If you’re reading this article you’re probably going to visit Juneau sometime soon, are looking for things to do in Juneau without having too much time, and I bet you’re going to do so in a cruise.
What are some things to do in Juneau Alaska from cruise ships? If you want to know what to do in Juneau during those 10-12 hours you’re going to be in town jot these tips down and plan ahead, because you're short on time.
You'll probably start in Vancouver or Seattle and make your way up the west coast of Canada heading towards Sitka or Anchorage. Right?
While enjoying an Alaska adventure on a cruise ship is convenient and comfortable way of covering a large distance, it does have one drawback: you don’t get to spend much time on land, and therefor see as much.
The weather in Juneau also limits the cruise season, despite visiting during other times of the year is just as fun. As the Northermost state in the United States, it has long and dark winters with days of very little sunlight, but very long warm summer days with tons of light.
And what if you’re one of the few who, like us, will travel to Juneau by air and have a few days to spend?
We were there for almost five days and had a blast. In this post you’re going to learn what are the best things to do in Juneau from cruise ships or as independent travelers throughout the year, which many people seem to enjoy and we definitely did.
Visit Mendenhall Glacier
A trip to the Mendenhall Glacier easily tops my list of things to do in Juneau, Alaska. Beloved for both its natural beauty and scientific value, the glacier is part of a national park has been gradually receding since the end of the Little Ice Age in the 1700s.
At its current rate, the glacier is receding by around 25 feet every year. This recession has exposed ancient, long frozen forests that are of great interest to researchers.
Some excavated tree stumps have been found to be up to 2000 years old, and provide an insight into the climate and other environmental conditions of the region in the distant past.
Despite its continuing recession, Mendenhall Glacier remains an imposing sight, which is even better if you see it from a helicopter tour. The glacier itself is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) high, and offers some stunning views for visitors.
It’s one of the most visited glaciers in the world, and extremely convenient to reach.
In fact, the glacier’s ease of access is even alluded to in its original Tlingit name, Sitaantaagu (which means, “the glacier behind town”). Grab a taxi from the dock and you’ll be looking at it in less than ten minutes.
Alternatively, take the Mendenhall glacier shuttle from the Juneau port. Departing from near the ferry terminal, the shuttle leaves every half hour for the visitor center at Mendenhall.
The departures are generally set to coincide with ferry arrivals, meaning you should be able to step straight off the ferry and into the shuttle.
The trip is roughly 20 minutes each way, depending on weather and traffic (neither of which are usually issues in peak season). If unsure, consult the Juneau bus schedule at the shuttle office on arrival.
The glacier itself is huge, and there’s a small trail that will take you closer to it where any glacier visitor might just be lucky and enjoy wildlife viewing, ending at an also large waterfall. A fantastic photo opportunity, and definitely one of the best Juneau excursions.
Cost= Free (only pay for transport)
Mount Roberts Tramway
This scenic and appropriately named tramway takes you to the top of- duh- Mount Roberts. This 3819 foot (1164 meter) high mountain overlooks Juneau from the east, and a popular spot for locals to go hiking in the summer months.
It’s also one of the most recognizable Juneau, Alaska points of interest. You not only get amazing views of Juneau and nearby surroundings but will also get the chance to enjoy as much trail walking as you want along the trail network at the top of the mountain.
Don’t forget to take a few pictures of Juneau while you’re at the top.
If you're going to walk to the summit carry a cell phone with you and let people know if you decide to make it to the top on foot- people have gotten lost when hiking alone…to the point of going missing.
This said if you take the less adventurous route there’s no reason to not enjoy it safely with your family and friends by reaching the top with the tram.
You may also want to know that there’s a great souvenir store with some of the finest shopping in Juneau, a small but very fun wildlife center kids will love, and a superb restaurant where you’ll get to enjoy amazing local food and produce ( I had some delicious Russian dumplings and crab).
And here’s a tip: with the purchase of your ticket you also get to return at night at no additional cost for a wonderful dinner with your partner, making it one of the best things to do in Juneau at night.
Cost: Adult 33 USD
Visit the Sealaska Heritage Institute
This culture and research center is dedicated to the study and sharing of the Tingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska, and is an extraordinary Juneau city museum.
Once you walk in you’ll be amazed by its hand made interior or shop original handcrafts at the store, and will be able to appreciate the work this nonprofit institute is doing through its numerous exhibitions.
Last Chance Mining Museum
Once upon a time, Juneau was home to the world’s largest hard rock gold mine and a sought out destination during the gold rush era. Located just outside town, the former mine is now an interactive museum dedicated to preserving the memory of Juneau’s glory days as a northern boom town.
The Last Chance Mining Museum encompasses the former gold mine and surrounding industrial remnants, not to mention boasting some great views of the rugged Alaskan landscape.
Pan for gold, or peruse the exhibitions that educate visitors about the gold mining industry, and its impact on both Juneau and Alaska at large.
To get to the Last Chance Mining Museum, either take a taxi or otherwise find your way to the end of Basin Road. It’s not exactly easy to get to without a vehicle, but worth the trip for anyone with an interest in Alaska’s history.
While you’re out there, consider combing a visit to the mine with a stroll down the Perseverance Trail. Likewise starting at the end of Basin Road right near the museum, the trail takes hikers through Juneau’s abandoned gold fields.
Be aware the area is riddled with abandoned mine shafts, so you’ll want to stay on the track and keep your eyes peeled.
Costs: Prices vary depending on specific events. Consult the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council’s official website for upcoming events.
Whale Watching in Juneau
You’re in Alaska! This is one of the best places in the world to see whales in their natural environment and it would be a shame to miss this opportunity.
There are plenty of tours to join and you may even get to see them from your cruise if this is how you’re getting here in the first place.
Juneau whale watching tours last about two and a half hours and will get you up close to these fantastic creatures. You can learn more about what to expect when joining one of these by reading my whale watching tour in Juneau.
Look For Bears in Pack Creek
If you want to see a wild bear odds are in your favor if you spend enough time in the wild- but you simply may not have enough time.
While there are easier ways of seeing a bear, a float-plane tour to Pack Creek is an unbelievable experience that will not only almost guarantee you see bears but will take you on a low flight across beautiful scenery.
It's definitely one of the top things to do in Alaska and perhaps the best of all Juneau excursions.
The flight lasts about 25 minutes and you then spend about 4 hours observing bears in one of the many gorgeous parks the area has, accompanied by experienced guides who’ll teach you many things while there.
It might be pricey, but being able to see a bear in the wild is, without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Alaska.
You can read my detailed post on this tour (one of my favorite anywhere in the world) or watch my video (below) of it (in Spanish), a favorite of mine.
Cost: 729 USD/ person (not cheap, I know)
An alternative location for bear watching, Admiralty Island is supposedly home to over a thousand of the animals.
Like Pack Creek, Admiralty Island is easily accessible from Juneau, with local tour operators running float plane, cruise and kayak trips to the island.
Further afield, Tracy Arm is one of Alaska’s most impressive fjords. Come at the right time, and hopefully you’ll see enormous slabs of ice crashing off the glacier into the waters below.
Tracy Arm is also sometimes good for whale watching. Whenever you come here though, you’ll need to arrange a cruise, and set aside a full day.
Eat Mouthwatering Local Food
While there’s plenty of things to see in Alaska, there’s even more to taste. Indeed, one of the things that surprised me most about Juneau was it’s food scene. It’s fresh, tasty and uses natural ingredients that result in an explosion of color and flavor.
King Crab and salmon are among the dishes I liked best (in different presentations) but there’s a lot more to try too thanks to Russian and indigenous influences.
You can try your luck at several restaurants in Juneau or simply join a local food tour with Juneau Food Tours guided by local food expert Midgi who’ll make sure you learn and have fun while eating fantastic local dishes (you read about the tour on this article I wrote about it).
In peak season, it’s usually easy to arrange Juneau tours on arrival, though if you’re unsure consider booking ahead.
Visit the Alaskan Brewery
In terms of things to do in Alaska, a visit to the state’s most well-known brewery should be on your list.
In 1986, 28-year-olds Marcy and Geoff Larson opened the Alaskan Brewing Company, the 67th independent brewery in the country. T
he interesting part of the story is that banks were not willing to fund their project, and thus decided to knock on doors asking for 5000 USD investments in their project. Those who did invest are making a lot of profit today, and those who did not are…well, are probably crying.
You can take a direct shuttle from the downtown Alaskan Brewing Depot to the Brewery and Tasting Room for $20.00 round trip. The shuttle departs from the Depot at :40 past each hour, beginning at 10:40 am.
The tour does not take you to every section of the brewery, but you do get a very good explanation of the process, about different kinds of beers and – in case you’re wondering- you do get to sample plenty of it. One of the many things to do in Juneau in September!
Cost: 20 USD
Things to do in Juneau Alaska for Free
You don't need to spend money to visit the capital city of Alaska. While it may be small and very easily walked, there are quite a few free things to do in Juneau that will keep you busy for hours.
Centennial Hall Juneau
If you’re looking to get to know locals a little, then consider paying a visit to Centennial Hall Juneau.
This venue regularly hosts arts and cultural events showcasing some of the best of local talent. These events range from comedy nights to drama and art exhibitions, supported by the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council.
Even in the dead of winter, when in Alaska things to do can be limited, Centennial Hall usually has something on.
So if you’ve got a free night to kill, see what’s happening at Centennial Hall- it's one of those Juneau Alaska points of interest
Walk Around Downtown Juneau Alaska
Downtown Juneau is very small and can be easily walked. If you’re passing though during one of summer’s many Juneau shore excursions, you’ll find the town both welcoming and lively.
Shopping in Juneau, Alaska might not sound like the most exciting activity in the world, but there are some jewelry and souvenir shops worth checking out. Definitely take a peek at some of interesting pubs and nice restaurants or stop for a meal or a coffee.
In peak season, you’ll also find downtown is a good place to organize Juneau Alaska tours including the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure.
Perhaps the most interesting stop is Saint Nicholas Orthodox church, one of the oldest buildings in town that was under renovation when I was there but could still visit it anyhow. It is simple, but definitely one of the best free things to do in Juneau, especially for anyone with an interest in Alaska’s Russian community.
Serious history buffs should head for the Alaska State Museum, which is located just a few minutes away from the Juneau cruise port. In 2016, the museum received a $14 million facelift and expansion, and has more than enough interesting stuff to keep you busy for a few hours.
By the time you leave, you won’t only be able to point to Juneau on a map, but also understand the history of this unique town. The exhibitions feature information on Alaska’s pre-colonial indigenous history, the Russian era and development of the state’s oil sector.
Red Dog Saloon Juneau is definitely one of those fun things to do in Juneau. It's like a step back in time, with rowdy crowds, fun music and ideal for anyone who wants to have some quick food and a laugh. It's right besides the Juneau cruise port, making it very difficult to miss.
Also in downtown Juneau, Aunt Claudia’s Dolls is another interesting museum that’s well worth the visit. The museum exhibits over 800 dolls collected by the late toy collector Claudia Kelsey. The toys were collected over more than six decades, and include pieces from the early 20th Century. This museum is definitely one of the more interesting free things to do in Juneau.
During the snow season you can find a small ski area in Douglas Island, on the other side of the bridge.
Downtown Juneau Restaurants
What's the capital of Alaska’s best place to eat? That’s a tough question to answer, as Juneau has a surprisingly colorful food scene. For the freshest salmon sandwich you’ve ever had, try The Salmon Spot. Serious seafood fans should likewise head for Deckhand Dave’s, Twisted Fish Company Alaskan Grill or Hangar On The Wharf.
Visit the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery
The Macaulay Salmon Hatchery Visitor’s Center offers an in depth visit of its our outdoor hatchery operations while learning about the fascinating salmon spawning process. Visitors and locals will get the opportunity to learn about hatchery operations and learn about the life cycle of pacific salmon during an informative commentary by an experienced local guide, watch millions of baby king and coho salmon grow from the sky bridge in the new rearing facility and much more!
Cost: 3.25 USD
Transport, Accommodation and Other Details
While almost all tourists arrive by cruise, flights to Juneau Alaska are available. Alaska Airlines has regular flights between Juneau and cities like Seattle, Portland and Anchorage for around $300-400.
Juneau is a small city, and you can walk pretty much everywhere. Some attractions though will require wheels, and there's a fairly decent public transport system. Check the Juneau bus schedule for detailed info.
As for accommodation, most of the larger hotels in Juneau Alaska are located in and around the port. These include the Four Points Sheraton, Baranof Hotel and Prospector.
However I recommend you seriously consider Beachside Villa Luxury Inn. It's a fantastic B&B in Douglas Island overlooking the channel with great rooms, impeccable service and fantastic views. Read my review.
Anyone planning on a longer stay will need to brace themselves for the city’s notoriously high living costs, and apartments for rent in Juneau, Alaska aren’t always easy to find.
While July and August are warmer and sunnier months to visit Alaska, by mid September the weather in Juneau, Alaska, is already changing and the first snowfalls of the season happen in the mountains.
It can be rainy, the sky will usually be gray, but with less tourism you’ll get more out of your money.
Most visitors come here on a cruise, which in my opinion is a pity as they don’t get to experience a lot of what this great little city has to offer. In any case make sure you at least try local food and enjoy as much as you can of the natural attractions when here!
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Accommodation in Juneau
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