the road through the scenic Chilkat Valley during
two trips on the Haines Hwy., I hatched the idea of joining a quiet
float trip down the river during our stay.
Local guide companies offer raft tours through the heart
of the Bald Eagle Preserve, where moose, bears, coyotes, wolves, small
mammals, birds like trumpeter swans and, yes, eagles, might be
spotted any time of the year.
Bald eagle on a gravel bar in the
Jim prefers waiting until he can do a more exciting white-water
raft trip somewhere else in Alaska this summer so he did a 40-mile bike
ride while I
went rafting this afternoon.
I chose Chilkat Guides, Inc. after getting recommendations from
another RVer and our campground host. The four-hour trip, including
lunch, snacks, and the bus ride from Haines to the put-in point and back
to Haines from the take-out spot downstream, cost $89.
I had a lot of fun and feel like I got my money's worth.
Doesn't that look like fun??
Today's weather was the best we've had since we arrived five days ago
-- sunny, 60-80 F., minimal breeze, low humidity. Days like this
make us realize why people want to live and visit here (not so much the
rainy ones). Jim and I both spent as much time outside as possible today.
A van with Chilkat Guides picked me up at the campground about 3 PM and
took me downtown to a comfortable bus with 20 people from various cruise
ships that docked in nearby Skagway. This float trip was part of a day
trip for them.
We were entertained on the bus by a local fella who works for the guide
company. He and two young women guided the three rafts we rode down the
Klehini and Chilkat rivers.
We rode 26.2 miles north on the Haines Hwy. to Porcupine Crossing, a
bridge that crosses the Klehini River. We put in the water on the far
side of the river just below the bridge:
Before getting on board
we were served a picnic lunch (sandwiches, fruit, beverages), then
issued boots, life jackets, and instructions re: what to do on
the rafts if we got hung up in shallow places, etc.
It was emphasized that the water in the rivers is only 35 F., despite
the warm air temperatures, so we did our best to stay completely inside
Getting acquainted during lunch
I was in the first of three rafts with Jessica, a
strong and competent guide.
The rafts can hold up to eight people and the guide, who does all the
rowing. I was in a group of six other people from two families from TX.
Our guide, Jessica, was very knowledgeable about the river and wildlife.
She's guided up here since 2008, after graduating from a college in AZ
with a degree in zoology. She has also guided on the Snake River in ID,
which is trickier because it has a lot of whitewater.
We had only one short section of whitewater today. The cement-colored Klehini River
is flowing high and fast right now from rain and melting snow:
We were on it for about four miles, then just a
couple miles on the Chilkat River, which was wider and slower.
There are lots of braided channels in both rivers, as well as tree
debris, and we wound around quite a bit to get the best lines through
the water. The raft also turned periodically, sometimes going
"backwards," sometimes sideways.
We got out of the rafts on one of the gravel bars so we could examine the
multi-colored rocks and a variety of footprints in the sand (grizzly,
black bear, moose, wolf, birds):
Grizzly bear track
We saw quite a few bald eagles in trees and a few on the ground but I
didn't get any good shots of them. The raft was moving too fast for me
to focus properly with the zoom.
Spotting eagles ahead
The two black spots in the tree are bald eagles; they
aren't clear even if I zoom in farther.
Unfortunately, we didn't see any large mammals like moose, bears, or
We did see some great scenery, though, and the river side of the tribal
fishing village of Klukwan. I was able to get lots of scenic pictures of
the rivers and mountains despite the bouncing raft.
After the Klehini River merged with the Chilkat,
the water spread out wider and the flow was a little slower.
The raft trip was over too quickly!
When we got out our shoes were arranged neatly on the benches at a rest
area along the Haines Hwy. at about MP 20. We were served cookies and
beverages, then driven back to Haines.
I can recommend this
raft company and the float experience itself. Even though I didn't see a
lot of wildlife I did enjoy the spectacular scenery, the staff members,
and the other guests who were along for the ride.
Everyone was friendly and in a good mood.
And did I mention that the weather was perfect today??
Next entry: scenes from a terrific hike to the summit of
Mt. Ripinsky, with panoramic views of the entire peninsula, inlets, and
surrounding mountain ranges.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil