Juneau, the state capital of Alaska, is a vast and exciting city filled with numerous things to do. Unique for its remote and rugged surroundings, Juneau is one of only two state capitals in the United States that is not connected to the rest of the state by any roads! Located on the shore of Gastineau Channel in the southeastern portion of Alaska’s panhandle, this city is the second largest city in the United States by land area, but is only accessible by ferry, boat or plane due to the rugged landscape. Bound on one side by the channel, the rest of the city is dwarfed by glaciers and mountains reaching well over 3,500 feet above sea level! Despite this remoteness, Juneau is a tourist hot spot filled with many exciting sites and experiences not found elsewhere. When planning your own adventures to the capital of Alaska, read this article of the top ten things to do in Juneau to make the most of your time here!
Things to do in Juneau During Your Visit
Step back in time at the many museums
Despite how remote this city is, it has a surprisingly long history of habitation! From the native inhabitants to European settlers and Gold Rush explorers, people have been coming to Juneau for centuries and the city boasts the history to prove it! The city itself is like a living museum, filled with historic architecture, memorials galore and saloons dating back over 100 years! For a more in depth experience of the history of the city of Juneau, you will find many museums and collections throughout the city and beyond. By far the most extensive collection of artifacts can be found at the Alaska State Museum. In addition to the state library and archives, this museum boasts the largest collection of artifacts in the state as well as multiple hands on experiences for children and adults alike. You can even climb aboard a replica of an early sailing ship! After visiting the State Museum, you can visit the largest installation of Native arts from the Southeastern Alaskan tribes at the Walter Soboleff Building, experience a closer look at the history of the city at the Juneau – Douglas City Museum and the most exciting experience of all; pan for gold at the Last Chance Mining Museum! Experience the thrill of the Gold Rush for yourself by panning for gold at the nearby river! With so much history at every turn, visiting the museums and collections of the city is one of the top things to do in Juneau during your visit.
Visit the Brown Bears at Admiralty Island
Surrounded by so much natural wonder, one of the must-see things to do in Juneau is take a boat to the nearby Admiralty Island. With a high density of brown bears on this island, you are very likely to witness these creatures for yourself, all from the safe distance of various viewing areas. Pack Creek viewing area is the best place to see the bears safely, making it worth the effort of obtaining the necessary permit and booking your experience in advance. While you’re on the island, be sure to take the time to visit the various historical sites located there. Historic mining cabins, whaling and fishery stations and other sites dot the picturesque landscape, making a stop at this island a fully immersive snapshot of both the history and natural beauty of Juneau.
Take a cruise through Tracy Arm Fjord
Tracy Arm Fjord is a spectacular natural wonder and one of the most popular attractions in the city of Juneau, making it well worth the 45 mile southward journey to get there! Smaller cruise ships can take the passengers through the narrow fjord and get closer to the sites, giving travelers up-close views of the cascading waterfalls, steep cliff faces, and breathtaking glacier. Marine wildlife spotting is another highlight of the experience, as well as the chance to spot Bald Eagles among the spectacular scenery. Have your camera ready, a visit to the Fjord is one of the things to do in Juneau that you won’t want to forget!
Experience the thrill of White Water Rafting
If adventure is more your style, another one of the most popular things to do in Juneau is experience the thrill of white water rafting. There are many options available to intrepid adventurers, no matter your skill level, due to the large number of rivers and glacier-fed lakes that fill the lands around the city. You can enjoy a tame, scenic float along a calm river or experience the more extreme water sport of white water rafting along the faster rivers. Rushing through the majestic and rugged scenery of this remote Alaskan city is sure to sate even the most adventurous of outdoor thrill seekers!
Marvel at the views from Mount Roberts Tramway
While it’s easy to find adventure here, not everyone is a thrill seeker. You can still enjoy the scenery though, through the Mount Roberts Tramway. Climbing up the side of the mountain, the tramway is a six-minute long ride that provides sweeping views of the city of Juneau below, as well as the Gastineau Channel and Douglas Island in the distance. With the energy you saved by taking the tram, enjoy one of the many smaller trails you can take from the visitor center, or simply explore the many interactive exhibits located inside before taking the tram back to lower elevations. This tram provides an easier and more accessible way for anyone to get a taste of the natural beauty of Alaska, making it one of the most popular things to do in Juneau, no matter your age or ability!
Get up close and personal with a Bald Eagle at Eagle Beach
Low tide at Eagle Beach brings Bald Eagles (and tourists) in droves to get up close and personal with America’s majestic national symbol! The wide and expansive flats that are revealed at low tide provide easy feeding opportunities for the eagles, bringing them in large groups to pick at the fish. You can walk along the shores and see dozens of these large birds of prey, both up close and in the distance, a site that is incredibly unique to this area and one of the most popular things to do in Juneau, Alaska. Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Fly through the canopy at Alpine Zipline Adventures
Located in the famed Tongrass Forest, Juneau provides many opportunities to experience one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world. But one of the most exciting things to do in Juneau is explore this unique landscape via zipline! Alpine Zipline Adventures is located near the city of Juneau and wows visitors with the unique experience of ziplining through the canopy on the ten different ziplines as well as the two large suspension bridges. Accessible by a short boat ride, the zipline adventure tour starts with a brief lesson, a ziplining equipment kit and a guided adventure through the canopy tour that ends with a thrilling 42 foot abseil to reach the ground! Even children will enjoy this adventure through the majestic Tongrass Forest and the sights will be second to none!
Stand in awe at the Mendenhall Glacier
By far the most popular of things to do in Juneau is a visit to the breathtaking Mendenhall Glacier. One of the largest of the many glaciers that surround Juneau, Mendenhall is an ever-changing spectacle of ice and water that promises an awe-inspiring view and the opportunity to spot wildlife of all kinds. Cruising, kayaking and hiking are each different ways to get up close to the glacier and for more information, you can visit the visitor center nearby for additional exhibits as well as a film that gives more information about the glacier. Be sure to visit sooner rather than later; the effects of global warming have caused a noticeable and dramatic reduction in the size of the glacier.
Hike to Nugget Falls
While visiting the Mendenhall Glacier, it is highly encouraged to hike the short one-mile trail to the famed Nugget Falls. The trail is short and does not change in elevation very much, making it one of the easier things to do in Juneau for those who wish to experience the natural setting up close. The trail will take you around Mendenhall Lake and ends at a large beach area in front of the waterfall, allowing you to walk right up to the cascading waters while viewing the majestic glacier in the distance. Be sure to bring a raincoat; not only will the spray from the waterfall be a factor, but it is more often than not rainy in the area as well!
Experience the magic of Whale Watching
Gastineau Channel is an easy access point to Alaska’s Inner Passage, making the waters around Juneau one of the prime spots for whale watching. As one of the most popular things to do in Juneau, there are dozens of different tours available to see the whales in their natural habitat, from large cruising ships to smaller, more private boating tours. The chance of seeing whales is so high that most of the tours offer a guarantee of a spotting, particularly during the peak whale migration season that runs from April through September. Humpback whales and orcas can be seen, often up-close, as they leap, flip, spray and blow bubbles to drive fish to the surface of the water. Those lucky enough might be able to hear their haunting song as they move through the waters in large pods.
Things To Do In Juneau On a Cruise
During my trip to Juneau I was visiting with Norwegian Cruise Lines on the new Norwegian Joy. The ship offers a plethora of excursions with plenty of things to do in Juneau. Please note, these are subject to change.
Here are some of the excursions you can do in Alaska on a cruise with Norwegian:
- Mendenhall Glacier and Mt. Roberts Tramway – during this 4.5 hour excursion venture out to Mendenhall Glacier and witness her in all her glory. Then take the tram up in Juneau and see the city from new heights.
- Tracy Arm/Endicott Arm and Glacier Explorer – this small boat excursion gets you up close and personal with the ice in a way the big cruise ships cannot.
- I can’t stress enough – this is the one excursions I WISH I had done. There was too much ice for us to continue going to Tracy Arm and we had to turn around.
- Underground Juneau Gold Tour – get a walk through of a tunnel once used for gold mining.
- Whale Watching – there are a variety of whale watching tours and they guarantee a sighting!
- Sea Kayak Adventure – on this tour you will see wildlife, Mendenhall Glacier and explore the Mendenhall Wetlands.
- Five Glacier Seaplane Exploration – this epic excursion takes you soraing over five glaciers in the area where you’ll see the hues of blue and the largest glacier in Alaska, Taku!
- Dog Sledding Summer Camp – ride through a mile and a half with the dogs
- Helicopter Glacier Walkabout – this is a non strenuous activity that allows about an hour of walking on a glacier.
- Fly Out Fly Fishing Adventure – this excursion is eco friendly with catch and release. Salmon snack and beverages included.
Juneau, Alaska is a rugged, remote and breathtaking city filled with natural wonders, historic sights and adventures for anyone and everyone! From mountain peaks to shorelines dotted with Bald Eagles, breathtaking glaciers and temperate rain forests rich in wildlife, there are so many things to do in Juneau, making a visit to this city an absolute must for any Alaskan itinerary!
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