Surrounded by rainforests and only accessible by air or sea, Juneau lends itself to an array of outdoor activities as well as cultural and historic attractions. This capital city has a landscape that starts at sea level and immediately soars up to the mountains.
Getting in touch with nature by watching wildlife in its natural habitat, flying over blue glaciers and hiking through lush rainforests top the list of things to do in Juneau, and most attractions cater to cruise passengers by including transportation.
For truly breathtaking views, the Mount Roberts Tramway soars 1,800 feet over Juneau, giving you glimpses of the cruise ships and the town of Juneau below. All-day passes are $33 per adult ($16 for children) and can be purchased at the base of the tram (just next to the ships). Once riding to the top, visitors can take amazing photos and check out the Mount Roberts Nature Center, which is home to a bald eagle. There’s also Timberline Bar and Grill at the top that serves Alaskan fare with traditional American favorites like burgers and nachos. It’s a good spot to grab a craft beer and take in the amazing views, but save your appetite for the local eateries back in town that will get your mouth watering.
In the summer, humpback whales migrate to Juneau and put on quite a show for visitors. Whales come up for air every 15 minutes, so there’s a good chance of capturing one on film. A bus will transport you to Auke Bay Harbor where you’ll board a boat (included in the price) to start the whale watching tour. Other wildlife you’ll potentially see includes bald eagles, orcas, sea lions, harbor porpoises and bears. Juneau Whale Watch picks up visitors right from the Mount Roberts Tramway, next to the ships (but you can book with several other companies if you prefer). The three-hour tours are $110 per adult and $95 for children.
For a combination of glaciers and a traditional salmon bake, Wings Airways soars over five glaciers in a classic seaplane to beautiful Taku Lodge. Once at the lodge, go on a nature walk along the trails and take in the tranquility of the area. A salmon bake over an outdoor fire gives you a chance to try some of Alaska’s specialties, including king salmon, sourdough bread and reindeer sausage. It is highly recommended that travelers book in advance with Wings Airways as this tour tends to fill quickly. The three-hour tour departs from the seaplane dock next to the cruise ships, and tickets are $309 per adult and $265 for children.
Mendenhall Glacier is Juneau’s crown jewel, and there are many ways to see the famous glacier, including helicopter landings, kayak tours and combination packages. Or, a more inexpensive option is to visit on your own by booking a ticket on the Mendenhall Glacier shuttle. The shuttle will get you to and from the 13-mile-long glacier with a narration of its history and things to look for on your way there.
When you get to the glacier, there are a few trails; the most popular is a short 10-minute hike to the beautiful Nugget Falls. Some of the trails on the opposite side of the center from where the shuttles drop off require a guide. The shuttle stop at the glacier is also where the cruise ship tours stop, so it is a low-key hike anyone can do. Shuttles depart every 30 minutes from the Mount Roberts Tramway and are $30 round-trip.
Get a taste of Juneau’s culinary culture on a walking tour that includes nine tastings at six locations for samples of salmon, crab bisque, craft beer and more. The two-and-a-half-hour tour is offered daily in the summer (twice on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays) from the Fisherman’s Memorial near the ships. Guides are locals who live in Juneau year-round, so all the stops on the tour are their favorite places. Tours are $129 per person.
Swinging saloon doors, a sawgrass floor, an old-time piano player, bear and caribou taxidermy on the walls, and wait staff dressed in frontier-era attire give the Red Dog Saloon a fun and memorable atmosphere. Located just a few steps from the ships, no trip to Juneau is complete without a frosty pint of beer at this legendary watering hole.
Often considered Alaska’s first road, the Perseverance National Recreation Trail was used in the 1880s when gold was discovered in Juneau. Mining ruins and outstanding views make it one of the most popular trails in Alaska, and its convenient location near downtown Juneau means it’s accessible for cruisers. The entrance is on Basin Road, about a 20-minute walk from the cruise terminal. The three-mile out-and-back trail is great for families who want to do some exploring on their own or for runners who want to get some trail running in with beautiful views.
One excursion that the entire family will love is Best of Alaska’s Historic Gold Mining and Panning Adventure, an hour-and-a-half tour that gives everyone gold fever. A prospector tour guide will share the history of the gold rush before teaching visitors how to pan for gold in the creek. Kids are guaranteed to bring home gold and a souvenir gold claim certificate. Transportation is included from the dock, and tours are $69 for adults and $52 for children.
Southeast Alaska is one of the few places in North America that offers rainforest zip lining. The temperate Tongass National Forest is home to Eaglecrest Ski Area, which transforms into a zip-line adventure course in the summer, featuring seven zip lines and 10 platforms. Spectacular mountain views and salmon streams set the stage for an unforgettable adventure. Transportation is provided, and tours last around three-and-a-half hours. Tours are $149 for adults and $99 for children.
This stunning botanical garden features the misty backdrop of the Tongass National Forest and spectacular views of Juneau from atop Thunder Mountain. Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure’s most distinctive plants are the “upside-down flower towers” that feel straight out of a Dr. Seuss storybook. These whimsical trees have their roots at the top with bursts of multi-colored flowers spilling out of them and their trunks growing into the ground.
A guided shuttle tour explains the history of the gardens as you pass waterfalls and streams located on the 50-acre rainforest property. Most cruise lines offer a tour of the gardens with transportation from the port included. Tickets are $24.95 per person when booking directly with the gardens; pricing will vary for cruise line excursions but will include transportation.
Alaska Brewing Company is an Alaskan staple and one that you may already be familiar with, being that it has distribution to many U.S. states. However, a visit to their headquarters gives visitors a behind-the-scenes experience and offers beer samples that you can't just find at your local pub. And hop heads you'll be thrilled to know that they have multiple IPAs to choose from. Cheers.
Alaska State Capitol
If you're not paying attention, you may walk right past the Alaska State Capitol and not even realize it. Like the city of Juneau, the capitol building is unassuming and doesn't call attention to itself, like many of its counterparts in other states. Nonetheless, it's worth a visit for its art exhibitions and Liberty Bell replica. There are free, ½-hour guided tours during the summer tourist season and it's located between 4th Avenue and Main Street in downtown Juneau.
St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church
You may not be on the lookout for churches in Juneau but the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church is a little out of the ordinary and worth a look. Originally built by the Tlingit, this is the oldest continuously operating church in Southeastern Alaska. The tiny octagonal church is located on 5th Street, just a couple blocks from the Alaska State Capitol.