By Nancy Schretter
Juneau is a popular port of call on Alaska cruise itineraries – and for good reason. There’s so much to see and do in and around Alaska’s capital. Juneau offers a wide variety of activities and attractions to match every interest and budget, from soft adventure tours and flightseeing excursions to history-filled museums and natural wonders. The shopping and dining options are excellent here as well.
Here are eight great things to see and do if you’re planning to visit Juneau on an upcoming Alaska cruise:
1. Take a Floatplane Trip to Taku Glacier Lodge. This flightseeing tour from downtown Juneau offers the best of all worlds. Guests take a 35-minute Wings Airways flightseeing trip on their way to serene Taku Glacier Lodge, located across from a massive glacier in a remote area of the Tongass National Forest. On the way, passengers fly over five huge glaciers flowing out from the Juneau Icefield. After landing on the water in front of Taku Glacier Lodge, there’s time to explore the lodge’s beautiful grounds or do a little shopping before sitting down to partake of an amazing salmon feast complete with all the fixings. After lunch and the opportunity for a nature walk, a scenic 15-minute return floatplane trip brings guests back to Juneau.
2. See The Salmon. Located a little over two miles from downtown Juneau, the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery provides an excellent way for visitors to learn more about Alaska’s salmon industry. The hatchery contains museum-like exhibits, displays, a huge saltwater aquarium, and a shop featuring delicious local salmon produce. During salmon spawning season which typically runs from late June through September, visitors have the chance to see wild salmon climbing the hatchery’s outdoor ladder from Gastineau Channel. You may see bald eagles in this area during that time period as well. If catching salmon and halibut is more to your liking, arrange to go sportfishing on one of Juneau’s many Coast Guard licensed charter fishing boats. An Alaska state fishing license is required and your catch can be conveniently shipped to your home by one of Juneau’s fish processors.
3. Walk (or Dogsled) on a Glacier. Glaciers are one of Juneau’s biggest attractions. The Juneau Icefield covers over 1,500 square miles and contains 38 major glaciers. If your dream is to explore a moving field of ice on foot or by dogsled, Juneau is the place to make it happen. Helicopter tours offer cruise guests the chance to view multiple glaciers in the air and then land on a glacier for a 15-20 minute walk on the ice. For the ultimate in Alaska vacation experiences, take a helicopter flightseeing ride to a dogsled camp where you’ll take a breathtaking 20-25 ride across a glacier led by a professional dog musher.
4. Go Wildlife Watching. Humpback whale viewing is one of the highlights of an Alaska cruise and the waters around Juneau are filled with these majestic creatures from April to November. Whale watching tours offer cruise passengers an additional opportunity to see whales breaching, bubble net feeding and more. Some tours even guarantee whale sightings. It may be possible to see orca whales, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, Dall’s porpoises and other mammals on these tours as well. Juneau is also an excellent port for bear viewing. Admiralty Island National Monument (known as “Fortress of the Bears”) has the world’s largest density of brown bears and is located just a short floatplane ride away from Juneau. Tours are available to Admiralty Island’s Pack Creek Bear Sanctuary from June to September.
5. Zip Through the Trees. Juneau has two popular zipline adventures for those who crave a major adrenaline rush. On these tours, participants zip from platform to platform set high in towering trees amid the temperate rainforest. Participants must be comfortable with heights and be able to climb stairs and walk short distances. Age and weight limitations apply – check with tour providers or your shore excursions desk for more information.
6. Visit the Alaska State Museum. Located at 395 Whittier Street within walking distance of the downtown cruise pier, the Alaska State Museum features a wealth of exhibits on Alaska’s natural and cultural history. There’s a full-size bald eagle nesting tree, extensive displays, and an excellent museum shop. The Alaska State Museum is open daily from mid-May to mid-September and admission is $5 for adults and free for children 18 years of age and under.
7. View Mendenhall Glacier. Located just 13 miles from the city’s downtown area, Mendenhall Glacier is Juneau’s most popular tourist attraction. This “drive in” glacier is magnificent and the site’s Visitors Center offers an informative film, excellent exhibits and superb glacier viewing through its large windows. During your visit to Mendenhall Glacier, take the time to trek to spectacular Nugget Falls and walk along the Mendenhall Glacier site’s nature trail. This trail can be an excellent place to see bears at close range during salmon spawning season. While tours to Mendenhall Glacier are available through the cruise lines and are often combined with other sights, several local tour operators offer very inexpensive shuttle buses that transport cruise visitors directly to the glacier on a regular basis. Taxis are another good option, especially for larger groups.
8. Hike Around Mount Roberts Tramway. Located directly opposite Juneau’s main cruise pier, the Mount Roberts Tramway provides its guests with magnificent scenery, interesting nature and cultural exhibits, and a network of great mountaintop hiking and nature trails. One ticket purchase provides unlimited rides throughout the day, however it’s quite easy to spend much of the day hiking and exploring all that this area has to offer. The Timberline Bar & Grill at the upper Tram Station serves both lunch and dinner along with beautiful views.
If You Go:
* The Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau website is a great place to start planning your visit to Juneau. It’s filled with information on area attractions, shopping, and dining – plus it has a detailed listing of local tour operators. Visit the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau website at www.traveljuneau.com.
* Dress in layers and bring rain gear in case of rain or mist. You’ll want to be comfortable outdoors and exploring in Juneau, no matter what the weather.
* Juneau is an excellent place to sample some of Alaska’s famous seafood. Head over to Tracy’s King Crab Shack for delectable king crab legs and king crab bisque and The Hangar on the Wharf for a delicious salmon burger or their massive halibut taco. The Twisted Fish is another choice spot for seafood as well.
* Juneau has so much to offer cruise passengers – it’s impossible to pack it all into one single eight-hour day in port. If you’d like to spend more time in Juneau, see tons of wildlife, and experience more unspoiled Alaska wilderness than the large cruise ships allow, consider taking an un-cruise on a small ship. American Safari Cruises and InnerSea Discoveries offer unparalleled small ship voyages in Alaska, some round-trip from Juneau and others that begin or end in Juneau. These itineraries allow guests to spend several days pre- and/or post-cruise exploring all of Juneau’s attractions before heading out on their Alaska adventure. For more information, visit www.innerseadiscoveries.com.
Nancy Schretter is the Managing Editor of the Family Travel Network.
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