Alaska’s state capital is also one of its most beautiful cities and one of the most visited communities in the state. With so much to see and do, there’s certain to be something for you in Juneau.
About Juneau (Tlingit: Dzánti K’ihéeni)
Downtown Juneau sits snugly between Mount Juneau, Mount Roberts, and Gastineau Channel, and is a maze of narrow streets running past a mix of new structures, old storefronts, and quaint houses featuring early 19th century architecture from the town’s early gold mining days. The waterfront bustles with cruise ships, fishing boats, and floatplanes zipping in and out. With no road access to Juneau, it is the only state capital in the United States that can only be reached by airplane or boat.
Things to do
Downtown & South Franklin Street
Juneau’s lively downtown is compact, easy to navigate on foot, and always a favorite with visitors. Within easy walking distance of the cruise ship docks are many of Juneau’s main attractions, including the State Capitol Building, Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, several museums, and historic South Franklin Street. Also nearby is the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau with visitor information, displays, and walking tour maps of the city.
Just a block from the waterfront is Historic South Franklin Street, a refurbished historical district where many buildings date from the early 1900s and have since been turned into bars, gift shops, and restaurants. Nearby is delightful Marine Park, with spotting scopes for visitors to search Mount Juneau for mountain goats. Also not to be missed is Tahku, an impressive life-size bronze humpback whale statue that appears to be leaping from an infinity pool near the Juneau-Douglass Bridge.
From South Franklin Street, visitors can soar to new heights with a ride on the Mount Roberts Tramway. Gondolas carry visitors above the city where spectacular scenery, Alaska Native culture and art, and even shopping and dining awaits them. Most of all, the tramway provides easy access to fantastic views and great hiking above the tree line.
Built in 1893 against the backdrop of Mount Juneau, the onion-domed Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church is the oldest original and continuously-used church in the Inside Passage. The church houses a small gift shop filled with nesting dolls and other handcrafted items from Russia.
Just a short drive from downtown, one of the city’s most iconic sites awaits: Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier sits within the Tongass National Forest – the largest national forest in the United States. The river of ice flows 12 miles from its source, the Juneau Icefield, and has a 1.5-mile-wide face.
Visitors can check out the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, which houses glaciology exhibits, a large relief map of the icefield, an observatory with telescopes, and a theater that shows the film “Magnificent Mendenhall.” Outside you’ll find black bear and salmon-viewing platforms overlooking Steep Creek, as well as six hiking trails, ranging from a 0.3-mile photo-overlook trail to a trek of several miles up the glacier’s west side, where you can watch icebergs calve off its frozen face into Mendenhall Lake.
Mendenhall Glacier is one of the 38 major glaciers that extend from the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield, and many of them can be seen from the air as part of a flightseeing tour. Most helicopter tours offer glacier landings, glacier treks, and glacier dog sled rides.
Whale Watching & Glacier Cruises
Whale watching tours are a popular way to see the diverse marine life in the area including Steller sea lions, Dall’s porpoise, orcas, and humpback whales - which return to the area each summer to feed on krill and herring. Juneau has about 60 humpbacks that frequent the area and are so commonly viewed that many tour operators offer a guaranteed sighting or your money back.
Tracy Arm is sheer-sided fjord, 50 miles southeast of Juneau, with a pair of tidewater glaciers that shed icebergs into the fjord’s deep waters. A boat cruise into this designated federal wilderness area is a great half-day trip while in Juneau. You're almost guaranteed to see seals inside the arm, and you might also spot humpbacks, orcas, and eagles.
Hiking & Public Lands
For many, the best way to experience the area is the most affordable — on foot. Few cities in Alaska or elsewhere offer as many hiking trails as Juneau. Many wind to the face of a glacier or climb above the tree line, where you can overnight in a public-use cabin. Two of the most popular trails near downtown Juneau are the Perseverance Trail, which climbs at a moderate grade into a valley and connects to several other trails, and the Mount Roberts Trail, which ascends through the boreal forest up Mount Roberts and connects to the top of the Mount Roberts Tramway.
Juneau also offers access to some of the region’s top parks and public lands, including Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness Area, and Admiralty Island National Monument.
Both day trips and extended sea kayak outings are possible out of Juneau. Easy trips include Mendenhall Lake, where kayakers paddle among the icebergs in this relatively calm body of water, and around the islands of Auke Bay. Longer trips range from Taku Inlet for close views of Taku Glacier, to the protected waters of Berners Bay, where kayakers can reserve and stay in U.S. Forest Service cabins.
Juneau is a hidden gem for winter sports. Just 12 miles from downtown Juneau is the Eaglecrest Ski Area, one of the only municipally run downhill ski areas in the country. Eaglecrest features 640 acres of open-tree terrain with 31 alpine runs, three double chairlifts, eight kilometers of Nordic trails, and a terrain park. A comfortable and roomy day lodge includes a rental and repair shop, cafeteria, and day lockers. For the best snow conditions, visit Juneau from January – March.
Macaulay Salmon Hatchery
Visitors and especially kids love the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. The hatchery has huge seawater aquariums loaded with local marine life, from tanner crabs to octopus, while the interpretive displays explaining the life cycle of salmon are museum-quality. An underwater viewing window and a 450-foot fish ladder allow children to witness, from July to September, the amazing sight of thousands of salmon fighting their way upstream to spawn.
Museums & Cultural Centers
The outstanding Alaska State Museum is the home to more than 23,000 artifacts, works of fine art and natural history, and Alaska Native arts and culture. Permanent exhibits include the Alaska Native Gallery, Foreign Voyagers Exhibit, and World War II Exhibit.
The Juneau Douglas City Museum focuses on gold with interesting mining displays and a documentary video that focuses on the early history of the city. The museum's seven-foot-long relief map gives visitors a good sense of the rugged terrain that surrounds Alaska’s state capital while local art and displays about Juneau’s maritime history round out the exhibits.
A beautiful half-mile walk along Basin Road from downtown Juneau leads to the intriguing Last Chance Mining Museum. The former Alaska-Juneau Gold Mining Company complex is now a museum where you can view the remains of the compressor house and examine tools from what was once the world's largest hard-rock gold mine.
Sealaska Heritage Institute's Walter Soboleff Building in downtown Juneau is home to the largest collection of Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian art in Alaska. Visitors can explore an authentic clan house, exhibits, and view contemporary Alaska Native art installations, including the stunning red metal artwork on the building’s exterior.
It's best to be prepared for a variety of weather conditions while on your adventures in Juneau. Summer temperatures are mild, with highs in the mid-60s, and the area receives frequent precipitation since it's located in a temperate rainforest. Be sure to pack a raincoat and a couple of extra layers and you'll be set. Like the rest of Alaska, Juneau’s summer days are long and winter days are short, with up to 18 hours of daylight at summer solstice in June to just a few hours of daylight at winter solstice in December.
Getting to Juneau
Most summer visitors reach Juneau via cruise ship – indeed, it is one of the most popular ports of call in Alaska. However, Juneau is also served multiple times a day year-round by Alaska Airlines, and can be reached by the state’s ferry system, the Alaska Marine Highway, in both summer and winter.
Staying & Eating in Juneau
Downtown Juneau is home to several nationally-owned hotels along with locally-owned hotels, boutique inns, B&Bs, and vacation rentals with plenty of Alaska charm. Be sure to book early - even with plenty of options, hotels fill up quickly in the summer months.
For travelers interested in sampling Alaska’s local food and beverages, Juneau is a foodie’s paradise. A large selection of restaurants and cafes are located in downtown Juneau with options ranging from fine dining to walk-up grab-and-go spots featuring the area’s amazing fresh seafood. The local beverage scene is also hopping in Juneau with several breweries, including the popular Alaska Brewing Company, a distillery, craft cocktail lounges, and local coffee roasters. Want someone to guide you through Juneau’s fantastic culinary scene? Join a food or brewery tour for an insider’s perspective on the area’s culture, history, and cuisine.
One of the reasons Juneau has so much character is that it’s one of Alaska’s oldest cities. Established before the big Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, Juneau also has gold in its past. In 1880, a local Tlingit Indian chief led prospectors Joe Juneau and Richard Harris to what later became known as Gold Creek, where the two men discovered nuggets just lying on the ground. Soon after, a town site was established, making Juneau the first city founded after the purchase of Alaska by the United States from Russia. The area later became home to what was at the time the largest hard-rock gold mine in the world – the Treadwell Mine. Juneau became Alaska’s territorial capital in 1906, and, after statehood in 1959, its state capital.