Juneau, Alaska’s capital, is not accessible by road. This tiny, coastal city is located in the Panhandle region of Alaska. It’s a narrow strip of land that has been cut by fjordlike inlets. It is protected from the ocean by a string of small islands. It can only be reached by air or sea.
Juneau is a remote place, but tourists and curious explorers flock to it for its many cultural and natural attractions. The Mendenhall Glacier is one of the many reasons to visit Juneau. It’s located 12 miles north of downtown and offers a great introduction to the ice-filled landscape surrounding the capital.
Although Juneau is now home to the state offices and a busy port for cruise ships, it retains the feel of a settlement that was founded by gold-diggers in the 1880s at Gold Creek. A Russian Orthodox Church (1894) and abandoned mines that have been turned into museums are just two of the many attractions in this mix of modern and historical.
Juneau is a great place to visit glacier-drenched fjords like Glacier Bay National Park or Tracy Arm, the wilderness of the Tongass National Forest, and other scenic beauty of the Panhandle. Our Juneau list includes the top attractions and things you should do.
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You can find a stunning panorama only 12 miles from downtown Juneau. The large outlet of Nugget Falls flows into a lake with many icebergs. The tongue of Mendenhall Glacier drops down to the water’s edge. The glacier measures thirteen miles in length and is fed by the larger Juneau Icefield which covers more than 1,500 miles of terrain in British Columbia.
The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is a great place to begin your visit. Here you can enjoy a 180-degree panorama of the glacier. The area’s best views can be viewed from the hiking trails, which run up and down the glacier to Nugget Falls. Kayaking and rafting tours can also be done on this very cold lake.
Book a private tour that includes round-trip transportation to the glacier. The Whale Watching and Mendenhall Glacier expedition is one such tour. It includes a ride to glacier and a cruise along the coast for two hours. The tour ends at Mendenhall for approximately 45 minutes, after which guests can explore the coast on their own.
12 miles north of Juneau
Official site: http://www.fs.usda.gov/tongass/
Charter a ride to Tracy Arm Fjord
This ice-cloaked glacial stream cuts through spectacular scenery southeast of Juneau. It is lined with waterfalls that tumble down vertical rock walls, and glaciers that calve chunks of ice into small bergs. At the top of the fjord, the twin Sawyer Glaciers can be seen. Their easily-visible blue color is particularly captivating.
Tracy Arm Fjord’s walls rise almost vertically from the water. Trees protrude at unusual angles. The fjord is very long and stretches back to the mainland via the Tongass Federal Forest.
This stretch is home to deer, black bears and brown bears. There is a good chance that you will see bald eagles and arctic terns over the ocean. In the blue waters below, seals and whales are frequent visitors.
A guided cruise can help you learn more about Tracy Arm’s natural history, glaciers and wildlife. Many companies offer day trips to Juneau from the port. Allen Marine Tours offers six-hour tours on a heated catamaran.
Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure
Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure, part landscaped botanical centre and part excursion to the rainforest environment that defines Tongass National Forest is located northwest of downtown, towards Mendenhall Glacier.
The guided tour begins with a walk through the lower landscaped gardens. This includes the story behind the Flower Tower planters, which were created from an enormous 1984 landslide.
After touring the lower grounds, patrons board an open-sided shuttle that takes them to the rest of the 50-acre property at Thunder Mountain. This isn’t a garden. It’s a forest that has been left in its natural state.
To better understand the forest environment, tour guides will discuss the different species and how they work. Tour stops include boardwalks and views of the Mendenhall Valley and Chilkat Mountains.
Address: 7600 Glacier Highway, Juneau, Alaska
Official site: http://www.glaciergardens.com/
Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park, which covers more than 3 million acres, is one of Alaska’s most popular highlights. There are many natural attractions and worthwhile things to do on both land and water. Both environments are stunning with vast glaciers, temperate forests, isolated fjords and rugged coastlines.
Glacier Bay is located between two promontories. Eight glaciers drop down to the seawaters. Bartlett Cove on land is the only area that has developed hiking trails, designated campgrounds, and sea kayaks for rent.
Glacier Bay is home to orca, minke and humpback whales. Many tourists flock to the region to see these marine mammals. You can also see wolves, mountain goats, bears, and wolves while wildlife-watching. You can take day trips or longer cruises to the bay. There are also flightseeing and other excursions.
Official site: http://www.nps.gov/glba/index.htm
Enjoy a Great View from the Mount Roberts Tramway
The Mount Roberts Tramway takes passengers to 1,800 feet from a base camp located near cruise ship docks. The mountaintop observatory has a nature center, theater, gift shop, and restaurant.
Visitors can take a six-minute vertical ride and then walk the nature trails to enjoy the view over the Gastineau Channel. There is also interpretive information. The Mountain House on the top hosts a live eagle show, a collection tree carvings and Alaskan art for purchase.
Address: 490 South Franklin Street, Juneau, Alaska
Official site: http://mountrobertstramway.com/
Whale Watch Off the Coast
The Inside Passage waters are a great place to spot a whale. This city is known for being one of the best spots to see these huge mammals. It’s also the best place to spot humpbacks. Orcas, also known by killer whales, are also found in the area’s waters, but they are harder to spot.
The late spring and early summer are when whales such as the Humpback and others migrate to Alaska. Juneau is best visited during the peak summer months for whale-sighting purposes.
A boat is the best and most reliable way to see whales. Local charter companies will offer full refunds for any whales that don’t appear. The Juneau Wildlife Whale Watching tour is a recommended one. It features a 3.5-hour narrated trip on a boat equipped with outdoor decks, and a heated cabin.
You can get hands-on at the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery
The Macaulay Salmon Hatchery is located northwest of town, en route to the Mendenhall glacier. It offers a glimpse underwater with saltwater tanks and touch tanks. The hatchery produces sockeye, chinook and coho salmon. Visitors can see the entire life cycle of Pacific salmon in the hatchery’s working environment during a guided tour.
The hatchery also has a bear-eagle and education display, as well as an outdoor viewing window that allows you to see salmon upstream from June through October.
Address: 2697 Channel Drive Juneau, Alaska
Official site: http://www.dipac.net/
Visit the Alaska State Museum
The Alaska State Museum is located in downtown Juneau and features over 25,000 historical items that span Alaska’s entire multi-cultural heritage. The region’s history is dominated by the Gold Rush and mining memorabilia. Various tools, weapons and documents provide insight into the Russian colonial period in Alaska.
The museum’s best representation is Alaska’s native heritage, which includes ancient artifacts as well as an extensive Eskimo-carved ivory collection. The museum also displays contemporary art from native Alaskans, and other fine art mediums. This institution is also responsible for the Sheldon Jackson Museum located in the charming and friendly city of Sitka.
Address: 395 Whittier Street in Juneau, Alaska
Official site: http://museums.alaska.gov/
The Last Chance Mining Museum lets you dig into the past
From 1912 to 1944, the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company operated this location. The site looks very much like an old mine, with uneven ground and rusting buildings. Old equipment is quietly decaying in the trees. The museum is managed by the Gastineau Channel Historical Society, which maintains the rail cars and mining equipment.
Last Chance Mining Museum’s most notable features include an electric locomotive and one of the largest air compressors in the world, which was built in 1912. The National Register of Historic Places lists the attraction. Take sturdy shoes and be aware that the museum is closed in winter.
Address: 1001 Basin Road, Juneau, Alaska
The Juneau-Douglas City Museum offers a great opportunity to explore the City.
The Juneau–Douglas City Museum is located adjacent to the State Capitol Building. It features exhibits about the Tlingit culture, early gold-mining days and the history of Juneau–Douglas. The museum is surrounded by beautiful, blue-and-white St. Nicholas Orthodox Church and old wooden heritage homes. Nicholas Orthodox Church, which dates back to 1894. The museum offers guided walking tours through these neighborhoods every Tuesday through Thursday during the summer.
Address: 114 West Fourth Street, Juneau, Alaska
Official site: https://beta.juneau.org/library/museum
Eaglecrest Ski Area
Eaglecrest Ski Area offers ski slopes with breathtaking ocean views. It is located on Douglas Island and is separated from Juneau by the Gastineau Channel. The city of Juneau owns and operates the ski area. It is accessible by both locals and tourists within a 20-minute drive from downtown. There are 36 runs, four chairlifts and 10 miles worth of Nordic trails that cater to both beginners and experts. Cross-country skiers will also enjoy the region’s 10 miles of Nordic trails. Eaglecrest is open from December to April. In summer, it’s a popular spot for downhill and hiking.
Address: 3000 Fish Creek Road, Juneau, Alaska
Official site: https://skijuneau.com/