Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Juneau
Alaska's famous drive-in glacier, Mendenhall Glacier, is Juneau's most popular attraction, flowing 12 miles (19 kilometers) from its source, the Juneau Ice Field. On a sunny day it's beautiful, with blue skies and snow-capped mountains in the background. On a cloudy and drizzly afternoon, it can be even more impressive, as the ice turns shades of deep blue.
Near the face of the glacier is the visitors center, which houses various glaciology exhibits, a large relief map of the ice field, an observatory with telescopes and a theater that shows the film, Magnificent Mendenhall. Outside you'll find a salmon-viewing platform overlooking Steep Creek, as well as 6 hiking trails, including a short photo-overlook trail to a longer trek up the glacier's west side. Another trail, the East Glacier Loop trail leads through the forest for views of a waterfall near the glacier’s face. Though a little steep, it’s perfect for school-age children.
One not to miss experience when traveling to Juneau is visiting the Juneau Icefield. The fifth-largest icefield in the Western Hemisphere at 3,900 square kilometers (1,500 square miles), it’s home to over 140 interconnected glaciers. This is where you’ll find Juneau’s most popular tourist attraction, Mendenhall Glacier, a 12-mile (19-kilometer) long drive-in glacier.
There are many ways to explore the Juneau Icefield and Mendenhall Glacier, some of which include a whale watching cruise, kayaking, a rafting tour, and trekking on and/or around the glacier. Another popular glacier to visit in the Juneau Icefield is Taku Glacier, touted as the world’s deepest and thickest glacier at 4,845 feet (1,477 meters) thick, which is also possible to hike on.
A white-blue shock tumbling between mountains into the river valley that bears the same name, Herbert Glacier is a popular but still secluded stop for tours to the Juneau Icefield north of Alaska’s state capitol. Though Herbert doesn’t have the wow factor of tumbling into an impressive reflecting pool of its own meltwater like neighboring massive Mendenhall Glacier, Herbert Glacier is deeper inland, boasts a dramatic backdrop of snowcapped peaks and frequently visited by heli-flight. Often combined with fly-overs to Mendenhall and thick Taku Glacier, Herbert Glacier’s flow has several flat landing spots that offer the chance to set foot on its chilly, slow moving mass. Its surface also affords one of the most unique ways to experience a glacier in the region: by dog sled. After landing on the glacier, a team of huskies guided by an experienced musher navigates the glacier’s eternal winter wilds.
There’s many a parched thirst that’s been revived by a chilled glass of Alaskan, pure and crisp as the driven snow. The Alaskan Brewing Company has been brewing craft beers since 1986, and winning plenty of awards along the way.
The brewery’s free tours offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the brewing processes, including the company’s original 10-barrel and 100-barrel brewing systems.
You’ll come across artifacts from the state’s brewing history, admire an international collection of beer bottles and cans, and meet the people behind the beer.
The company produces five regular beers, including Alaskan Amber Ale, Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout and Alaskan IPA. They also produce limited-release seasonal winter or summer ales and specialty beers like smoked porter, so see what’s on tap when you visit.
Arcing upwards from the waterfront at Juneau’s cruise terminal to the crest of Mt. Roberts, a ride aboard the Mt. Roberts Tramway is one of Juneau’s signature experiences.
The enclosed gondolas swing away from the dock to glide over downtown Juneau and up through the rainforest to the 1,800-foot (540m) summit of Mt. Roberts.
Panoramic views take in stunning vistas of sea and mountains, over to the Chilkat Mountains to the north, the Gastineau Channel, Douglas Island and Silver Bow Basin. Peering down, you might be lucky enough to spot marmots, deer and even a bear.
The ride ends on the top of the mountain at the Mountain House cultural center, picturesquely surrounded by Sitka pines and wildflowers. Visit the nature center to learn more about this beautiful part of the world, or follow one of the hiking trails winding away from the terminal. There’s a wheelchair-accessible trail, and a short mile-loop trail with interpretative signage.
Mining cars, railroad lines, train repair sheds – there’s all this and more at Juneau’s Last Chance Mining Museum and Historic Park.
The venue for this evocative gold-mining museum is the former compressor building of the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company, which operated here from 1916 to 1944.
On display are the locomotives and rail cars that transported the goldminers to the mine. Industrial artifacts include one of the world’s largest air compressors, used in the mining of gold to bring air to the miners. Old mining shafts surround the site, and you can get an idea of the mine’s original extent by studying the museum’s model.
Photo courtesy of CityProfile.com
NOTE: THE MUSEUM WILL BE CLOSED FOR RENOVATIONS THROUGH EARLY 2016. CHECK BACK HERE FOR UPDATES!
Juneau’s deservedly popular Alaska State Museum celebrates the region’s art, history and the natural world. If you’ve ever wanted to see a life-size eagle-nesting tree, this is the place to come.
The museum was established in 1900, and its extensive collection spans a wealth of historical and indigenous materials. The museum successfully brings Alaskan history and science to life, with stuffed bears, re-created landscapes, totem poles and 3-D installations to help tell the story.
The Planet Earth exhibit is especially popular with kids, with a 3-D likeness of the Earth spinning in space, complete with computer-generated weather data and special effects. Younger children make a beeline for the replica of the good ship Discovery, where period dress-ups and invitations to climb aboard await.
More Things to Do in Juneau
Visitors flock to Chichagof Island in Juneau for a peek inside of raw, rugged and untouched Alaska. Measuring in at 75 miles long and 50 miles wide, this island is the fifth largest in the United States. Chichagof, also know as Shee Kaax, acts as a port for cruise ships, boasting panoramic views and fresh mountain air. Most are drawn to the island for the untouched landscape and wildlife; Chichagof has the highest population of bears per square mile of anywhere in the world! While the population of the island is quite small — less than 2,000 inhabitants, the activities offered are numerous, including sightseeing, fishing and guided hunting.
Juneau’s cruise port is right by the historic downtown area of the city, perfectly located for shore excursions, dinner, shopping and entertainment while you’re cruising Alaskan waters.
Founded during the gold-rush days, Juneau is a terrific port to get a sense of the pioneer days and frontier history. Wild West-themed restaurants and pubs are rustic and fun, and menus highlight the region’s snapping-fresh king crab and other seafood.
Shore excursions take you to Mendenhall Glacier for alpine hiking, rafting trips and Alaskan wildlife. Flying there by helicopter is surely the way to go!
Don’t miss the chance to ride the Mt. Roberts Tramway for iconic alpine and Juneau views, theater and museum exhibits, and terrific dining at the terrace grill. The tramway departs right from the cruise port.
While you’re in port, take the opportunity to shop for Alaskan souvenirs, handicrafts and gold nugget jewelry.
Want to see bears while you're in Alaska? Then head to Pack Creek in Juneau where you're practically guaranteed to see brown bears roaming in their natural habitat. Pack Creek is located on Admiralty Island and is home to the Pack Creek Bear Sanctuary.
Most people visit Pack Creek on a guided excursion for an opportunity to see the brown bears who make their home in the area. Pack Creek is located about 30 miles south of Juneau and you'll likely be flown to Pack Creek on a seaplane. When visiting with an excursion company, you will be accompanied by a guide who will give you a background on the nature surrounding you and who will take you to the best spots to see brown bears in a safe manner. You might even see a bear trying to catch a fish in the water.
The thunderous splash of calving glaciers is a common sound in Glacier Bay National Park. Located on the border between Alaska and Canada, the massive park contains a huge number of glaciers, which descend from high snow capped mountains into the bay to create spectacular displays of ice and iceberg formation.
And that’s only part of experiencing the scenic, natural, and historic wonders of Glacier Bay National Park. Outdoor enthusiasts will find a number of exciting activities in the park, including backpacking, birding, camping, fishing, hiking, photography, white-water rafting, and wildlife watching.
Glacier Bay National Park also includes dramatic range of plant communities from rocky terrain recently covered by ice to lush temperate rainforest, and a large variety of animals, including brown and black bears, mountain goats, seals, and eagles. You may even spot whales breaching and, of course, the ever popular falling glaciers.