I, like most who live in Alaska, was a transplant from the Lower 48. At first I talked mostly about the place to friends and family down south because we live in a National Geographic moment every day. Soon my wife and I became friends with neighbors who were going through the same thing. They quickly became our new family. There is a whole different sense of community up here, and I have made lifelong friendships that make living here a blessing. Here is a list of favorite outdoor places in Juneau, made unforgettable by sharing them with my Juneau family.
1.) Dan Moller Trail
Visit Juneau in the spring or summer and you can't help but be impressed by the breathtaking greens of the surrounding Tongass National Forest. However, a quick hike up the Dan Moller Trail in south Douglas will take you through a different color show where the muskeg almost puts the forest to shame. Bright colors pop from the skunk cabbage and flowering shooting stars in the spring, to the chocolate lilies and bog orchids of the late summer. The peat-laden meadows in the fall can become vibrant red from the business end of small carnivorous plants, called Sundew. The trail is fairly wooded at first, but then turns to meadow with a wood-plank trail. Bring bug spray or walk fast. You can end your hike at the Dan Moller Cabin, or continue up into the mountains for a more rigorous climb. This hike is around six miles round-trip with an 1,800-foot gain in elevation, and it is a delight.
2.) Outer Point and Rainforest Trails
Hiking through old-growth rainforest and muskeg to the pristine coastal and mountain views of Outer Point on North Douglas Island via the Rainforest and Outer Point trails is easy and breathtaking. These brief hikes will take you to the shore with a beautiful view of Lynn Canal, and at low tide, there are some tide pools for the kids to explore. With all the barnacles and mussels, this is not good for bare feet. Take a change of footwear for the kids, but let them see what is under the ocean in the calm pools: sea anemones, hermit crabs, red-blue-green-yellow-purple seaweed, gumboots, sculpins, the list goes on. You can order a kids guide to intertidal animals from DiscoverySoutheast.org, or pick one up at the Hearthside Books and Toys (254 Front St., 907-586-1726) in Juneau. For the young aspiring marine biologist, this is a great spot at low tide. Check out a tide book (you can pick one up at Western Auto, 5165 Glacier Hwy.,, 907-780-4909) or anywhere that sells fishing licenses) for a tide less than three feet, but negative tides are best.
3.) Dupont & Point Bishop trails
Go to the end of Thane Road to reach the trailhead for both the Dupont and Point Bishop trails. Whether you want to hike the two miles to Dupont beach or the eight miles (one way) to Point Bishop, this is a picture-perfect, coastal rainforest trail. The trail starts out by passing a wonderful little waterfall that thunders at your feet in the spring. Then as you walk, you will appreciate the trees, which are thick enough to provide refuge on a typically drizzly Juneau day, but sparse enough to provide a view of the Gastineau Channel as you walk parallel to the shore. After you finish the hike and drive back to town, be sure to stop at Sheep Creek Hatchery (4451 Thane Rd., 907-586-3663) to watch the salmon run if the season is right. At low tide, it is amazing to see the pink or chum salmon so thick it seems as if you could walk on their backs to cross the stream.
4.) Mendenhall West Glacier Trail
This trail doesn't deliver the average visitor's view of Mendenhall Glacier. The West Glacier Trail will take you right up to an overlook of the glacier and provides easy access to the ice for more experienced climbers. It's definitely worth the extra effort. However, you should not venture on the ice without the right equipment and training. To get to the trailhead, take Montana Creek Road from Mendenhall Loop and follow the signs to the campground. Continue past the Skater's Cabin to the parking area at the end of the road. If you have the time, this is also a great camping spot but, as with any hike, be aware of bears. Camp and hike safely: Tell someone where you are going, hike with a friend, take a charged cell phone and dress appropriately.
5.) Eagle Beach
Just a few miles before the literal end of the road (27 miles north of Juneau on the Glacier Highway), Eagle Beach State Recreation Area is a scenic and sandy escape with expansive views of the Inside Passage and the Chilkat Mountains. True to its name, this is a great place to watch eagles or have a picnic under the covered campground. Eagle Beach is one of the few stretches of sandy beach in this part of Alaska. At low tides it is wonderful to walk out into an expansive space. Living next to the mountains, spacious skies are a rarity in Juneau. But at Eagle Beach you get it all, mountains, sky, ocean, rivers, forest and the clean, crisp air coming off a little surf, if the winds are from the north. Eagle Beach, and the drive out there, is also one of the best places to go on a sunny day to watch for whales.