Best Things To Do in Juneau
There are not a great number of things to do in small Juneau. However, Mother Nature puts on quite a display for those adventurous enough to go looking in the Last Frontier. While Mendenhall Glacier steals most of the attention and tourist traffic, those who visit Tracy Arm Fjord find the scenery and wildlife unforgettable. For some more accessible natural beauty, head to the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure and breathe in the flower-scented air. And if you require some indoor repose, sample some of the suds at the Alaska Brewing Company.
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A "fjord" is a Nordic term meaning a narrow waterway surrounded by sharp cliffs. So while Juneau's Mendenhall Glacier steals most of the tourist traffic, the 27-mile-long Tracy Arm Fjord is the bigger, better and more dramatic natural gem. The inlet is very narrow – at times, no more than half a mile wide – with cliffs that rise more than 3,000 feet on either side and waterfalls that cascade down the steep rock walls. During the summer, you can spot eagles, seals, bears and whales here.
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Mendenhall Glacier welcomes more than 400,000 visitors each year, and it's easy to see why: aside from its stunning arctic beauty, the glacier is only 12 miles outside Juneau and it's the only glacier in Southeast Alaska accessible by road (you can easily take a cab here). When you're not gazing at the icebergs, the Coast Mountains will likely grab your attention. Upon arrival, your first stop should be at the visitors center, where you can watch a 15-minute film describing the changing landscape, talk with forest rangers and relax in the warmth of the glacier observation area. You can also pick up a map detailing the various hiking paths around the glacier.
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Many travelers make the trek to Alaska for two things: glaciers and whales. The latter can be a bit more elusive to spot, which is why it's best to sign up for a whale watching tour. In Juneau, North Pacific humpbacks and orcas are the two most common types of whales migrating through these calm waters. Humpbacks feed off krill and small baitfish, which Juneau's waters are chock full of. The best time to see activity in the water is during migration season (May through September). Though you may be able to spot some movement from the shore (with the help of some binoculars), you'll score a better view if you sign up for a whale watching boat tour.
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Located between downtown Juneau and its airport, the Glacier Gardens offer a glimpse into Alaska's frequently forgotten rainforest. Here, you'll ride through 50 acres of lush vegetation aboard a golf cart. Within the botanical garden, visitors savor the view atop Thunder Mountain with Mendenhall Valley, Mendenhall Wetlands, Gastineau Channel, Douglas Island and the Chilkat Mountains in the distance.
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If your time in Juneau is limited, the Mount Roberts Tramway is the easiest and fastest way to gain an appreciation for the city's beautiful natural setting. Just south of downtown, the tram starts near the cruise ship dock. The five-minute ride takes you 1,800 feet halfway up the mountain for some spectacular views of Juneau and Gastineau Channel. From there, you can explore the terrain further on one of the hiking trails.
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Travelers who visit the Alaskan Brewing Company usually want to experience something different than normal port-of-call tourist shops. And here, they get it. About 6 miles north of the cruise ship terminal, the 47,000-square-foot brewery hosts the entire operation from brewing to bottling to even selling the beer. Its environmentally conscious production impresses many visitors while the tasty suds are the highlight for others.
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