Geography of Haines Borough, Alaska

By | March 4, 2024

Haines Borough, located in the southeastern part of Alaska, is a region of stunning natural beauty, characterized by its rugged mountains, pristine rivers, and diverse ecosystems. This comprehensive overview will explore the topography, climate, rivers, lakes, and other geographical elements that contribute to the unique character of Haines Borough.

Topography:

According to sportingology, Haines Borough is situated along the upper Lynn Canal, a fjord that stretches inland from the northern part of the Inside Passage. The landscape is defined by a combination of coastal mountains, deep fjords, and glacially carved valleys. Elevations in the borough vary significantly, with mountains rising to heights exceeding 6,000 feet (1,828 meters) and sea level along the Lynn Canal.

The Chilkat Range, a subrange of the Coast Mountains, extends through Haines Borough, contributing to the dramatic topography of the region. Glacial features, including U-shaped valleys and cirques, are evident in the landscape, a testament to the significant glacial activity that shaped the region during the last ice age.

Climate:

Haines Borough experiences a maritime climate with influences from both the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding mountainous terrain. The climate is characterized by cool temperatures, significant precipitation, and a relatively narrow range of temperature fluctuations throughout the year.

Winters are cool, with temperatures ranging from 20 to 30°F (-6 to -1°C), and summers are mild, with temperatures averaging between 50 and 65°F (10 to 18°C). Coastal areas tend to have milder temperatures compared to the interior, and the presence of mountains contributes to local variations in climate.

Precipitation is substantial, and the region receives a significant amount of snowfall during the winter months, making it an ideal location for winter sports and activities. The maritime climate also leads to relatively high humidity levels, especially in coastal areas.

Rivers and Lakes:

The Chilkat River, one of the major rivers in Haines Borough, plays a central role in the region’s geography. Originating from the Chilkat Glacier in the Coast Mountains, the river flows through glacially carved valleys and eventually reaches the Lynn Canal. The Chilkat River is known for its scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and significance for both locals and visitors.

The Klehini River is another important watercourse in the borough, flowing into the Lynn Canal. These rivers contribute to the dynamic hydrology of the region, supporting diverse ecosystems and providing vital habitats for salmon and other aquatic species.

While there are numerous smaller streams and creeks throughout Haines Borough, the presence of large lakes is limited. Instead, glacially fed rivers and fjords dominate the water features of the region, offering breathtaking landscapes and recreational opportunities.

Vegetation and Wildlife:

Haines Borough’s vegetation is diverse, with ecosystems ranging from coastal rainforests to alpine tundra. The lower elevations near the Lynn Canal feature temperate rainforests characterized by Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and red cedar. These forests create lush landscapes, supporting a variety of plant and animal species.

As the elevation increases into the alpine zones of the Chilkat Range, the vegetation transitions to alpine tundra, marked by hardy plants adapted to the harsh mountain environment. Wildflowers, mosses, and lichens cover the rocky slopes, providing a burst of color during the short growing season.

The borough is home to a rich array of wildlife, including brown bears, black bears, moose, mountain goats, and Sitka black-tailed deer. The Chilkat River is renowned for its annual gathering of bald eagles during the late fall and winter months, attracting enthusiasts and photographers from around the world.

Marine life is abundant in the Lynn Canal, with seals, sea lions, and a variety of fish species thriving in the cold, nutrient-rich waters. Whales, including humpback and orca whales, are also spotted in the Lynn Canal, contributing to the borough’s reputation as a prime location for wildlife observation.

Glacial Features:

Haines Borough is marked by the presence of glaciers, a testament to the significant glacial activity that shaped the region during the Pleistocene epoch. The Chilkat Glacier, located in the Coast Mountains, is a prominent glacial feature that feeds the Chilkat River. Glacial valleys, moraines, and other landforms created by glacial processes contribute to the unique topography of the borough.

The presence of glaciers also influences the color of some rivers and fjords in the region. The finely ground rock particles, known as glacial flour, give the water a distinctive milky turquoise color as they reflect sunlight.

Human Impact and Activities:

Haines Borough includes the town of Haines, which serves as the borough seat. The town is situated on the northern tip of the Alaska Panhandle and is known for its picturesque setting surrounded by mountains and water.

The borough’s economy is diversified, with tourism, fishing, and small-scale agriculture playing important roles. Tourism is a significant driver, attracting visitors who come to experience the natural beauty, wildlife, and outdoor activities offered by the region. Fishing, particularly salmon fishing, is also an important industry, contributing to both the local economy and the cultural heritage of the community.

Outdoor recreational activities are abundant in Haines Borough, catering to both residents and visitors. Hiking, kayaking, birdwatching, and wildlife viewing are popular pursuits, allowing individuals to explore the diverse landscapes and observe the rich biodiversity of the region.

The Alaska Marine Highway System provides ferry service to Haines, connecting the community to other towns and cities in the Alaska Panhandle. The Haines Highway, which extends into Canada, offers a scenic route for travelers and serves as a vital transportation corridor.

Efforts to balance economic development with environmental conservation are evident in Haines Borough. Conservation initiatives, wildlife management programs, and sustainable tourism practices aim to preserve the region’s natural assets and maintain the ecological integrity of the area.

Conclusion:

Haines Borough, Alaska, stands as a pristine and awe-inspiring example of the state’s diverse and majestic landscapes. From the glacially carved valleys and fjords to the temperate rainforests and alpine tundra, the borough offers a tapestry of ecosystems that support a rich array of wildlife and outdoor activities. As Haines Borough navigates the delicate balance between economic development and environmental conservation, the commitment to preserving its unique geography will be crucial for ensuring a sustainable and resilient future for both the community and the extraordinary natural world that defines this remarkable region.