A gorgeous southeastern Alaska port city surrounded by deep-green, forested mountains, Juneau is considered by many to be America’s most scenic state capital. It’s located on a network of intercoastal waterways within the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States.
With road-accessible glaciers, many miles of trails and plentiful wildlife—from whales to eagles to bears—Juneau offers nearly infinite possibilities for Alaskan adventures, most within 15 minutes of its busy city center. Downtown has retained its turn-of-the-century architecture and charming character set amid hilly streets lined with cool and quirky shops, restaurants and art galleries. Waterfalls cascade down skyscraper cliffs so close, you can almost touch them.
Outside the city, you’ll find exceptional fishing, kayaking, whale watching, bear spotting, biking, hiking, downhill skiing, ziplining and other wildlife viewing.
Day hiking, kayaking, back-country camping and ice trekking provide opportunities to challenge any outdoor enthusiast. Juneau is home to Alaska’s finest trail system, with more than 200 miles of groomed trails ranging from easy to expert, provides access to all types of terrain. Whether you dream of hiking to a mountaintop vista, discovering a secluded beach or exploring the rich biodiversity of the rain forest, guided or unguided tour options are available.
Kayaking and camping can be combined together for the ultimate “surf-and-turf” Inside Passage adventure. Day trips and multi-day kayaking trips are readily available and geared to different skill levels. Equipment rental is also available for those who prefer to go it alone.
Juneau, like many communities along Alaska’s coastline, is accessible to car and RV travelers via the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), Alaska’s state ferry system. The ferry offers reliable service at the end of the hard surface road connections in Bellingham, Washington, Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Haines and Skagway. You can drive your vehicle on board and enjoy a leisurely cruise, winding its way through the Inside Passage communities of southeast Alaska.
Two full-service RV parks, in addition to two USFS campgrounds, are available in Juneau. Mendenhall Lake Campground has 69 sites and 15 RV sites offering offering water, vault toilets, a dump station and views of Mendenhall Glacier. The Auke Village Campground is located 15 miles from downtown Juneau and 1.5 miles west of the state ferry terminal at Auk Bay and has 11 campsites.
Long before the gold rush of the late 1800s, Juneau was home to the Tlingit (pronounced “CLINK-it”), the indigenous people of the area. The region’s gold deposits may have gone undiscovered if early explorers had not observed Tlingit people using the precious metal for a variety of everyday uses. Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, Juneau’s modern founders, were guided by the Tlingit to the gold vein that launched the city’s development. The region’s three Native peoples, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian (pronounced “SHIM-shee-ann”), share common art forms, ceremonies and legends, all of which have been shaped by the land and sea. Descendants of the Tlingit and others from the region are active in the social and political fabric of Juneau. Native arts and culture of southeast Alaska can be experienced all throughout Juneau.
The Juneau Icefield, the fifth largest icefield in the Western Hemisphere, sits in Juneau’s back yard, stretching across a 1,500-square-mile area that straddles the boundary between Alaska and Canada. The Mendenhall Glacier, easily accessible, is the most popular of the 38 glaciers produced by the icefield, offering recreation opportunities that include hiking trails maintained by the U.S. Forest Service, glacier trekking and dog sledding.
Tracy Arm is a dramatic glacial fjord accessed via a day-long boat trip from Juneau. The fjord triggers sensory overload, with steep granite walls towering over the water’s surface and the twin Sawyer Glaciers at the fjord’s far end. The main attraction is the glacier itself as it calves off huge chunks of clear blue ice that cascade into the water and become instant icebergs.
Juneau is a shopper’s delight. Local artists display the spirit of Alaska in virtually every art form imaginable. Dozens of art galleries and shops offer paintings and prints, pottery, sculptures, Alaska antiques and jewelry. Alaska Native-carved silver bracelets with totemic designs are popular with visitors, as are carved ivory and argillite pendants, bracelets and rings. Carved wood masks and totem poles are sought-after pieces for enthusiastic collectors of Alaskan artwork.
Sampling a city’s local fare is a big part of any vacation and a visit to Juneau delivers tastes that delight the senses. From Alaska salmon, halibut and crab to sourdough bagels, homemade fudge and award-winning coffee and beer, Juneau can satisfy even the most discriminating palate. Visitors can easily ship home smoked salmon and other seafood specialties from any local processor.
The waters surrounding Juneau are a fisherman’s fantasy. Each of the five species of Alaska salmon can be caught here, as well as Pacific halibut, often weighing in excess of 100 pounds. Dolly Varden, cutthroat and steelhead trout are found in rivers, lakes and streams.
Dozens of long-time Alaskans operate charter-fishing boats in Juneau. These well-maintained boats are Coast Guard inspected and operated by Coast Guard licensed skippers. Most charter boats carry no more than four fishers at a time to assure ample rod time for each passenger. Take home a taste of Alaska by dropping off your catch at one of Juneau’s many seafood processors, who will process and ship your catch home.
A prime destination for wildlife viewing, Juneau is lucky to have most locations just a few minutes off the road system or accessed from the harbor. Whale watching and eagle viewing are always exceptional and a variety of other sea mammals (seals, sea lions and porpoises) and many species of birds can be found in the immediate area. From April to November, approximately 600 humpback whales inhabit the waters of the northern Inside Passage, and orcas also frequent the area during the summer months. Daily guided whale watching tours are available and rarely return without wildlife sightings.
Admiralty Island National Monument, home to the largest concentration of brown bears in North America, is a short flight from Juneau. Prime viewing of the bears follows the salmon runs, which normally occur in July and August each year.