The loud speaker interrupted the silence as the captain signaled the flight attendants to prepare for landing. As quickly as the sound started, it disappeared followed by the jarring sound of the fasten seatbelt sign being illuminated above the seats.
Almost as an instinct, my eyes left the screen in front of me and focused outside the window.
I knew arriving into Juneau, Alaska would be pretty cool but I was not prepared for a crystal clear day and mountains for as far as the eye could see. I don’t know what it is about mountains but they call to me.
They invite me to explore and adventure with them. In that moment, I knew Juneau was going to be a special place.
Have you ever arrived somewhere and it just felt right? This is how Juneau was for me. The smallest of the 3 major cities in Alaska, Juneau holds on to the title of capital city but the real wonders lie in the setting of the city.
Related Article: 19 Photos That Prove Juneau is More Than Just a Cruise Stop
Glacier cut mountains line the water, jutting out of sea level and leaving behind the inconvenience of dealing with altitude adjustment. This sets the stage for Juneau as an active, outdoors kind of place with all the amenities of taking a trip to the city.
By day your having adventures on glaciers, hiking in forests, climbing mountains, whale watching, kayaking, flight seeing and by night enjoying the proudly owned local restaurants serving classic Alaskan fare washed down with craft brew from the Alaskan Brewing Company.
Our time in Juneau culminated in 5 action packed days of adventure, exploring and eating our way right into the fan club of the city.
Shocked to learn that most people only spend the one day they have on a cruise ship in Juneau, we’ve made it our mission to convince you that you should fly in early for your cruise and take a look around. You won’t regret it.
That being said, this is our definitive guide to things to do in Juneau, Alaska including everything we did on our visit and so much more.
Things to Do in Juneau, Alaska
Juneau is a destination where the day trip is king. With so many options in very close proximity to each other, your options are virtually endless and completely dependent on your personal preference and travel style.
There is not shortage of things to do in Juneau and we found the adventure options to be not only addicting but the kind of things that reach experience of a lifetime status.
We were simply blown away by the presence of rustic nature and landscapes and the fact that you get to literally make that your playground during a visit to Alaska makes it a unique getaway. You can get remote in minutes and there are not many places left in the world to do that. Juneau delivers.
Hike Mount Roberts
The majority of people that visit Juneau take the Mount Roberts Tram from the harbor to reach the top of this beautiful mountain. While that works for some, we highly recommend hiking to the top if you are able and have the time.
The hike is stunning with lush, green rainforest and easy to navigate trails. Most of the hike slowly inclines to the top, so expect a little bit of a leg burner but it will be well worth it while the sounds of Alaska’s forests surround you.
It’s 3 miles to the top if you walk to the trailhead from downtown Juneau and depending on how many times you stop for photos, will take you around 2-3 hours.
Once at the top you will be at the tram station and have the option to enjoy a cold beverage and take the tram down or do as we did, and hike the 3 miles back down. This is one of the best things to do in Juneau on a sunny afternoon.
HOT TIP: If you hike to the top and spend a minimum of $10 in the bar or gift shop, your tram ride down to town is free.
Go Ziplining on Douglas Island
This is a fun way to spend part of your day away from the crowds. Located just over the bridge of Juneau City is Douglas Island.
Most of the island is inaccessible with vehicles but one road will take you to the middle of the island where you can ski in the winter and zip line in the summer with Alaska Zipline Adventures.
Featuring 7 lines, 10 platforms and a suspension bridge strung between giant Alaska pine trees, you’ll find yourself totally immersed in nature for the duration of the activity.
Safety is the rule here and the staff is attentive in making sure you are kitted out correctly before starting the tour.
Take A Road Trip
A fun fact about Juneau is that it only has one 42 mile stretch of road that you can drive on; each of the ends stopping abruptly and marked with big yellow signs saying ‘END’.
We were surprised to learn that you cannot drive to Juneau and it is a city that can only be accessed by air or sea. However, don’t let this discourage you from grabbing your own wheels during your stay.
The stretch of road from Thane to Echo Cove is likely the most picturesque 42 miles you’ll ever experience on a road trip. Be sure to check out places like Auke Bay, Eagle Beach, Shrine of St Therese, Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center, the Arboretum and any of the great hiking trails along the way. This was one of our favorite things to do in Juneau.
Visit the Mendenhall Ice Caves
One of the most wondrous things you can do in Juneau is find your way to the Mendenhall Ice Caves. These caves are formed of glacial ice due to rapid recession of the Mendenhall Glacier.
They are otherworldly and one of the coolest natural wonders we have ever seen. However, don’t waste any time, if you want to see the caves you need to go now.
The caves change rapidly by the day and parts of them have already collapsed and disappeared. Once the Mendenhall glacier recedes out of Lake Mendenhall, the ice caves will no longer exist.
Related Article: Our guide to visiting the Mendenhall Ice Caves Before They Melt
You have a couple of options for visiting the caves- which we outline in detail in Visit the Mendenhall Ice Caves Before They Melt- but we highly recommend taking a canoe and glacier hiking day trip.
The trip with did with Alaska & Beyond lasted all day and included a 1 hour canoe across Lake Mendenhall with an up close look at the face of the glacier, a beach landing to the west of the glacier, a hike to the ice caves, a hike onto the top of the glacier, glacier exploration and a return canoe trip across the lake.
Hike the West Glacier Trail
If you want to get into the thick of Southeast Alaska’s temperate rainforests, then this trail is for you. I have never seen such a dense amount of forest moss in my life, it was incredible.
This hike follows the forest up the west side of the Mendenhall Glacier and, if you’re up for it, will end at a spectacular overlook of the glacier and lake below.
Not everyone will be fit enough to reach the viewpoint, it does require good fitness and ability to walk up steep areas with uneven ground. However, if this doesn’t suite you don’t let that deter you. The first part of the hike is relatively easy and still allows you to immerse in the forest.
We went out with the guides at Adventure Flow and not only did we get a great hike but we learned so much about the forest along the way. The unique eco-system of the rainforest is a passion for the guides and they overflow with excitement in showing you the many layers of the forest.
If you love nature, this is one of the best things in Juneau to get away from the crowds and check out the rainforest.
Take a Wings Air Flight to Taku Glacier Lodge
This is one of the most incredible tours we have ever taken. I know those are big words but it was one of a kind. The floatplanes leave from downtown Juneau harbor, right where the cruise ships dock and you take off from the water and fly between the towering mountains away from Juneau.
The flights take you over the Juneau Ice Field, the source of every glacier in the area and it is down right amazing. Alaska has this uncanny ability to make you feel really darn small in the World and when we flew over the ice field, I couldn’t help but reflect on how shocking nature can be.
If that wasn’t enough, the tour lands on the water outside of the historical Taku Glacier Lodge that has a prime view of the Taku Glacier opposite of the property.
We enjoyed a Salmon Bake for lunch and had ample time to explore the grounds, photograph the glacier and relax. Returning from the lodge to downtown Juneau is just as good as the flight out. This is an incredible day trip; don’t miss it.
More Great Things To Do in Juneau
Our 5 days in Juneau merely scratched the surface of all that it has to offer. While we highly recommend you check out the above mentioned adventures, these ones are worth a look too. It’s Juneau, I can’t imagine they will disappoint.
- Helicopter Flight with Dog Sledding on Glacier – we were actually supposed to do this but unfortunately our trip was cancelled due to weather. Insert sad face here. This adventure involves a helicopter ride onto the Mendenhall Glacier and a chance to learn how to run sled dogs. It’s classic Alaska and probably something you shouldn’t miss if the weather cooperates. Book a helicopter and dog sledding trip
- Bear Viewing on Admiralty Island – taking a floatplane from downtown Juneau, this 30 minute trip will land you in what the Tlingit people called the ‘fortress of bears’. The Pack Creek Sanctuary is the best places to view Brown Bears in Southeast Alaska. If you want to see bears here, plan your trip between June and September. Book a bear viewing trip to Admiralty Island
- Whale Watching at Tracy’s Arm Fjord – taking an all say cruise from Juneau not only gives you a prime opportunity to see whales but also a chance to get up close to more glaciers. Spend a day cruising the Tracy Arm Fjord, dodging icebergs, laughing at seals and observing whales. Book a whale watching trip to Tracy’s Arm Fjord.
- East Glacier Loop – this 3.5 mile loop trail will give you glimpses of the East side of Mendenhall Glacier. While the Mendenhall Glacier visitors center sees thousands of cruise ship visitors a day, they rarely venture beyond the close by trails, meaning the forests and mountains beyond are virtually empty and a haven for hiking.
- Nugget Falls near Mendenhall Glacier – one of the most popular hikes in Juneau due to it’s accessibility and views of not only a towering waterfall but the Mendenhall Glacier. A great way to experience this trail and capture some great photos is with this Smartphone Photography and Hiking Tour.
Hiking in Juneau
Juneau, Alaska boasts over 250 miles of hiking trails and many of them can be accessed right from the downtown area. It would be a shame to visit Juneau and not enjoy at least one of the trails.
Tips for the trail – Set off in the morning to ensure you have plenty of time to hike the trail, let someone know where you are going and be sure to make plenty of noise on the trail. Bring adequate amounts of water and healthy snacks with you on every hike. Lastly, don’t forget a flashlight or head torch in case you get lost on the trail after night fall.
Safety in Bear Country – Juneau and the surrounding area has a large population of Black Bears and it is not uncommon to see one while hiking. Hike in a group and stay together on the trail. Make plenty of noise to alert the bears that you are in the area, surprising a bear is the worst possible situation you could put yourself in. If you come across a bear, gather together and act big. Do not run, do not move towards the bear. If the bear displays threatening behavior back away slowly but only a few steps at a time. Do not leave food out and as a precaution, carry a can of bear spray with you.
Best Places to Stay in Juneau
You definitely have a few options for places to stay in Juneau during your visit and you can’t really pick a bad location. We ended up in a place off the busy cruise ship area, in the backstreets of the downtown and loved it. After a day of adventuring and enjoying the city, it was our little haven for relaxation away from the crowds.
Silverbow Inn – we based ourselves here and loved it. This Inn is very cozy with newly remodeled rooms and one of those beds that you just sink into at the end of the day. The lobby features a fireplace, couches, books, games, 24 hour coffee, tea, hot cocoa and rotating snacks. They even put out a candy bar every evening. All the information you could want is provided at the front counter. There’s even a hot tub on the roof to warm up in on those chill days. We loved our stay here and would gladly return.
Read reviews and check prices at Silverbow Inn
Four Points by Sheraton – if you like the chain experience or have points to spend, this hotel is located just opposite the port in a great downtown location. You can expect typical Sheraton quality in the rooms, a concierge to arrange your day trips and the lively McGivney’s restaurant in the lobby.
Read reviews and check prices at Four Points by Sheraton Juneau
Best Places to Eat in Juneau
You have your pick for some great dining experience in Juneau. These are the places we enjoyed during our stay and suffice to say, we didn’t have a bad meal or drink. Beer from the Alaska Brewery can be ordered in every establishment, so don’t be shy, order a glass of Alaskan White and enjoy some seafood.
- Zerelda’s Bistro – From the outside you wouldn’t expect much from this place but the minute you walk through the doors you’ll find creative dishes and a cozy atmosphere. Tip: Order one of their salads
- Alaska Fish & Chips Company – Obligatory for a trip to Alaska, this fish shack is located right on the wharf with outside seating and fantastic fish & chips. We recommend the Halibut.
- Tracy’s Crab Shack – If it is King Crab you seek, look no further. The place is an icon with friendly staff an Oceanside atmosphere and damn good crab legs. Tip: Order just one leg to start… they’re huge.
- McGivney’s – A sports bar located in the Four Points Sheraton Lobby, the atmosphere is friendly with a wide selection of Alaskan brews and popular food options.
- Devil’s Hideaway – If you want to hang with the locals, this is the place for you. Officially a bar that serves food instead of the other way around, this low lit bar overlooking Auke Bay has some incredible fish tacos.
- The Hangar on the Wharf – The hang out place of downtown Juneau, I’d equate this place to a Perkins in atmosphere but with much better food and amazing views of the waterfront.
- The Rookery – Trendy little café located smack in downtown Juneau, the short menu changes daily and reservations are highly recommended for dinner as it the place packs up fast.
- Red Dog Saloon – if you like strange, cool and different experience then head to this place on your visit to Juneau and order yourself a Duck Fart. With a floor of sawdust and an old west meets Northern Exposure feel, you’re in for a treat. Things you can find on the walls include Wyatt Earp’s gun, a walrus oosik, trophy wildlife mounts and paper currency signed by the many miners that have frequented the saloon from around the world since it opened.
Our Final Thoughts on Juneau
We absolutely loved our visit to Juneau, Alaska and could honestly see ourselves moving there and living. Everywhere you look is dramatic mountain landscape and the city itself has more of a small town, close knit feel.
The local people have a friendly pride about their city that makes you feel welcome and the adventure is enough to keep things fun for a lifetime.
There is no shortage of things to do in Juneau. We’ll be back, there is no doubt in our minds.
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