Teeming with authentic traditions and culture against a backdrop of lush rainforest, endless opportunities for wildlife sightings, and jaw-dropping glacier views, Juneau is a must-visit destination during any trip to the Last Frontier.
From unforgettable dog-sled rides to one-of-a-kind culinary experiences, here are 11 of the best things to do in Juneau.
1: Experience an Authentic Alaskan Sled Ride
Go behind the scenes at an Alaskan sled dog camp, where you’ll learn the rich history of sledding in Juneau and beyond. Only in Alaska can you mush for miles with a team of active, energetic huskies leading the way. The thrill of riding through scenic valleys and wondrous landscapes with your trusty canine companions is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both adrenaline seekers and animal lovers.
2: Embark on a Whale-Watching Expedition
Humpback whales swim freely in the waters of Mendenhall Lake, just outside of Juneau. Stephen’s Passage, a narrow passage south of Juneau, is also known for excellent whale watching.
Set off on a voyage by sea as dedicated naturalists share tidbits and intricacies of the local ecosystem. Look on as these incredible creatures bob in and out of the cresting waves. Seeing whales in the wild is one of the best things to do in Juneau.
3: Indulge in an Authentic Salmon Bake
Alaska is famous for its salmon and its time-honored ritual of the all-you-can-eat salmon bake. There are not one but five species of salmon that swim and spawn in this part of Alaska, making the waters of Juneau some of the richest for sport fishermen. May to September is considered peak season for salmon fishing.
After a full day of exploring in Juneau on foot or by water, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Enjoy as the appetizing scent of grilled, wild-caught fish and savory sides waft through the air. The salmon bake is a true “only-in-Alaska” cultural and culinary experience.
4: Get Up Close to Mendenhall Glacier
One of Juneau’s top attractions, Mendenhall Glacier is described as almost mythically beautiful. It’s a mere 13 miles away from Juneau’s historic downtown. Travelers typically take a car ride or one of the local shuttles to get to Mendenhall, but you can also take to the skies on a helicopter tour for a more dramatic entrance.
Stop by the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center to learn the history of the Juneau Icefield it’s a part of, which is considered the fifth-largest icefield in North America. Carefully peer into one of the incredible ice caves, which are best seen with the help of a dedicated expert.
The top hiking trails near Mendenhall are great for all levels of hikers. Running along the Visitor’s Center is the Steep Creek Trail, which is known for bird’s-eye views of black bears from a boardwalk positioned right above a stream filled with swimming sockeye salmon. These boardwalks are accessible for all ages and abilities.
East Glacier Loop Trail runs about 3.5 miles long and is ideal for intermediate hikers, while the Nugget Falls Trail is less than a mile along an easier, flat stretch that leads to the eponymous waterfall. For a real challenge, experienced hikers can take the seven-mile West Glacier Trail along the northwest edge of Mendenhall Lake.
5: Go Fishing for Fresh Catches
Fishing is a huge pastime in Alaska and was once the main form of sustenance for indigenous peoples who lived in Juneau for generations.
Cast a rod into the cool Alaskan waters at a peaceful fishing hideout. Your catch of the day? Fresh halibut, Pacific cod, trout, or even rockfish. You can even have yours frozen and speedily shipped to your address for an authentic Alaskan fish fry back home.
6: Glide Through the Tracy Arm Wilderness
Just 45 miles south of Juneau is the magnificent wonder of the Tracy Arm Wilderness, a sliver of inlet once completely covered in glaciers. The best way to take in the scenery is on a boat tour. Board a catamaran through Tracy Arm, cozied up in a comfortable, heated cabin as you take in the splendor of South Sawyer and North Sawyer glaciers.
Tracy Arm spans over several miles, leaving plenty of wilderness to discover. Tracy Arm is just half a mile wide at parts, so you can get even closer to multiple glaciers and towering mountains.
Tracy Arm is unlike anything you’ve seen before, home to bobbling turquoise ice floes and free-flowing waterfalls. Witness the incredible calving process, where pieces of the icy glacier slide into the water with a powerful crackle that echoes through the arm.
Beyond the gorgeous glaciers of Tracy Arm, there is a wealth of wildlife in the area, too. Bring a set of binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens to take snapshots of humpback whales, black bears, and other species along the arm.
7: Sample Local Cuisine
Foodies, bring your appetite and an adventurous palate during your trip to Juneau, which is one of the best destinations for award-winning Alaskan food. Unlike many other capital cities, Juneau is only home to two fast food joints—everything else is locally owned or operated.
Restaurateurs of Juneau craft menus influenced by the natural bounty of Alaska. Fish features heavily on the menu at eateries across the city, but there’s also a real home-spun scene for jams, jellies, and artisanal goods.
Get to know Juneau’s best restaurants and meet chefs who are transforming menus around the city. Sip a flight of beers from a local brewery and learn about the area’s custom brews, or try locally made whiskey and gin at Juneau’s premier distillery.
Sample tasty local specialties like fresh-caught salmon, crab bisque, and even local game.
8: Explore Downtown Juneau
Beyond being effortlessly photogenic, downtown Juneau is very walkable for visitors who want to explore the city on foot. Stroll the blocks of quaint buildings, old saloons, general stores, and other Victorian-era architectural relics. Pass the storied Capital Building and the Governor’s Mansion on Calhoun Avenue.
Don’t miss the opportunity to take the Mount Roberts Tramway nearly 2,000 feet above the city for unbeatable panoramic views.
9: Take to the Skies on a Helicopter
For adventure-seekers, jump in a helicopter on an intimate ride above Tongass National Forest or Norris Glacier, which boasts a remote camp where veterans of the Alaskan Iditarod race train. Helicopters can only accommodate six or so passengers, so you’ll have an exclusive flight manned by an expert pilot.
Soar high above snow-capped mountains and cloudy blue skies and wave goodbye to the tiny skylines of Alaskan towns fading in the distance.
10: Zipline Through the Alaskan Rainforest
Another uniquely Juneau attraction is a zipline course through the alpine Alaskan rainforest, which is also a perfect activity for families of all sizes. It’s one of the best ways to get an eagle-eyed view of Juneau and the surrounding Alaskan wild. Admire the lush canopy and breathe in the deep, fresh evergreens as you zip through a series of “treehouses.”
Ready to experience the best things to do in Juneau? On a luxury cruise to Juneau, you’ll travel to some of Alaska’s best destinations on an award-winning cruise ship.
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