The capital city of Alaska, Juneau, is a popular destination on all Alaskan cruises. When people imagine capital cities, they often envisage towering skyscrapers, bustling infrastructure and fast-paced locals. However, what Juneau has to offer is quite different. Inaccessible by road, the city is surrounded by stunning scenery and feels very much part of the natural world.
If you are visiting here on a cruise, there are plenty of things you can do to fill your day. In this article, we give our top recommendations perfect for both first-time visitors and regulars.
The gem of Juneau and one of the most staggering natural marvels of the world — a day here would not be complete without visiting the Mendenhall Glacier. Located less than 30 minutes from Juneau’s cruise terminal, it’s worth a trip for the drive alone (through the lush Tongass Forest). Travel blogger Kaitlin who writes at Communikait told us: “I would recommend visiting Mendenhall because it is exactly what I envisioned when I imagined our Alaska vacation. We had a great day, learned a ton from our guide and agreed it was worth every penny!”
Toccara, a travel blogger at Forget Someday, echoed Kaitlin’s thoughts: “Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau is a must-see natural attraction. A visit to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center gets you up close to the 12-mile glacier and gives you access to hiking trails, waterfalls, and Alaskan wildlife, such as porcupines and even bears!”
Toccara also spoke about some of the hikes you can take around the glacier. “From the visitor center, take a leisurely 20-minute stroll (each way) to Nugget Falls, which cascades onto a sandbar in Mendenhall Lake. Another great hike, if you’ve got the time, is East Glacier Trail. This 2.8-mile trail meanders through a moss-covered forest. Couple this trail with part of the Trail of Time hike for a 3.5-mile loop. Even if you’re not feeling up for a hike, a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area is definitely worth your while on your visit to Juneau!”
UK travel blogger Lucy Williams Global says: “One of the highlights of Juneau is the Mendenhall Glacier, it is something you do not want to miss.”
Insider Secret: If you visit between mid-July and the end of August, keep an eye out for black bears who frequent the area looking for salmon.
SEE ALSO: A guide to Alaska’s glaciers
Tongass National Forest
Surrounding Juneau is Tongass National Forest. This rich area of dense evergreens is filled with the best wildlife Alaska has to offer. Eagles soaring overhead, black bears fishing on the riverside, whales lounging in the surrounding waters — it’s truly a nature lover’s paradise. We recommend taking an excursion in the forest or along its shoreline, making sure to bring your camera to capture those once-in-a-lifetime shots!
Melody Pittman, half of the travel team at Wherever I May Roam recommended taking a tour, telling us: “I took a photography tour by land and sea, which was a chance to witness eagles, sea lions, herons, seals, whales, and even a black bear in its natural habitat. The photo memories from that trip are still very vividly etched in my mind. After an epic day of sightseeing, pop over to the Red Dog Saloon for a cold beer and live music.”
Insider Secret: Surrounding Juneau, the U.S. Forest Service maintains more than 20 hiking trails, so hikers should be sure to pack their boots.
SEE ALSO: Best shore excursions in Alaska
With no roads in and out of Juneau, there is a real community feel around the city, despite it being the state’s capital. One company that is a major part of the city’s culture is Alaskan Brewing. A brewery that has been around since the mid-‘80s, Alaskan Brewing make sure to reflect the outstanding beauty of their surroundings in every bottle and keg they produce. In bars around the city you’ll find Alaskan Brewing on offer, but if you want to discover more about this company (or simply enjoy a tasting on-site) then it’s worth heading over to the Tasting Room.
For $25, you can take a shuttle from the depot, close to the cruise terminal to the Tasting Room and enjoy a guided tour along with six four-ounce samples with a tutored tasting. Or, you can make your way to the Tasting Room by yourself, where there are 20 Alaskan beers on tap daily to be enjoyed as well as a range of great Alaskan merchandise. Sample a flight of different brews if you aren’t sure what you want and be sure to pick up a few more bottles to take back on the ship for a taste of Juneau even after you’ve departed.
Learn more about Alaskan Brewing in their video, ‘Putting a little Alaska in a bottle’, below.
Mallorie Owens, a travel blogger who once lived in Juneau, told us: “Alaskan Brewing Company is the perfect stop in Juneau because you get to sample the fabulous beers that have been in the line-up for years. They also have a few on tap that are new brews they are testing and the favourites have a chance at becoming a regular. It’s fun to give your input! This can easily be a quick stop if you want to spend most of your day exploring, which I recommend.”
Insider Secret: There is more merchandise on offer at the depot than in the Tasting Room, where there is only a small collection.
For those who want to get a hands-on experience here, taking a trip back out to the water to try your hand at fishing is a wonderful way to spend your time in Juneau. The waters around the city are rich with sea life and offer even the most inexperienced fisherman the opportunity to catch something.
The SoFull Traveller Jennifer recommends a fishing excursion: “Catch it as fresh as they come! A fishing excursion from Juneau will give you the best (literal and figurative) taste of Alaska. The waters surrounding Juneau not only provide you with the most stunning views of this coastal town but serve as home to some of the most decadently delicious seafood like king crab, salmon, and halibut.”
Insider Secret: Some tours will even allow you to prepare and eat your catch once you come back to shore to give you a real taste of Juneau.
Mount Roberts Tramway
Located right next to the cruise terminal, Mount Roberts Tramway is the perfect first stop for your day. Ascending into Tongass National Forest, get a panoramic view of the city below. At the top, you can enjoy the nature centre, theatre, café and of course, the stunning views.
Amy, a travel blogger at Somewhere in Particular, visited Juneau and told us: “Most people visiting Juneau have a limited amount of time and want to see and experience as much as possible. The Mount Roberts Tramway gives a great bang for your buck because it provides you with spectacular views, puts you straight into an Alaska wilderness area with hikes for multiple ability levels, and delivers educational and cultural experiences too. The Tramway is located at the cruise ship terminal, and since it operates continuously throughout the day, it’s easy to work it in around other excursions and experiences too.”
Insider Secret: The Mount Roberts Tramway only runs between May and September, so be sure to check the opening times before you plan to visit to ensure that it’s operating.
SEE ALSO: Top outdoor activities to do in Alaska
Shrine of St. Therese
For those who wish to get out of the city and experience some of the most blissful solitude Alaska has to offer, taking a trip to the Shrine of St. Therese, about 22 miles north of Juneau, is an exceptional idea. The centrepiece of this Catholic retreat is certainly the church. Sitting centrally on the island, it is a completely unique sight.
Slightly north of the island on the mainland, you can also experience the Merciful Love Labyrinth — a maze of stones constructed in 2001. This replicated the same act which took place in the 1930s, where volunteers of all ages carried cobbles from the beach nearby.
To the south is the Good Shepherd Rosary Trail. Indicated by a bronze plaque of the Good Shepherd, at the end of this trail you’ll find a replica of Michelangelo’s famous statue “The Pieta”.
The Travelling Tortilla blogger, Hannah describes herself as an ‘Alaskan adventurer’ and told us about her connection to the shrine. “The Shrine of Saint Therese is a very special place to me, not only because of the beautiful landscape and the religious significance to the local Catholic population, but also because everyone that visits feels the utter peace and calmness surrounding the grounds.
“One of my favourite activities while visiting the Shrine is wildlife viewing. The backside of Shrine Island is home to a huge number of raven nests and the view of the Inside Passage never ceases to amaze with humpback whales, sea lions and the occasional pod of orca whales swimming in view. I definitely recommend visiting the Shrine of Saint Therese to locals and tourists alike, it’s too beautiful and unique to pass up!”
Insider Secret: The five cabins on the shoreline are available to rent for those who wish to spend an extended stay in these peaceful surroundings.
If you want to visit Juneau and enjoy some of these delights, explore our range of Alaska Cruises now.