Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, presents a wide array of landscapes and extreme adventures for travelers during summer. It features untamed beauty, adrenaline-pumping activities, indigenous culture, a rich history and the best seafood on offer. With so many things to see and do, here are the top options for visitors to Juneau.
Mendenhall Glacier is a picture-postcard landmark that is impressive from a distance, but better seen firsthand. To get to the glacier, begin your trek from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Centre and head towards Nugget Falls, where you may spot black bears fishing for king salmon. From there, you will have a spectacular close-up view of Mendenhall Glacier. The giant chunk of the iceberg and different hues of blue will take you back to the Ice Age and present you with a totally Instagrammable scene.
The streets of downtown Juneau are lined with smart independent boutiques and cafes offering local products that are perfect for souvenirs. Get over to Front Street and grab a pastry and their signature Café Espresso, which is made by local baristas at Heritage Coffee – a coffee shop that has been voted as Juneau’s favorite by the locals. Those who prefer non-consumable, locally-made gifts can purchase glacier silt soap from Glacier Smoothie, whose soap garnered the Manufacturer of the Year Award in 2008. Lastly, check out Tripp’s Mt. Juneau Trading Post, the only shop in Juneau that features authentic Tlingit (Native American) art. The shop has a beautiful gallery that showcases a wide selection of hand-crafted Tlingit masks and spirit totems.
Tracy’s King Crab Shack is a local crab store featuring award-winning crab meals. For parties of one or two people, order crab shack combos that include a king crab’s leg, eight creamy and rich crab bisques, and four crispy breaded crab cakes. For a group of three to four people, take a large king crab bucket that includes half a Bering Sea red king crab, four large king crab legs with shoulder meat, and coleslaw. Grab an outdoor seat and take in the sight of the waterfront under the sunset while the rich crab meat melts in your mouth.
Tracy’s King Crab Shack, 406 S Franklin St, Juneau, AK, USA +1 907-723-1811
Douglas Island lies just across the Gastineau Channel and is beautiful in the summer. The most visited destination on the Douglas Island is Sandy Beach, where you can go beach walking, have a picnic with your family and friends, or play beach volleyball. There are plenty of locals strolling on the sand with their dogs; don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with them – the community is known for its welcoming nature.
Far away from the hustle of the metropolitan areas, North Douglas Island is a well-kept secret with alpine meadows, gentle ocean waves, and Alaskan mountain ranges at every turn. Start your island trip by hiking the rainforest trail (the trailhead starts at mile 11.5 of the North Douglas Highway), and then go sea kayaking against a backdrop of lush forests, tidal waves, and Mendenhall Glacier. Sea otters, bald eagles, waterfowls, and porpoises are the common sights you may encounter during your trip. On a lucky day, you may spot the humpback whales as they surface. This island offers marvelous views of Admiralty Island and the Chilkat Range, and the seascapes become extremely serene and dynamic under the sunset. Remember to bring your camera so that you can photograph them.
As the only aerial tramway in Southwest Alaska, Mount Roberts Tram takes passengers from ferry docks for a real Alaskan trail experience. At the observation platform, visitors are able to have an expansive view of downtown, Douglas Island, Gastineau Channel, and the Inside Passage. You will be hard-pressed to find such an idyllic view elsewhere. Spend 20 minutes hiking to the summit for more stunning views before returning to the observation platform to visit injured bald eagles, and get to know Alaskan indigenous tribes by watching a short documentary at the Chilkat Theater.
Mount Roberts Tramway, 490 S Franklin St, Juneau, AK, USA +1 888-461-8726
If you have an extra day to spare, head over to Gustavus, a small town nearby the 3.3 million acre UNSECO World Heritage Site that is Glaciers Bay National Park. Take an eight-hour cruise trip inside the park to discover the continent’s remote wilderness and diverse seascapes, ranging from stormy fjords and emerald-green rainforests, to hideaway coves and rugged mountains. Along the way, you will have opportunities to view an abundance of marine creatures. The finale of the tour takes you to the front of the Marjorie and Grand Pacific Glacier, where you will have a close-up encounter of incredible ice carvings from 250 meters above water level – a magnificent activity you will remember for a lifetime.
Fish and chips is a famous dish in Alaska and it can be spotted on menus in most Juneau restaurants. According to locals, the Sand Bar and Grill features the best fish and chips in town. The halibut is cut in chunks, fried to perfection with homemade batter, and holds pure white, flaky meat inside. This mouth-watering dish is also served with coleslaw and homemade tartar sauce. After dinner, hang around at the bar for Alaskan brews on tap, and have good conversation and play games with friendly locals.
Sand Bar and Grill, 2525 Industrial Blvd, Juneau, AK, USA +1 907-789-8400
Situated in the lush Tongass Forest, Glacier Gardens Rainforest is one of Southeast Alaska’s premier botanical gardens. The garden represents a diverse range of native plants and amazing ecosystems. Board a covered vehicle at the entrance with your guide for a ride through Juneau’s temperate rainforest, learning about the history of the garden and native Alaskan plants along the way. Expect to see upside-down trees and upside-down flower towers, and find out why they grow that way. The highlight of the tour takes you to the tallest point of the botanical garden, where you will be stunned by the panoramic view of Juneau.
Glaciers Garden Rainforest 7600 Glacier Hwy, Juneau, AK, USA +1 907-790-3377
As North America’s fifth largest ice field, Juneau’s ice field covers approximately 1,500 square miles with nearly 40 glacial movements. Book a Juneau Icefield Expedition and get to experience landing on a glacier with icebergs within your arm’s reach. Be sure to try a dog-sled ride, as it is an alternative but fantastic way to explore the glacier. If you are not prepared to be the runner of a 12-14 husky team, then just sit on the sled and let the huskies take you to explore the ice field. Afterwards, go for a stroll on the surface of the glacier, capture scenic vistas, and learn geographic information about the glaciers and the magnificent surroundings from your pilot.
Seeing the Tongass Park by soaring over the treetops should be your ultimate Juneau adventure. Sign up for three-hour zip-line tours through Alaska Canopy Adventure, a leading canopy company that has won multiple tourism awards. You will glide over ten dual zip-lines between 600-800 feet in length, and across two suspense bridges. The last part of the tour takes you to a final platform to experience the excitement of rappelling to the base camp. Do you have a fear of heights? Do not worry. This activity is safe. Before the gliding starts, your guide will put you at ease and give you a safety briefing while describing the surroundings and the history of the rainforest. Stay at the end of the tour for light refreshments and a casual chat with your guide and other travelers.
Alaska Canopy Adventure 76 Egan Drive #100, Juneau, AK, USA +1 907.523.2920