If you spend enough time in Juneau you will sometimes look up and a scene will be so beautiful and so emotionally moving that it will be burned into your memory forever. Well, that's how I remember an old-timer telling it to me in a bar in pre-oil Alaska anyway. And he was right. I have seen some of those scenes and they usually occur in the context of something you have just done that is very scary, exciting or exhilarating in the out-of-doors.
1.) Get Onto the Trails
Juneau may have the most wonderful system of trails in the world. Within a short walk or ride of downtown you can be scaling peaks, rock climbing, overlooking or climbing on glaciers, hunting, biking and fishing. A hike up the Mount Jumbo Trail (Douglas) will put you in an unbelievable Japanese garden of twisted, wind-blown spruce and gentle pools with a magnificent view of Juneau and even a glimpse into the 1,500-square-mile ice field above it. This is not an easy hike for a person not in shape for it and coming down is hard on your knees. This is not Disneyland, as my wife is quick to tell people who stand around waiting for Alaska to be brought to them.
My pal Jerry Williams, an Alaska Airlines pilot, likes to RUN to the top of Mount Juneau on the Perseverance Trail. He starts running right out the door of the Baranof Hotel and summits and returns in about an hour and a half. It would take me most of a long day anymore. However, why not just take a walk? On the same trail you can go up Basin Road and take the trail to the Ebner Falls, which is all pretty flat and very beautiful. You might see a mountain goat or black bear on the sides of the mountain. You'll pass the old mining ruins. If you don't have that much time, why not just wander around some of the old neighborhoods and see what is at the top of all those stairs? If you want a real adventure, continue on the Perseverance Trail and take the sign for Granite Creek Basin, a spectacular box canyon. From there, you can then make your own trail to the top of Mount Juneau. (Really! It's not illegal.) I doubt you would see another person up there and you would never forget it, but this is a solid 12 hours of serious walking and a sunny day in July or August would be best.
2.) Find Your Way to the Pacific
In addition to these local trails you might notice that almost everywhere you look in Juneau, there it is: the Pacific Ocean. Why not get out in it? Out in the Aleutians it seems pretty clear that the land was just a sort of resting spot for a people who seemed to spend most of their time out on the water. I, frankly, prefer a rowboat, but the kayak is an elegant piece of equipment that, properly used, can take you anywhere you want to go. Kayaks can be rented in Juneau through Alaska Boat and Kayak, or if you want a longer, guided trip, book with Mountain Travel Sobek.
A hot dog and a beer at the Triangle Club Bar are still just as good as they were 40 years ago. I often go to The Hangar on the Wharf on the old wharf because of its great view where you can watch the float planes take off, selection of beer on draft and pleasant service. Good thin crust pizza can be had down the hall at Pizzeria Roma Juneau. For coffee, it's Heritage Coffee. Back down on South Franklin Street, the Alaskan Fudge Company has great candy and ice cream.