Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, is a destination like no other. Nestled amidst towering mountains, surrounded by pristine wilderness, and with a rich cultural heritage, Juneau offers a unique blend of outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and natural beauty. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, or simply seeking a memorable vacation, Juneau has something to offer everyone. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the best things to do in Juneau, Alaska, helping you make the most of your visit to this remarkable city.
- Explore the Mendenhall Glacier
No trip to Juneau is complete without a visit to the stunning Mendenhall Glacier. Located just 12 miles from downtown Juneau, this 13.6-mile-long glacier is easily accessible and offers a range of activities. Here are some ways to experience the glacier:
a. Visitor Center: Start your visit at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, where you can learn about the glacier’s history, geology, and ecology through interactive exhibits and ranger-led programs.
b. Hiking: Explore the area by taking one of the several hiking trails that lead to prime viewpoints of the glacier. The most popular trail is the Nugget Falls Trail, which offers a close-up view of the glacier and a stunning waterfall.
c. Glacier Tours: For a more immersive experience, consider a guided glacier tour. Companies offer opportunities for glacier trekking, ice climbing, and even helicopter rides over the glacier.
- Whale Watching
Juneau is renowned for its incredible whale-watching opportunities. The nutrient-rich waters of the Inside Passage attract humpback whales, orcas, gray whales, and more. Whale-watching tours are available from April to September, and they offer a chance to witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. The waters around Juneau are also home to seals, sea lions, and porpoises, adding to the marine spectacle.
- Visit the Alaska State Museum
For a deeper understanding of Alaska’s history and culture, visit the Alaska State Museum in Juneau. The museum showcases a diverse collection of artifacts, art, and exhibits that highlight the state’s rich heritage. From indigenous Alaskan cultures to the Gold Rush era, the museum provides valuable insights into the region’s past. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the beautiful Raven’s Journey exhibit, which delves into the art and culture of Alaska’s native peoples.
- Take a Tram Ride to Mount Roberts
Rising 1,800 feet above sea level, Mount Roberts offers breathtaking panoramic views of Juneau and its surrounding wilderness. To reach the summit, take the Mount Roberts Tramway, a scenic cable car ride that provides an unforgettable journey through the temperate rainforest. Once at the top, enjoy hiking trails, a gift shop, and the chance to spot wildlife. The resident bald eagles are a common sight, and if you’re lucky, you might even see a black bear.
- Go Salmon Fishing
Alaska is renowned for its salmon, and Juneau is no exception. The city offers fantastic salmon fishing opportunities, and you can choose from various fishing charters to experience the thrill of catching these prized fish. The salmon run in Juneau typically occurs from May to September, and you can try your hand at catching different salmon species, including king salmon, coho salmon, and pink salmon.
- Explore Tracy Arm Fjord
For an awe-inspiring adventure, take a cruise to Tracy Arm Fjord, a glacier-carved wonderland located south of Juneau. The fjord features towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and tidewater glaciers that calve into the icy waters. Wildlife enthusiasts will also appreciate the chance to spot seals, whales, and bald eagles. Several tour operators offer day trips to Tracy Arm Fjord, providing an unforgettable glimpse of Alaska’s pristine wilderness.
- Discover the Tlingit Heritage
The Tlingit people have a rich cultural heritage that is deeply intertwined with the history of Juneau. Learn about their traditions, art, and history by visiting the Alaska Native Heritage Center or attending a cultural performance. The Tlingit Cultural Heritage Center in Juneau offers insight into the indigenous culture through exhibits, workshops, and storytelling sessions. Engaging with the Tlingit heritage is a meaningful way to connect with the region’s past and present.
- Go Dog Sledding
Experience the thrill of dog sledding, an iconic Alaskan activity, in the picturesque landscape of Juneau. Mushing enthusiasts can enjoy a helicopter ride to a glacier, where they can meet a team of eager sled dogs and take a ride led by experienced mushers. This adventure provides a unique opportunity to learn about the history of dog sledding in Alaska while enjoying the breathtaking scenery.
- Kayaking and Wildlife Viewing
Juneau’s coastline offers excellent opportunities for kayaking and wildlife viewing. Paddle through serene waters while taking in the beauty of the temperate rainforest, glaciers, and marine life. Keep an eye out for seals, sea lions, otters, and even whales that may surface nearby. Guided kayak tours are available for all skill levels, making it an accessible and enjoyable experience for everyone.
- Go on a Gold Rush Tour
Alaska has a storied history of gold rushes, and Juneau played a significant role in this era. Immerse yourself in the excitement and history of the Gold Rush by joining a guided tour. Learn about the hardships and dreams of the prospectors, visit old mining sites, and even try your hand at gold panning. The Last Chance Mining Museum is a must-visit attraction for a glimpse into Juneau’s mining past.
- Enjoy Fresh Seafood
Alaska is known for its delectable seafood, and Juneau offers an array of dining options to savor the catch of the day. From freshly caught salmon to succulent king crab legs, the local cuisine is a seafood lover’s paradise. Many restaurants in Juneau pride themselves on serving locally sourced and sustainably harvested seafood, providing a truly authentic culinary experience.
- Attend a Juneau Arts and Culture Event
Juneau’s vibrant arts and culture scene offer a variety of events and performances throughout the year. Check out the Juneau Symphony, Perseverance Theatre, or local art galleries for exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical productions. The city’s artistic community thrives, and attending cultural events can be a delightful way to connect with the local culture.
- Visit the Shrine of St. Therese
For a peaceful and contemplative experience, visit the Shrine of St. Therese, a serene sanctuary located on an island just a short drive from downtown Juneau. This beautiful and tranquil spot offers scenic views, walking paths, and a chapel. It’s an ideal place for reflection, meditation, or simply enjoying the natural beauty of the area.
- Hike the Perseverance Trail
Juneau is surrounded by pristine wilderness, and the Perseverance Trail is an excellent way to explore it. This historic trail, initially built during the Gold Rush era, meanders through lush forests and alongside rushing streams. Hikers can choose from various routes, including options that lead to the Perseverance Mine and spectacular viewpoints overlooking the city.
- Discover Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure
Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure is a one-of-a-kind attraction in Juneau. This botanical garden showcases the vibrant and unique flora of the temperate rainforest. The highlight of the tour is a ride through the garden in a covered vehicle, offering visitors the chance to marvel at the upside-down trees, vibrant flowers, and lush vegetation. The knowledgeable guides provide insights into the rainforest’s ecology and the innovative methods used to create this remarkable garden.
- Experience the Midnight Sun
During the summer months, Juneau experiences the phenomenon known as the “Midnight Sun,” where daylight lasts almost 24 hours a day. This unique experience allows for extended outdoor adventures and endless opportunities to explore the city and its surroundings. Take advantage of the extra daylight hours by hiking, fishing, or simply enjoying a late-night stroll along the waterfront.
- Explore Downtown Juneau
Downtown Juneau is a charming and historic district with colorful buildings, quaint shops, and a vibrant arts scene. Stroll along the streets to admire the architecture, browse local boutiques, and stop for a meal at one of the many restaurants serving fresh Alaskan cuisine. Don’t forget to visit the iconic Red Dog Saloon, a historic watering hole known for its lively atmosphere and memorabilia.
- Take a Hot Springs Dip
For a relaxing and rejuvenating experience, visit the nearby natural hot springs. The Juneau area has several hot springs accessible by boat or floatplane. Soak in the warm, mineral-rich waters while surrounded by stunning wilderness. It’s a perfect way to unwind after a day of exploring the rugged Alaskan terrain.
- Witness the Northern Lights
While Juneau is not as famous for the Northern Lights as some other parts of Alaska, it still offers opportunities to witness this breathtaking natural phenomenon. The best chances to see the Northern Lights are during the winter months, particularly from September to April. Be sure to check the local forecast and head to areas with minimal light pollution for the best viewing experience.
- Attend a Local Festival
Juneau hosts various festivals and events throughout the year, celebrating everything from art and culture to nature and wildlife. The Juneau Jazz & Classics Festival, the Alaska Folk Festival, and the Gold Rush Days Festival are just a few examples of the city’s vibrant event calendar. Attending a local festival can provide a deeper connection to the community and offer a fun and memorable experience.
Juneau, Alaska, is a destination that captivates the hearts of visitors with its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and diverse range of activities. Whether you’re exploring glaciers, watching whales, immersing yourself in indigenous culture, or enjoying fresh seafood, Juneau has something for everyone. This comprehensive guide has highlighted 20 of the best things to do in Juneau, offering a glimpse into the extraordinary experiences that await you in this remarkable Alaskan city. So, pack your bags and prepare to embark on an unforgettable adventure in Juneau, where every corner of this wilderness paradise has a story to tell and an adventure to offer.