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.
Updated June 18, 2019
- #1View all Photos#1 in JuneauNatural Wonders, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
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.
Recent visitors said that if you only have time for one experience in Juneau, this is it. Travelers described the glacial scenery as "incredible" and "breathtaking," and recommended bringing along a quality set of binoculars and a camera to capture the scene.
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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.
Many recent visitors saw the glacier while on a cruise port stop and highly recommended sharing a cab with your fellow passengers to the glacier. Travelers also advised stopping at the visitors center to watch the informative film. Of all the trails, reviewers highly recommend the East Glacier Trail for its stunning views of the glacier and the falls.
- #3View all Photos#3 in JuneauSightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, ToursTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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.
There are no shortage of traveler-approved tours to choose from, each offering a different experience. If you don't want to share deck space with dozens of other tourists, consider Harv and Marv's Outback Alaska. The three-hour tours are limited to six passengers and include a complimentary stop at the Brotherhood Bridge for a view of the Mendenhall Glacier. Gastineau Guiding Company is unique in that it offers hands-on experiences that allow passengers to play a part in data collection for local university and regional science programs (collecting water and plankton samples and recording marine mammal observations, for example). Juneau Whale Watch and Adventures in Alaska are two more companies travelers recommend.
- #4View all Photos#4 in JuneauNatural Wonders, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
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.
Most recent travelers enjoyed their experience at the garden, praising the gorgeous blooms and views as reasons to schedule a visit. Reviewers were especially impressed with the garden's "upside down trees" or "flower towers." These are trees that have had their tops buried in the ground and their roots positioned up in the air, which creates a basket for the tree's blooming flowers. The only gripe among recent visitors: the high cost of admission.
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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.
Most visitors were pleased with the experience, though some were disappointed that the tram ride to the top wasn't longer, especially for the ticket price. However, all agreed that the views were stunning (don't forget your camera!). Another tip from travelers: Avoid visiting the tram as soon as the cruise ship docks, which is when it's most crowded. You could waste all of your time in port waiting in line.
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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.
The Alaskan Brewing Company gives free tours year-round and guests are also treated to samples at the tasting bar for $5 per person 21 and older. The Alaskan Brewing Company Depot in downtown Juneau is akin to a tourist outpost, but there you can catch a Liquid Alaska Tour bus that will shuttle you to the brewery for $20 round trip (your bus ticket also includes a guided tasting). The bus provides hourly transportation between the two locations, departing from the depot beginning at 10:40 a.m. The brewery (including the tasting room) is open from Sept. 25 to April 30, Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, check out the company's website.
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