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.”
11: Dive Into History at the Alaska State Museum
Since Juneau is where Alaska was signed into statehood in 1959, it makes sense that this informative museum is located downtown. The impressive, glass-encased structure showcases historical artifacts from periods throughout Juneau’s past. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Juneau.
One of the primary reasons to visit is the museum’s exhibits about the past and present of Alaska’s Indigenous Nations. The Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit people have all inhabited the lands along the Pacific Northwest Coast for centuries before the arrival of European colonists.
Exhibits here celebrate traditional cultural practices. There’s also an excellent collection of contemporary fine art by Alaskan artists on display.
12: Dress Up Like a Gold Miner at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum
Travelers can dive deep into the fascinating story of this former frontier town at this small but noteworthy museum in Alaska.
Situated right in the heart of town, the museum occupies the very spot where Alaska officially became the 49th member of the United States of America. If you look closely, the American flag here still has 49 stars in honor of the momentous occasion.
The museum itself contains a thoughtfully curated mix of artifacts from Juneau’s long, complex past. The General History Gallery focuses on the early prospectors who staked their claim to the area during the apex of the Klondike Gold Rush.
This museum also happens to be one of the better options in town for families, thanks to an interactive mining exhibit that allows little ones to dress up and step back in time. For those looking for a crash-course on the gold rush, there’s a short, well-made feature documentary entitled “Juneau, City Built on Gold,” which screens here at regular intervals.
Although the emphasis here is very much on the past, Juneau’s present is also represented in the form of rotating exhibitions by local artists and artisans. Keep an eye out on the website to find out what’s available. At the end of your visit, be sure to check out the museum gift shop for locally made crafts and souvenirs.
13: Sample Locally Brewed Craft Beers
With more than 40 breweries sprinkled around the state, Alaska is home to a small but vibrant craft beer scene. Since many of these operations are so small, it’s practically impossible to find their creations in the other 49 states. All the more reason then to enjoy them here in Juneau, as close to the source as possible.
The biggest game in town is Alaska Brewing Company, which has a spacious, industrial-style taproom right on Commercial Boulevard. With 20 rotating draft lines, plus a bevy of local food trucks, it’s a terrific place to while away an hour or two in the afternoon.
Devil’s Brewing Company also has a particularly handsome, wood-bedecked taproom, along with a popular restaurant serving elevated pub grub. Think: warm Bavarian-style pretzels with house-made beer cheese and smoked wild Alaskan coho salmon with hot sauce butter and hoppy pickles.
A couple of smaller, but still noteworthy numbers in Juneau’s brewing landscape are Barnaby Brewing Company and Forbidden Peak Brewery. The former has a small taproom downtown serving everything from apple barleywines to a pale ale infused with fragrant, foraged Alaskan spruce tips.
The latter is located roughly a 20-minute drive or bus ride away from Juneau’s downtown, but is worth the detour. The brewery itself is set overlooking Auke B
14: See Amazing Wildlife Right in Town
Although Juneau is a stone’s throw from all sorts of wilderness, travelers don’t actually need to venture out of the city limits to spot all sorts of charismatic megafauna. Just keep your eyes peeled and your cameras ready while strolling along the downtown boardwalk.
Alaska is home to more than 30,000 bald eagles—far more than any other place in the United States of America—and these majestic birds are almost as common as ravens in Juneau. Expect to see eagles perched on street lamps or swooping overhead.
Orcas, humpback whales, and Dall’s porpoises make appearances in Juneau’s harbor on rare occasions.
Mountain goats often roam the steep slopes surrounding Juneau’s downtown. For visitors looking to watch bears fishing for salmon in season, Pack Creek Bear Sanctuary, located roughly 40 miles from Juneau, makes for a fantastic day trip.
Although both black and brown bears prefer to avoid humans when possible, in-town bear sightings are also fairly routine here. Just remember to exercise caution when approaching either.
Black bears tend to err on the shy side, while brown bears can easily reach 1,000 pounds and may become aggressive if they feel threatened.
15: Take a Guided Walking Tour
While Juneau-Douglas City Museum very much merits a visit on its own, there’s no better way to learn about this dynamic city than to explore it on foot. Fortunately, the museum offers a number of guided walking tours from May through September each year, all of which are highly engaging.
Walking tours through the museum are led by enthusiastic local volunteers and tend to last 90 minutes, making them easy to squeeze into a day with other activities.
Tours culminate with a visit to Juneau’s Capital Inn, the resident grande dame first established in 1906 by John Old, a pioneer who struck it rich during the gold rush. Travelers can kick back at the end with afternoon tea and sweets with a sweeping view of the city.
16: Try Your Luck at Panning for Gold
Like many of Alaska’s major towns and cities, Juneau was once a hub for fortune-seekers during the frenzy of the Klondike Gold Rush.
By some estimates, the equivalent of more than $1 billion today was found throughout the state at the time. The prospect of acquiring riches almost overnight lured thousands to the rugged coastline of the state later dubbed the Last Frontier.
While those days may be long gone, travelers can still try their own fortunes by panning for gold, much like those prospectors once did. On an excursion to Salmon Creek, guides will gladly show out-of-towners the ropes.
The best part? You’re legally allowed to keep any gold you find, meaning you may walk home with a great souvenir and a slightly fatter wallet. This is an especially terrific activity for families with kids in tow.
17: Visit a Time-Warp of a Saloon
No trip to Juneau is complete without sidling up to the bar at the historic Red Dog Saloon, a local institution that has survived since this was a mining boomtown.
Back when the city was a hotbed of debauchery, the saloon was the main watering hole in town for prospectors, entertainers, and other rough-around-the-edges types looking for a stiff drink. Since then, the saloon has moved and changed owners repeatedly, but each generation has taken great pains to retain its off-beat, quirky charm.
Stepping into the Red Dog Saloon—which opens at 9 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 11 a.m. on Mondays—truly feels like wandering back into the past.
The dark interior feels more or less the same at any hour of the day, although the crowds certainly pick up as the afternoon drifts on. Take a good look at the walls, which are chockablock with photos, oddities, and antiques accumulated over the bar’s long history.
18: Check Out the Local Gallery Scene
Juneau may be smaller than Anchorage by quite a bit, but in recent years, this city has staked a serious claim to the title of Alaska’s contemporary culture capital.
Thanks to the presence of one of the main campuses of The University of Alaska Southeast on Auke Bay, the city has a regular influx of young, creative energy.
Culture vultures can peruse a number of galleries located within the downtown area. Established in 1985, the Juneau Artists Gallery is a co-op fully owned by local artists. Members use on-site studio spaces to produce much of their work, which visitors can admire or purchase year-round.
Meanwhile, travelers heading the Mendenhall Glacier for hiking or kayaking may want to take a look at the Louise Miller Fine Art Studio, which specializes in beautifully rendered oil paintings of Alaskan landscapes.
19: Go Kayaking on Mendenhall Lake
Locals in Juneau will often boast about the number of natural wonders located practically at their doorstep. Located in the shadow of the Mendenhall Glacier, Mendenhall Lake itself is nothing short of breathtaking, with panoramic views of the Alaskan glacier reflected in its glassy, mineral-rich waters.
Chunks of ice bob along the surface and lucky visitors may even get a glimpse of the glacier calving, as a mammoth fragment of ice peels off and crashes into the water.
This Alaskan lake is easily accessible and located roughly a 20 minutes’ drive from downtown Juneau. Ridesharing services are readily available, as are organized kayaking tours that provide transportation.
Thanks to knowledgeable local guides and excellent safety gear, even visitors with little to no kayaking experience can enjoy this particular adventure.
Kayaking in Alaska also happens to be one of the best ways to spot local wildlife—of which Mendenhall Lake has plenty. Both black and brown bears regularly frequent these banks with their cubs in search of food.
While close to the shoreline, be sure to keep an eye on nearby slopes to catch a glimpse of herds of mountain goats. Bird-watchers will find lots to see here, including migratory arctic terns.
20: See Incredible Alaska Native Art
Perhaps the most important recent development in Juneau’s vibrant creative scene is the rise of a number of prominent Indigenous artists.
In 2015, the Sealaska Heritage Institute, a Native-run non-profit dedicated to uplifting the cultural traditions of Alaska’s Indigenous peoples, opened a large, gorgeously decorated downtown branch.
The campus itself is still under construction, but already features an impressive array of carvings, paintings, and large-scale installations. Inside, visitors will see all sorts of works of Alaska Native Art, a number of which have been showcased at Juneau’s biennial festival of Native art and culture.
As part of Juneau’s downtown revival, local officials have commissioned a series of public works of art. Perhaps the most ambitious and significant of these pieces is the Totem Pole Trail, a series of 33 commissioned totem poles that greet visitors in the city’s downtown.
Each is an original contemporary work by Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian artists, rendered according to traditional styles. Currently, a dozen are on display, with additional totem poles set to be unveiled in the coming years.
21: Walk Through the Gold Rush Past on the Treadwell Mine Historic Trail
Evidence of the freewheeling days of the Klondike Gold Rush abounds throughout Juneau and the surrounding area, as long as you know how to look for it.
Little except the foundations of the Treadwell Mine in Juneau remains, but this site was once one of the most lucrative gold mines in American history. More than $70 million in pure gold was unearthed here, transforming a great number of pioneers into fabulously wealthy men in the process.
The Juneau-Douglas City Museum organizes walking tours of the site where the mine stood until a rainstorm led to its destruction in 1917. The tour runs along the waterfront area and is guaranteed to leave visitors with a renewed respect for the history buried right beneath their feet.
22: Hike the Perseverance Trail
It doesn’t take much to answer the call of the wild in Alaska. A short walk along Basin Road leads visitors right from the city center to the rugged start of the Perseverance Trail.
Oriented along a former railroad line, the scenic trail passes old gold rush-era mine shafts, a dizzying array of wildflowers, and stunning views of Mount Juneau.
With sharp drop-offs on both sides at points, the Perseverance Trail boasts breathtaking views in all directions for long stretches. The route is around three miles round-trip, making this suitable for an afternoon hike.
Note that while the hike may not be overly long, certain sections are quite steep and strenuous. Nevertheless, for trekkers with a bit of stamina, the climb here is absolutely worth the effort.
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