From its snow-topped peaks to its moody Pacific shoreline, there are so many things to do in Juneau Alaska that a cruise pit stop might not be long enough. While the cruise ship terminal in Juneau does bring in a lot of traffic to Alaska’s capital city, it’s the visitors that come to stay awhile that get to experience real Juneau adventures.
The city is named after Joe Juneau, a French-Canadian miner and prospector, who is credited with co-founding the city in the late 19th century. Since then the population has grown beyond that of a mining town to one full of families, businesses, and tourists alike. Let’s get into the 15 coolest things to do in Juneau.
What to do in Juneau Alaska
The pictures don’t do it justice, the sheer enormity of the Mendenhall glacier will take your breath away. The Mendenhall glacier sits in Tongass National Forest on the Juneau Icefield which extends right into British Columbia. There are many things to do in Juneau and a whole bunch of them are in this park.
Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center
When you first reach the Mendenhall Valley, it is best to head to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center to find out what areas are safe to explore. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is also where you can find tours if you so desire. For qualified daredevils, one of the best things to do in Juneau is to go ice climbing at the glacier. You can call ahead to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center first to find out if it is possible while you’re there.
Mendenhall Ice Caves
The Mendenhall ice caves are one of the coolest things to see in Juneau. This natural attraction will make you feel as though you have been transported to a planet of ice and glass. The Mendenhall ice caves are usually accessible between July and September.
- Book this highly rated Mendenhall Glacier Ice Caves Tour. For the adventure of a lifetime, paddle the Mendenhall Lake to the Glacier where you’ll get to explore the glacier up close and personal. Something that very few people have the chance to do.
- Or you can join a canoe trip to the glacier where you’ll search for wildlife, paddle around ice flows and finally step foot on the glacier to explore.
You’ll also definitely want to check out Nugget Falls, which is a waterfall downstream from the glacier. Nugget Falls pours down into Mendenhall Lake where you can go skating in the winter months. You can also head to the West Glacier Trail or East Glacier Loop trailhead near the lake and explore.
Taking those trails will you a chance to see more of the inner workings of the area and enjoy different views of the landscape. It takes about an hour to get to the Mendenhall Glacier from the Juneau Alaska cruise ship docks if you use public transit.
Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure
How can a rainforest sit within minutes of gargantuan glaciers you might wonder. And it’d be a valid query. The Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure in southeast Alaska is something you’re not going to experience anywhere else in the world. Sitting in Tongass National Forest, Glacier Gardens Forest Adventure takes you on a vehicle tour of this Alaskan rainforest on Douglas island.
From cascading hanging gardens to secret places hidden amongst the hemlocks, every turn on your Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure will transport you to another world. One of the most amazing things is the natural upside-down flower towers which look like they’re straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. This should be one of your day trips as getting there and coming back will take some time.
Mount Roberts Tramway
Both times we were in Juneau it was overcast so we never went up the Mount Roberts tramway, but if you are in Juneau on a clear day, head up the tramway for a birds eye view of Juneau, the channel and surrounding landscape. There are nature trails and an interpretive centre at the top. If you want a bit of adventure, you can hike to the top, or you can take the tram up and hike back down.
You can’t visit Juneau without visiting all of the beautiful hiking trails surrounding the city. Some of the most popular include the West Glacier Trail, Douglas Island trails, and the East Glacier Loop. Douglas Island is just a short ride over from downtown Juneau. Here you can explore the Tongass National Forest trails and see some of the flora and fauna that live there.
Thunder Mountain is a good trail for those who like it a little rough. It can be a little muddy but when you get to the summit, you’re in for some spectacular views. You will also get a chance to see mountain goats, eagles, and other birds playing in their natural habitat.
If hiking isn’t your thing but you want to go for a walk, the Juneau waterfront is a fantastic stroll. There are interactive stops and signs to tell you of the history of Juneau. Follow it all the way out along a boardwalk over the water to a quiet park where there’s a spectacular sculpture of a breaching whale.
Tracy Arm Fjord
The best way to experience the Tracy Arm Fjord is on a small boat with a guide. You will enter the very narrow fjord and be greeted by light fog floating just below the summits of the surrounding mountains.
As you move along, you’re likely to see whales and other marine life and then the cherry on top are the glaciers. They glisten a vivid blue like a rare diamond and you immediately feel dwarfed and amazed at the spectacular scenery.
The Taku Glacier is believed to be the largest and thickest alpine glacier in the world. The glacier sits in Taku Inlet and is approximately 36 miles long.
It is a tidewater glacier which means that it is known to advance and release icebergs and then retreat. The glacier is located just southeast of Juneau and you can even stay close by at the Taku Glacier Lodge.
Glacier Bay National Park
If you’re visiting Juneau via land or air and want to spend more time than on a cruise, you can stay at Glacier Bay Lodge and take your time exploring the area. Near the lodge is a visitors center, exhibits, kayak rentals, and campgrounds. You can also take a variety of guided walking tours. In addition to that, you can also explore Glacier Bay National Park by booking yourself on a boat tour of the area.
Shrine of St. Therese
If you have a car or are willing to get a car rental, you can head north of Juneau on Glacier Highway to the Shrine of S. Therese. The shrine is dedicated to the patron saint of Alaska and sits above the Lynn Canal. It is about a 20 minutes drive out of Juneau Alaska proper.
Helicopter and Glacier Flight
Until you have seen a glacier from above, there is no way to understand the enormity of their crevasses and peaks. Book this Helicopter and guided icefields walk. See the Juneau Icefield from above before landing on Herbert glacier.
In this area, you’ll see some of the biggest and most beautiful homes in the city. You can park your vehicle and go down to the coastline to spot whales and sea lions and take a walk along the shores.
Eaglecrest Ski Area
You can’t visit this land of snow and ice without hitting the ski slopes. You’ll get plenty of action at Eaglecrest Ski Area with downhill and cross country skiing as well as dog sledding, snowshoeing, and heliskiing.
You can even just go over and visit the incredibly beautiful sled dogs if you want. This is definitely a full day or weekend and suitable for folks that are staying in Juneau rather than cruising through.
If you want to try your hand a zip lining, there are zipline adventures offered in Juneau. We had one booked but due to heavy rain it was cancelled. Ziplining in Juneau takes place at the Eagle Crest ski area during the summer months.
Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska
Full of wildlife and other natural attractions, Admiralty island makes for a nice day trip. Also, if you’ve never been on a floatplane, it is one of the things to do in Juneau as you need to use it to get to the island.
The island is home to a huge population of black bears, so you’ll definitely be able to shoot some beautiful natural wildlife photography if you choose. You can also arrange to salmon fishing off the island as well as canoeing. There’s a cute lighthouse to visit on the island too.
Take an Uncruise
Glacier Bay National Park is 13,290 km² (3.3 million acres) filled with stunning scenery and countless glaciers. It isn’t far from Juneau but the only way to get there is by boat or plane. This World Heritage Site is a must see. We have been to Glacier Bay twice on a Princess Cruise and with UnCruise. We loved the small ship experience to explore these massive glaciers. Each trip had local rangers brought on board to explain exactly what is in view as the ship passes through the park.
Many people will not spot a single bald eagle in their whole life, but if you visit Juneau, chances are you’ll spot quite a few. It is estimated that there are close to 30,000 eagles living in and around Juneau so you don’t really have to go searching for them, just keep your eyes open and you’ll spot one. We saw an incredible amount of eagles at the aptly named Eagle Beach but the reality is you’ll see them everywhere. It is truly awe-inspiring. Eagle beach is less so for sunbathing and more so for beachcombing and marine-life-watching. You can spot humpback whales here as well as sea lions and seals.
While many think Denali National Park is the best place to have wildlife encounters on land in Alaska, we saw plenty of brown bears(the coastal equivalant to grizzly bears) along the shores near Juneau and beyond. Admiralty Island known as Kootznoowoo by the local Tlingít people is just 42 miles from Juneau. Kootznoowoo translates to fortress of the bears and it is here that houses the highest density of Brown Bears in the world. It is estimated to be 1600 brown bears on this island. (cool fact, There are no black bears on the island but they are can be found on the mainland.)
You can book a bear watching trip to Admirality Island here to see Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area from Juneau. You will take a float plane to Tongass National Forest where you will Kayak through Alaska’s Inside Passage to Admiralty Island to the viewing area. They don’t call this bear country for nothing!
Even thought we have done a couple of cruises through Alaska, we did go whale watching in Juneau as well. The best time to go whale watching in Juneau is during the cruise season from April to November and chances of seeing them are nearly 100%. Nearly 600 humpbacks inhabit the waters of the northern Inside Passage during this time.
We took this whale watching adventure combined with the Mendenhall Glacier tour on our first trip to Juneau.
Downtown Juneau Museums
To get a real understanding of any city, it is a good idea to visit a city museum. Historic downtown Juneau Alaska and the area have quite a few museums where you can explore its mining history as well as important artifacts from all over Alaska.
Last Chance Mining Museum
The Last Chance Mining Museum sits on an old gold mine and contains old mining artifacts. The Last Chance Mining Museum operates seasonally so it’s best to call ahead before visiting.
Alaska State Museum
The Alaska State Museum has a wealth of artifacts including fine art and old tools. You will also learn about ancient fishing and forestry traditions thanks to the thoughtfully curated displays curated by the staff at the Alaska State Museum.
Douglas City Museum
If you’ve only got about an hour before boarding your cruise then check out the Juneau Douglas City Museum. This city museum is full of historical information but is smaller than the other museums, which means you can get more information in less time. Juneau Douglas City Museum is just a short walk from where the ships dock so you can get there and back fast.
If you’re into craft beer, you’re in luck. The Alaskan Brewing Company makes its headquarters in Juneau and offers free tours. You can visit their tasting room and try a variety of ales. They’ve got a food truck located outside where you can order burgers or classic Alaska seafood and then bring it inside to enjoy with your Alaskan brew.
Red Dog Saloon
Juneau cool town that feels like it takes you back to the Gold Rush days of the 1800s. Be sure to look for the swinging red doors of the Red Dog Saloon and stroll through the shops lining the streets with colorful facades.
Tracy’s Crab Shack
If you’re looking for the biggest, juiciest king crab, Tracey’s Crab shack is where you need to go in Juneau Alaska. It is packed and pricey, but if you want to have some genuine Alsaksan crab in Alaska, this is the place to do it. The restaurant is located down near the ship docks but has none of the empty bells and whistles of a tourist trap. You get super fresh king crabs served up the Alaskan way while enjoying the hustle and bustle of a waterfront restaurant.
Gold Creek Salmon Bake
Foodies rave about this place so we’ve got to tell you about it for when you visit Juneau. Diners have said the Gold Creek Salmon Bake restaurant served up the most succulent fish they’ve ever had. The restaurant does have access to some of the best Pacific salmon around, so they’re already a step ahead. Besides that, they’re situated in picturesque surroundings including a waterfall.
Where to Stay in Juneau
Four Points by Sheraton – Located on the waterfront and directly across from the UnCruise port, we found this to be a very convenient hotel. For us it was walking distance to downtown and a lot of the top things to do in Juneau downtown. Plus it has easy access to the Seadrome Marina.
Frequently Asked Questions
Sampling the food is one of the best things to do in Juneau if you really want to understand the local culture. Food can tell you a lot more about a place you visit than just the attractions and people can. You can take the Mount Robert Tram up by yourself and enjoy fresh seafood at the Timberline Bar and Grill.
You can also take a helicopter ride over the Juneau ice field. This tour needs no company as you’ll be too amazed at the scenery to be able to come up with words. There also lots of places to hike like Herbert Glacier. This is a pretty easy trail where you can bike or walk too and just simply enjoy the scenery.
You better believe Juneau is worth visiting if you’re an adventurer at heart. There are a lot of things to do in Juneau but the thing that will leave the greatest impact is the striking beauty of the place. The mountains are majestic and the waters strong and steely. The most vivid memory will likely be that of the blue glaciers glowing like they dropped down onto earth from a fifth dimension. And let’s not forget about getting a chance to see a real grizzly bear in his natural habitat.
The number of days you should spend in Juneau depends on exactly what you want to do in the city and area. If you’re looking for a quick look at a glacier, then just a day will do. However, if you really want to experience the magic and mystery of the place and experience all of the things to see in Juneau, then at least a week is needed.
You don’t need a car in Juneau as the main downtown area is walkable. All of the places you will want to visit will be accessible by public transportation or via tours. For the most part, if you book a tour with an operator, they will arrange to have you picked up and dropped off. The only reason to get a car is if you want to go exploring by yourself outside of Juneau.
And these are all the amazing things to do in Juneau, Alaska. If you are planning to take a cruise to Alaska, chances are it may start or end in Juneau, so book a few days before or after your trip to explore this remote region of the United States.