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Despite its status as Alaska’s capital, Juneau is usually a one-night stopover for tourists on an Alaskan cruise. Heck, many first-time visitors mistakenly assume the more populous Anchorage is Alaska’s capital. Those who decide to stay a bit longer in Juneau, however, are rewarded with architectural gems, marvelous museums, and, of course, breathtaking natural scenery.
There are dozens of things to do in and around Juneau, especially if you’re interested in outdoor activities, delicious seafood, or Alaskan culture. In this post, we’ll explore 22 exceptional Juneau destinations in the following categories: natural scenery, historic Juneau, and unique attractions. Here are just a few of the places we’ll detail below:
- Mendenhall Glacier
- Tracy Arm Fjord
- Nugget Falls
- Tongass National Forest
- Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway
- Mount Roberts Trail
- Glacier Gardens Rainforest
- Alaska State Museum
- Alaska State Capitol Building
- Last Chance Mining Museum
Juneau might not be a great “home base” for exploring Alaska, but it’s worthy of more than a one-day stop. By the time you finish this piece, you’ll understand why so many cruise passengers wish they’d booked more time to explore this lovely capital.
Why you should visit Juneau, Alaska
Situated in southeastern Alaska, Juneau has many unique features. For starters, it’s America’s only landlocked capital city. The only ways to get into Juneau are via plane or cruise ship; so, no matter how you travel to Juneau, you’re initial voyage is sure to be memorable.
Of course, the natural beauty of this mountainous area is the top tourist draw, but Juneau’s second claim to fame is its fascinating past. As the oldest city in Alaska and a major center for gold mining, Juneau is home to many of the state’s most impressive museums and houses of worship.
Although Juneau is small with roughly 30,000 residents, it has all the amenities you’d expect from a major American city. Indeed, since much of Juneau’s economy is dependent on tourism, you’ll have no difficulty finding high-quality hotels, restaurants, and special tours on your visit.
Juneau’s tourist season peaks between May and August when there’s little precipitation, plenty of sunshine, and temps between 50°F – 60°F. An added bonus of visiting during the summer is that visitors enjoy the height of whale migration in the region.
For those who want to avoid tourist traffic, consider visiting during the rainy autumn months. Yes, the fall season is damp and cool, but it’s also the best chance you have to check out the famed Northern Lights.
You can learn more about the best times to visit Alaska by clicking on this former blog post.
22 Things to do in Juneau, Alaska
As mentioned in the intro, most of Juneau’s attractions are related to the city’s pristine nature or its long history. Let’s take a closer look at 22 of the must-see destinations everyone should add to a Juneau itinerary.
1. Mendenhall Glacier
Measuring approximately 13-miles in length, the Mendenhall Glacier is the most impressive remnant from the most recent Ice Age. Start your tour of this natural treasure at the state-of-the-art Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center for sweeping views of the area and a phenomenal educational film. While at the Visitor Center, you can find how to reach the area’s many trails and their difficulty level. Don’t hesitate to ask Park Rangers where you’ll have the best chance of seeing wildlife like sockeye salmon, coyotes, and black bears on your tour.
Mendenhall Glacier’s Visitor Center is open between 8 AM – 7:30 PM Mondays through Sundays in the summer season. In the winter, however, the center’s hours are from 10 AM – 4 PM Fridays through Sundays.
2. Tracy Arm Fjord
The Mendenhall Glacier is undeniably stunning, but a major reason it attracts so many tourists has to do with its convenient location near central Juneau. By contrast, the Tracy Arm Fjord is about 40 miles south of Juneau and can only be accessed by boat. Those who take the time and effort to travel to Tracy Arm, however, are never disappointed.
Measuring about 27-miles long with mountains that tower some 3,000 feet, the Tracy Arm Fjord is a jaw-dropping sight to behold. If you only have time for one major natural attraction, most seasoned tourists recommend visiting Tracy Arm over Mendenhall. Boat tours to Tracy Arm only operate between May and September, so be sure to book your tour a few weeks in advance to be on the safe side.
3. Nugget Falls
A fun side-trip on your exploration of Mendenhall Glacier is to visit the two-tiered Nugget Falls by Mendenhall Lake. Created by Nugget Glacier, this powerful waterfall drops some 370 feet and often sprays guests with its powerful mists.
The thundering Nugget Falls is easily accessible via the East Glacier Loop Trail near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. It will take about 1.3 miles of hiking to reach the falls, but the trail is relatively flat and great for novice hikers.
4. Tongass National Forest
At almost 17 million acres, Alaska’s Tongass National Forest is the largest of its kind in the USA. First founded by President Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s, this huge park preserves roughly 80 percent of southeastern Alaska for nature enthusiasts to enjoy.
There are dozens of hiking trails throughout Tongass’ vast landscape, but a perennial favorite with tourists is the West Glacier Trail near Juneau. Measuring about 4 miles, this summertime trail offers unparalleled views of Mendenhall Glacier and environs.
Of course, there are countless other fantastic outdoor activities available in Tongass such as bird watching, kayaking, and bear viewing. The best place in Juneau to learn more about any Tongass activities you might be interested in is at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.
5. Glacier Bay National Park
Formally recognized by UNESCO in the 1970s, the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is one of the world’s largest internationally protected sites measuring about 3.3 million acres. As the name suggests, the star attraction is the glaciers, especially in the “Many Glacier” area of the park. Glacier Bay also boasts 750 miles of hiking trails, 13 campsites, boating opportunities, and license-free fishing.
Check out the National Park Service’s official page on Glacier Bay National Park for the most up-to-date information on road closures, events, and guided tours.
6. Juneau Channel Island State Marine Park
Over 20 miles northwest of central Juneau, the Juneau Channel Island State Marine Park is a collection of 14 islands dotted along Lynn Canal. Guests interested in visiting these islands could easily book a boat journey over here to take part in all the outdoor activities.
For those who are into fishing, North Pass is highly praised for its large populations of halibut and salmon. If you’re not so into fishing, then consider taking part in other outdoor activities like kayaking, hunting, or amateur photography. Just be forewarned: it can get pretty chilly and damp here, so be sure to pack high-quality moisture-wicking coats.
7. Mount Roberts Trail
Any experienced hikers reading this post might be interested in tackling the Mount Roberts Trail by Downtown Juneau. Beginning at Basin Road, this trail measures roughly 4.5-miles and reaches an elevation of 3,819 feet. The reward for all your hard effort will be priceless panoramic views of both Juneau and the Chilkat Mountains.
For those seeking a less intense hike, consider riding the Golden Mount Roberts Tramway to the halfway point at about 1,800 feet up. Of course, if you’re tired after walking down from this trail’s peak, you could also take the tramway back to Basin Road.
A quick word of warning: this trail is frequently muddy. Don’t wear any clothes you don’t feel comfortable getting dirty on your exploration.
8. Glacier Gardens Rainforest
Flower enthusiasts visiting Tongass National Forest cannot pass on a trip to the 50-acre Glacier Gardens Rainforest. On your hour-long shuttled tour, an expert guide will teach you all about the fantastic flora preserved in this rainforest region. Guests visiting Glacier Gardens will also be treated to sweeping panoramic views of Juneau at the top of Thunder Mountain. Before leaving, be sure to snap a few pictures by the gardens’ famed upside-down flower towers.
Note: Glacier Gardens Rainforest is only open between May – September and normal hours of operation are between 9 AM and 6 PM every day of the week. Adult tickets cost $26.95 per person and kids cost $15.95.
9. Eagle Beach
Alaska isn’t exactly the prime destination for beach bums, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time on Juneau’s sandy Eagle Beach. Located along the Lynn Canal, Eagle Beach’s main claim to fame is its views of the nearby Chilkat Mountains. Visitors to this area are also often interested in camping, fishing, or searching for wildlife like sea lions.
There are 16 dedicated campsites throughout Eagle Beach that are available to guests for a maximum of seven days. For those interested in camping or reserving a picnic shelter, be sure to visit Eagle Beach’s official webpage before visiting.
10. Perseverance National Recreation Trail
Unlike Mount Roberts Trail, Perseverance Trail is ideal for beginner to intermediate hikers. You’ll begin your hike up Perseverance Trail by Downtown Juneau at the Basin Road trailhead and travel onwards for about 3 miles.
As you hike, keep a lookout for evidence of the region’s gold mining past, especially as you look out over Gold Creek. Indeed, this trail once served as a railway dedicated to transporting gold from the nearby mines.
A nice feature about Perseverance Trail is that it’s easily customizable. For instance, you could choose to climb up Mount Juneau or take a more leisurely jaunt to the powerful Ebner Falls. To find out more info on potential side trips at Perseverance Trail, be sure to look up maps of the area online before your trek.
11. Alaska State Museum
To get a thorough overview of Alaska’s history, be sure to schedule a few hours at Juneau’s comprehensive Alaska State Museum. Immaculately preserved objects from indigenous tribes, Russian colonists, and gold miners tell the complex story of how Alaskan identity has transformed over the centuries. A few highlights at this museum for the kids include an interactive ship replica, a film highlighting Alaska’s geology, and regal artifacts from Russian tsars.
For all you frugal travelers out there, keep in mind the Alaska State Museum offers free admission on the first Friday of every month. Hours vary depending on the time of year, so be sure to visit the Alaska State Museum’s website for full details.
12. Shrine of St. Therese
While it’s not as famous as France’s Basilica of Lisieux, Juneau’s Shrine of St. Therese is a beautiful pilgrimage site dedicated to the famous Catholic saint. For about 80 years, thousands of people from various religious backgrounds have found a serene place to meditate at this National Shrine. In addition to visiting the stone chapel, take some time to walk around the Good Shepherd Rosary Trail and marvel over a reproduction of Michelangelo’s Pietà.
Typically this shrine is open between 8 AM – 10 PM in the summer and 8 AM – 8 PM in the winter. The Shrine of St. Therese is only about a 20-mile drive north of central Juneau.
13. Sealaska Heritage-Walter Soboleff Building
The Sealaska Heritage museum in the Walter Soboleff Building is a big deal…literally. Dedicated to the indigenous Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian tribes, Sealaska Heritage houses monumental works of traditional Native American artistry made by contemporary craftsmen and women. In addition to marveling over this incredible art, Sealaska Heritage holds special meet-and-greets with local artists throughout the year, so be sure to check the group’s website for event details.
General admission is $5 per person, but senior discounts are available. The Sealaska Heritage is open in the summer between 9 AM–8 PM every day of the week.
14. Alaska State Capitol Building
Unlike most state capitols, the Alaska State Capitol Building doesn’t have a huge dome. In fact, this building’s rectangular shape might strike you as odd from the outside. As you take a self-guided tour through the lobby, however, you’ll fall in love with the lovely interior design and the colorful murals depicting Alaskan life.
Tourists visiting between the middle of January and April can visit the Capitol Building any day of the week between 7 AM – 9 PM. When the Legislature is in recess, tourists can only visit between 7 AM – 5 PM Mondays through Fridays.
15. St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
Another important building in Juneau’s religious history is the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church in Downtown. Although this church is formally associated with the Russian Orthodoxy, it was actually formed out of a partnership between the Russian colonists and the local Tlingit tribe.
Completed in the 1890s, this impressive structure is now listed on the US National Register of Historic Places. Church leaders welcome all those interested in the Orthodox faith, traditional Russian architecture, and the fascinating history of this region to stop by.
16. Juneau-Douglas Museum
The stately Juneau-Douglas City Museum focuses heavily on the industries that made Juneau what it is today. A few topics explored in this museum’s permanent galleries include outdoor skiing, the fishing industry, mining, and prominent local businesses. There are even a few hands-on exhibits to help everyone better appreciate the hard work that went into gold mining.
General admission tickets cost $4 for adults, but anyone under 18 could visit for free. In the summer, this museum is open from 9 AM – 5 PM Mondays through Fridays and 10 AM – 5 PM on the weekend. In the winter, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum is only open from 10 AM – 4 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays.
17. Last Chance Mining Museum
Tourists who want to learn more about Juneau’s mining past cannot leave town without wandering through the Last Chance Mining Museum. Situated just north of Juneau’s center, this former compressor building on Gold Creek contains many original pieces of equipment recovered from those Gold Rush days.
The major attraction at the museum is the huge surviving air compressor, which many historians believe is the largest on earth. There are also plenty of old railroads and cars on the site that were once used to transport ore from Gold Creek into the mill.
Keep in mind this museum is only open between the middle of May and September in two time intervals: 9:30 AM–12:30 PM and 3:30 PM–6:30 PM.
18. Eldred Rock Lighthouse
Eldred Rock is a very tiny island with a big claim to fame: the Eldred Rock Lighthouse. Located in the treacherous Lynn Canal, this octagonal lighthouse was first put into operation in 1906 to prevent mining ships from crashing.
In addition to being Alaska’s oldest lighthouse, the Eldred Rock Light is one of the most photogenic. The striking waves and snowy mountains create a dramatic contrast with the stately white-and-red lighthouse. As of today, there are no tours available of the Eldred Rock Light, but you could get pretty close on a guided boat ride.
19. White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad
As Juneau’s Gold Rush exploded, so did loads of dynamite in the area. Led by “Big” Mike Henry, engineers created one of America’s most impressive railways specifically to haul out gold: the White Pass & Yukon Route. Over 100 years later, this railroad is still going strong with regular scenic tours throughout the year.
Since these scenic tours are quite popular, it’s a good idea to pre-book your tickets online well ahead of time. Be sure to visit the White Pass & Yukon Route’s webpage for more info on all the tour packages available.
20. Alaskan Brewery and Bottling Company
The Alaskan Brewing Company was on the market long before craft beer became the “it” thing. Founded in 1986, the company is now one of America’s most successful craft breweries.
Beer enthusiasts can go on a guided tour & tasting at the Alaskan Brewing Company’s Juneau headquarters for $25 per person. Those that want to get straight to the good stuff, on the other hand, could skip the tour completely visit the brewery’s Tasting Room for a frothy flight.
Anyone interested in taking a guided tour must reserve their spot in advance using the Alaskan Brewing Company’s website. Summer hours are from 9 AM – 9 PM Sundays through Thursdays and 9 AM – 8 PM Fridays and Saturdays. In the winter, this brewery is open to the public between 11 AM – 6 PM Mondays through Saturdays.
21. DIPAC’s Macaulay Salmon Hatchery
Even if you’re not into marine biology, a visit to the Douglas Island Pink and Chum’s Macaulay Salmon Hatchery is a fun experience for the whole family. Here you’ll get to see Pacific salmons up-close on a tour of the site’s aquariums and rearing facilities. To learn more in-depth information on how this hatchery came to be, you could go on a guided 45-minute tour during the summer season.
Tickets for a self-guided tour cost $5 for adults and $3 for children. Those interested in guided group tours could pick up an adult ticket for $15 or a child ticket for $10. Check out the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery’s website for more information on seasonal hours.
22. AJ Mine Gastineau Mill Tour
Have you got the stuff to be an Alaskan gold miner? Well, go on the AJ Mine Gastineau Mill Tour and you’re sure to find out! Located on Mill Street, this site was once home to an important Juneau-area gold mine. Although its “Golden Days” are long past, the AJ Mine is still an active mine that invites tourists to learn first-hand what being a gold miner is all about.
After putting on your safety gear, you and your fellow group members will get to walk down a 360-foot tunnel with the help of a mining expert. After your tour is finished, take a close look at all the vintage mining equipment and try your hand at gold panning. To book your mining adventure, you must call AJ Mine at (907) 463-5017.
Best things to do in Juneau, Alaska at night
How do local Juneau residents survive with only 6 hours of daylight in the winter? Sure, omega-3s help, but man does not live by salmon alone! From the early days of its history, Juneau residents have learned how to entertain themselves when the daylight hours are low, so be sure to check out this city’s rustic nightlife scene.
Here are two ways to have fun after the sun sets in the Alaskan capital.
When To See The Northern Lights
The most obvious thing to do at night in Juneau is to take in the magical Northern Lights. Unfortunately, you can’t see the Northern Lights in the bright summer season. So, if you’re dead set on seeing these famed lights, your best shot is to visit between October and November or March.
Interested in learning more about the best times to see the Northern Lights? Check out our previous post for more detailed information.
Hear Live Music At The Alaskan Hotel & Bar
Ever since the Alaskan Hotel & Bar was founded in 1913, it has served as the city’s go-to spot for nighttime entertainment. Anyone interested in enjoying a frothy brew, live musicians, and local company will enjoy a visit to this fantastic bar.
Check out the Alaskan Hotel & Bar’s website for a full list of upcoming live entertainment.
Most Romantic Things to do in Juneau, Alaska
Thanks largely to its mountainous surroundings, Juneau is an obvious honeymoon destination for outdoorsy couples. Just because Juneau is so close to nature, however, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the refinements of culture. Indeed, the Alaskan capital has dozens of fantastic dining destinations sure to set the right romantic mood.
Here are two suggestions to add a little love to your Juneau vacation.
Book A Wildlife Watching Excursion
No words can describe the thrill of seeing a wandering black bear, a soaring bald eagle, or a breaching whale. Luckily for couples that love the great outdoors, you could see all three of these breathtaking creatures on a guided tour of Juneau.
As an added plus, many whale-watching cruise operators now offer special romantic excursions complete with champagne and snacks. Try your best to reserve a spot on your preferred boat operator at least a few months in advance. For more info on when to see whales in Alaska, feel free to click this former post on the subject.
Check Out Juneau’s Growing Foodie Scene
Sure, Juneau is no NYC in terms of restaurant selection, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a romantic meal in the Alaskan capital. Indeed, people who are really into game meats or fresh-caught fish will find a whole lot to love in Juneau.
A favorite restaurant with tourists is the historic Hangar on the Wharf, which (unsurprisingly) is located in a former aircraft hangar. For a quick bite, check out local favorites like The Salmon Spot, Devil’s Club Brewing, and the Alaskan Crepe Escape. Lastly, if it’s a fine dining experience you’re after, definitely book a reservation in the highly acclaimed Salt.