12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Juneau
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There is no road to Juneau, the capital of Alaska. This small, coastal city lies in the most southerly part of the state on the Panhandle — a narrow tongue of land slashed by fjord-like inlets. A string of small islands buffers it from the sea. As such, it can only be reached by sea or air.
Despite its remote location, tourists and interested explorers often visit Juneau for its wide range of cultural and natural attractions. Among the many fun things to do and reasons to visit, the Mendenhall Glacier, just 12 miles northwest of downtown, is an impressive sight and great introduction to the ice-filled world surrounding this capital city.
Though Juneau is home to state offices and a busy cruise ship port, it still retains the air of a gold-diggers' settlement having been founded in the 1880s on Gold Creek. The mix of historical and modern attractions also includes a Russian Orthodox church (1894) and abandoned mines turned into museums.
Juneau is also a good base to explore glacier-draped fjords, like Glacier Bay National Park and Tracy Arm; the wilderness of the Tongass National Forest; and other scenic beauties of the Panhandle. Find out more about the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Juneau.
See also: Where to Stay in Juneau
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Experience Mendenhall Glacier
There is a truly scenic panorama just 12 miles from downtown Juneau. The wide outlet of Nugget Falls churns into a lake dotted with icebergs, and the tongue of the Mendenhall Glacier dips down to the water's edge. The glacier is about thirteen miles long and is fed by the much larger Juneau Icefield, which blankets more than 1,500 square miles of terrain stretching into British Columbia.
The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on the lakeshore is a great spot to start your visit, where you can capture a 180-degree view over the glacier. Some of the best views are from the walking trails in the area, with routes running up either side of the glacier and to Nugget Falls. Kayaking and rafting tours also venture out on the very cold lake.
A good way to explore the glacier is by booking a private tour with round-trip transportation. One such tour, the Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier expedition includes a ride to the glacier and a two-hour cruise along the coast. The tour spends approximately 45 minutes at Mendenhall, where guests are free to explore on their own.
Location: 12 miles northwest of Juneau
Official site: http://www.fs.usda.gov/tongass/
2. Charter a Ride to Tracy Arm Fjord
Southeast of Juneau, this ice-cloaked glacial fjord cuts through some spectacular scenery with waterfalls tumbling down vertical rock walls and glaciers calving off chunks of ice to create small bergs. The impressive twin Sawyer Glaciers are at the head of the fjord; their easily-visible blue ice is considered especially enchanting.
The huge walls of Tracy Arm Fjord rise almost vertically out of the water, with trees jutting out at quirky and unusual angles. The fjord is quite long, stretching back into the mainland through the Tongass National Forest.
Along this stretch common wildlife sightings include black bears, brown bears, deer, and moose. Over the ocean, there is a good chance of spotting bald eagles, arctic terns, and pigeon guillemots, while in the blue waters below, whales and seals make frequent appearances.
You can learn about the natural history of Tracy Arm, its glaciers, and wildlife by taking a guided cruise. Several companies in Juneau offer day trips from the port and back. Companies like Allen Marine Tours offer six-hour tours in a heated catamaran.
3. Experience Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure
Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure is part landscaped botanical center and part excursion into the rainforest environment that defines the Tongass National Forest. It’s located northwest of downtown, toward Mendenhall Glacier.
Tours at this forested attraction begin with a guided walk through the lower landscaped gardens, including the story behind the unique Flower Tower planters derived from a massive 1984 landslide.
After covering the lower grounds, patrons hop aboard an open-sided shuttle to tour the rest of the 50-acre property on Thunder Mountain. This is not a garden, but an area of forest left largely in its natural state.
Tour guides discuss the various species and workings of the gardens to better understand the wooded environment. The tour stops at various locations, boardwalks, and viewpoints overlooking the Mendenhall Valley, Chilkat Mountains, Gastineau Channel, and Juneau.
Address: 7600 Glacier Highway, Juneau, Alaska
Official site: http://www.glaciergardens.com/
4. Glacier Bay National Park
Covering more than three million acres, Glacier Bay National Park is one of the major highlights of Alaska's famed Inside Passage. Natural attractions and rewarding things to do can be found on land and water. And both environments offer stunning scenery with immense glaciers, temperate rainforests, secluded fjords, and a rugged coastline.
Glacier Bay itself sits between two promontories, and eight glaciers reach down to meet the tidewaters. On land, Bartlett Cove is the only area with developed hiking trails and designated campgrounds, as well as sea kayaks available for rent.
Glacier Bay is a major feeding ground for humpback, minke, and orca whales. The region attracts many tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of these underwater mammals. Other wildlife-watching opportunities include sighting moose, bears, wolves, and mountain goats, as well as sea birds. There are day trips and longer cruises to the bay, as well as flightseeing excursions.
Official site: http://www.nps.gov/glba/index.htm
5. Ascend to a Great View on the Mount Roberts Tramway
From a base camp near the cruise ship docks, the Mount Roberts Tramway takes you to an elevation of 1,800 feet. At the mountaintop observatory is a nature center, restaurant, theater, and gift shop.
After the six-minute vertical ride, visitors can walk the nature trails to take in the views over the Gastineau Channel complete with interpretive information along the way. The Mountain House at the top also hosts a live eagle display, a collection of tree carvings, and Alaskan art for sale.
Address: 490 South Franklin Street, Juneau, Alaska
Official site: http://mountrobertstramway.com/
6. Whale Watch off the Coast
Spotting a whale in the waters of the Inside Passage is an absolute quintessential Juneau experience. The city is widely known as one of the best places to spot these massive mammals, or specifically, the best place to spot humpback whales. Orcas, also known as killer whales, also inhabit the region’s waters but are more elusive by nature.
Humpback and other whales migrate back to the waters of Alaska during the late spring and summer. The peak summer months are the best time to visit Juneau with whale-sighting intentions.
The best and only guaranteed way to see whales is by getting on a boat. And it’s such a guarantee that many local charter companies offer full refunds if a single whale doesn’t make an appearance. One recommended tour, the Juneau Wildlife Whale Watching excursion, features a 3.5-hour narrated journey on a boat with outdoor decks and a heated cabin.
7. Get Hands-On at the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery
Located northwest of town en-route to the Mendenhall Glacier, the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery provides a look underwater with saltwater aquariums and tide-pool touch tanks. The hatchery raises chum, chinook, coho, and sockeye salmon. And as a working operation, visitors catch a variety of stages in the life cycle of Pacific salmon during a guided tour through the facility.
Other permanent exhibits at the hatchery include a bear and eagle display; education exhibits; and an outdoor viewing window, where you can see salmon swimming upstream from June through early October.
Address: 2697 Channel Drive, Juneau, Alaska
Official site: http://www.dipac.net/
8. Visit the Alaska State Museum
In downtown Juneau, the Alaska State Museum features more than 25,000 historical objects spanning Alaska's entire multicultural heritage. Gold Rush and mining memorabilia represent American history throughout the region, and various tools, weapons, and documents shed light on the Russian colonial era of Alaska.
Represented best at the museum is the native heritage of Alaska, including ancient artifacts and an extensive Eskimo-carved ivory collection. Contemporary art by native Alaskans is also on display, as well as other fine art mediums. Under the Alaska State Museums umbrella, this institution also oversees the Sheldon Jackson Museum in the rugged and welcoming city and borough of Sitka.
Address: 395 Whittier Street, Juneau, Alaska
Official site: http://museums.alaska.gov/
9. Dig into the Past at the Last Chance Mining Museum
The Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company operated on this site from 1912 until 1944, and the location truly looks like an old mine with uneven ground, rusting buildings, and old equipment decaying quietly in the trees. The Gastineau Channel Historical Society operates the museum, maintaining the displays of mining equipment and rail cars.
Of particular interest at Last Chance Mining Museum are one of the world's largest air compressors, built in 1912, and an electric locomotive. The attraction is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wear sturdy footwear, and note that the museum is closed during the winter months.
Address: 1001 Basin Road, Juneau, Alaska
10. Tour the State Capitol Building
When Alaska became a state in 1959, this territorial and federal building became the state capitol building. Historical photographs, artworks, and rooms to discover are found throughout. Free guided tours lasting 30 minutes are the best way to explore.
Of particular interest at the State Capitol, the Art Deco design and furnishings of the interior lobby easily catch the eye, and the replica Liberty Bell outside is a fun spot to pose for a picture. After taking the tour, head along Fourth Street and then Calhoun Avenue to see the exterior of the Governor's Mansion.
Address: Fourth and Main Streets, Juneau, Alaska
11. Explore the City at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum
The Juneau-Douglas City Museum, which neighbors the State Capitol building, offers exhibits on the Tlingit culture, the early gold-mining days, and the history of the Juneau-Douglas area. For more sightseeing, the small, steep streets surrounding the museum are lined with old wooden heritage homes and lush gardens, as well as the pretty blue-and-white St. Nicholas Orthodox Church - which dates to 1894. Tuesday through Thursday throughout the summer, the museum hosts guided walking tours of these neighborhoods.
Address: 114 West Fourth Street, Juneau, Alaska
Official site: https://beta.juneau.org/library/museum
12. Eaglecrest Ski Area
Providing ski slopes with ocean views, Eaglecrest Ski Area is on Douglas Island, separated from the Juneau mainland by the Gastineau Channel. The ski area is owned and operated by the city of Juneau, and locals and visitors can hit the slopes within a twenty-minute drive from downtown. The 36 runs and four chairlifts cater to beginners and seasoned skiers alike, and 10 miles of Nordic trails appeal to cross-country skiers in the area. A typical season at Eaglecrest runs from December through April, and come summertime, the area is a great hiking and downhill mountain biking destination.
Address: 3000 Fish Creek Road, Juneau, Alaska
Official site: https://skijuneau.com/
Where to Stay in Juneau for Sightseeing
We recommend these cozy hotels in Juneau close to downtown attractions and the cruise port:
- Best Western Grandma's Feather Bed: mid-range pricing, historic charm, feather beds, made-to-order breakfast, hot tub, shuttle service.
- Four Points by Sheraton Juneau: 3-star modern mid-rise, water views, near cruise port, fitness center.
- Silverbow Inn: affordable boutique hotel, downtown location, well-appointed rooms, complimentary breakfast, hot tub.
- Super 8 Juneau: budget hotel, convenient location, modern decor, free breakfast.
Guided Ice Field Walk:
- To reach remote Alaskan landscapes few other people ever visit, the 2.5-hour Helicopter Tour and Guided Icefield Walk from the Juneau Port takes you where no cars can go. The adventure begins with a narrated helicopter ride over the icefield, enabling a bird's-eye view of the stunning icefalls and rock formations, before landing on Herbert Glacier for on-foot exploration. While immersed in the icy environment, the helicopter guide provides more information on the geological works at play and can snap your picture as you pose on the glacier. On the helicopter ride back to port, the views are just as amazing.
- Few other activities epitomize Alaska better than dogsledding, and to get a first-hand experience of the mushing lifestyle, try the Helicopter Tour and Dogsledding Experience. This tour starts with a helicopter ride over the Juneau Icefield before touching down at a glacier camp. Here, you spend time dogsledding. Meeting the mushers and enjoying the unique chance to ride a dogsled.