Haines was born in Norfolk, Virginia. He later moved to Washington, DC where he attended St. John's College High School, the National Art School, and American University. From 1950 to 1952 he studied at Hans Hoffman's School of Fine Arts in New York before moving to Alaska where he homesteaded from 1954 to 1969.
Haines published nine collections of poetry and numerous works of nonfiction, including his acclaimed Alaskan book The Stars, the Snow, the Fire: Twenty-Five Years in the Alaska Wilderness. Haines was twice the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was appointed the Poet Laureate of Alaska in 1969. A collection of critical essays about his poetry, The Wilderness of Vision, was published in 1998. Haines taught graduate level and honors English classes at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He died in Fairbanks, Alaska. Tributes to John Haines by the author and literary critic John A. Murray were published in The Bloomsbury Review, July–August 2011 and The Sewanee Review, Winter 2012. Murray also conducted a lengthy interview with John Haines in The Bloomsbury Review, July–August 2004. There are lengthy discussions of John Haines in Murray's book Abbey in America: A Philosopher's Legacy in a New Century (University of New Mexico Press, Jun 15, 2015) in the essay 'The Age of Abbey' and in the Afterword.
- Winter Light (2008). CD; readings from earlier collections of poems and essays, with introductions to each collection. Read by the author.
- For the Century's End: Poems 1990 – 1999 Seattle and London: University of Washington Press
- At the End of This Summer: Poems 1948–1954 (Copper Canyon Press, 1997)
- Fables and Distances: New and Selected Essays (Graywolf Press, 1996)
- The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer (Graywolf Press, 1993)
- New Poems 1980–88 (1990), (received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the Western States Book Award)
- The Stars, the Snow, the Fire: Twenty-five Years in the Northern Wilderness (Graywolf Press, 1989)
- News from the Glacier: Selected Poems 1960–1980 (Wesleyan, 1982)
- Living Off the Country: Essays on Poetry and Place (University of Michigan Press, 1981)
- Twenty Poems (Unicorn Press, 1971)
- The Stone Harp (Wesleyan, 1971)
- Winter News (Wesleyan, 1966)
- A Place on Earth: An Anthology of Nature Writing from Australia and North America. 2004. Edited by Mark Tredinnick.
- The Best American Poetry 1999. Edited by David Lehman.
- A Republic of Rivers: Three Centuries of Nature Writing from Alaska and the Yukon. 1990. Edited by John A. Murray.
- Inroads: An Anthology Celebrating Alaska's Twenty-seven Fellowship Writers. 1988. Edited by Elyse Guttenberg and Jean Anderson.
- Poetry of the Committed Individual. 1973. Edited by Jon Silkin.
- 2008 Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry
- 2007 USA Rasmuson Fellow from United States Artists
- 2005 Rasmuson Foundation Distinguished Artist
- University of Alaska Northern Momentum Scholar, 2002
- Fellow, the Academy of American Poets, 1997
- Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alaska Center for the Book/Library of Congress, 1994
- Poets' Prize, 1991
- Alaska Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts
- two Guggenheim Fellowships
- National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship
- Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship, 1976–1977
- Heyen, William, ed. (1976). American Poets in 1976. Bobbs- Merrill.
- "Alaska – State Poet Laureate". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 2011-03-05.
- Walzer, Kevin; Bezner, Kevin, eds. (May 1996). The Wilderness of Vision: On the Poetry of John Haines. Story Line Press. ISBN 978-1-885266-22-4.
- Smetzer, Mary Beth (March 2, 2011). "Former Alaska poet laureate John Haines dies". Fairbanks Daily News. Archived from the original on April 9, 2011. Retrieved 2011-03-05.
- Martin, Douglas (March 5, 2011). "John Haines, a Poet of the Wild, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-05.
- Noble, Darren L. "Sound and Death in John Haines's Poetry." M.A. Thesis. Oregon State University, 2001.
- Bourne, Daniel; Kooistra, John (1998). "Certain Things Intruding on the Wilderness: A Three-Cornered Conversation with John Haines". Artful Dodge. Kooistra was a long-time friend of Haines.
- Gioia, Dana, "Introduction", in Haines, John (1990). New Poems: 1980–1988. Story Line Press.
- "Review of The Wilderness of Vision". Archived from the original on February 18, 2005. The Wilderness of Vision is a collection of criticism of Haines' poetry.
- John Haines, Richard Hugo, William Matthews, Reg Saner, Richard Shelton, Gary Soto, William Stafford, and David Wagoner (1982). Wild, Peter and Graziano, Frank (ed.). New Poetry of the American West. Durango, CO: Logbridge-Rhodes. p. 104. ISBN 978-0937406199.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) OCLC 8589531, 655452420, 610178960 (print and on-line)
- Wild, Peter (1985). John Haines. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University "Western Writers Series" (#68). pp. 51. ISBN 978-0884300427 OCLC 12672075
- Warren, James Perrin (2017). Placing John Haines University of Alaska Press