As you plan your Alaska cruise, you’ll see there are some destinations that almost every single cruise will visit. Juneau is one of those places. Nearly every cruise provider offers at least one cruise that goes through the capital city. The mega-ships offer Juneau shore excursions you can take during your port stop there. For smaller ships, you’ll have to book your own excursion since Juneau is often an embarkation or disembarkation port.
You’ll undoubtedly realize quickly that not only is Juneau a popular port stop. It’s also one of the ones with the most excursion options. It’s easy to become overwhelmed while trying to choose which one to do. What are the differences? How do you combine the experiences you want to have – if such a tour exists at all? Which are the best shore excursions in Juneau?
In this post, I break it down: I looked at all of the Alaska shore excursions in Juneau and chose the 11 I think are the best. I chose them for you and put them in order based on what I know Alaska visitors will love. I also keep in mind some of the other tips on choosing Alaska cruise excursions. For each excursion, I list which cruise companies offer that one – so you can see whether your cruise is on the list. Read on for the best Juneau cruise excursions for your Alaska cruise!
While I personally do not support the mega-ship cruise industry due to its negative impact on local economies, damage caused to the environment, and evasive tax practices, I created this resource to allow you to make your own choice. Please consider booking a small-ship cruise instead, carbon offsetting, and buying local souvenirs to help reduce the negative impact of your Alaska cruise.
This post was originally published in February 2020, and was updated in May 2021.
Planning an Alaska Cruise in 2021
With the passage of The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, Alaska cruise lines are planning to resume cruises as early as mid-July 2021. Here are the cruise lines and their planned first sailings:
- Royal Caribbean – July 19
- Celebrity Cruises – July 23
- Holland America – July 24
- Princess Cruises – July 25
- Carnival Cruises – July 27
- Norwegian Cruise Line – August 7
Each of these companies requires proof of vaccination, and most make stops at Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, and some also stop at Icy Point Strait and visit Glacier Bay National Park. You will see these companies listed below on each excursion they offer (as well as others who will resume cruises in 2022).
The Best Shore Excursions in Juneau for Your Alaska Cruise
I’ll be honest, it was pretty hard to choose the best excursions in Juneau. There are loads of options, and many combinations of several different unique experiences Juneau has to offer (flightseeing, glacier viewing, wildlife-spotting, and local food and drink). The list below isn’t based on any data; instead, I chose the excursions I believe offer you the most one-of-a-kind experiences and combinations thereof. As you can only choose one, be sure to read the full list of Alaska cruise excursions in Juneau to find the perfect one for your trip!
1. Dog Sledding & Glaciers by Helicopter
Among the huge number of excursions you can book in Juneau – and even on this list of 11 – it’s hard to choose the best one. But I’ve gone with this one, which broadly incorporates a helicopter tour, glacier landing, and dog sledding depending on the tour operator and cruise company. After all, how often can you combine those three things?
Helicopter Tour + Glacier Landing + Dog Sledding = One Epic Memory
You’ll get epic views of Mendenhall Glacier on your helicopter tour, then touch down to board a dog sled – the huskies will give you a heck of a ride with all their energy and enthusiasm. [Notes: While there is no age minimum, children must be old enough to understand the rules of interacting with the dogs. There’s also a weight surcharge for the helicopter ride for passengers in excess of the individual weight limit.]
2. Five-Glacier Seaplane Ride to Taku Lodge
As you can tell, some of the best excursions in Juneau are also pretty expensive. That’s primarily because Juneau has amazing sights that are best seen from the air. This one makes the list because it is worth the splurge: you’ll enjoy a 40-minute flight, a history lesson about living in rural Alaska, and then a meal of fresh Alaskan salmon. In fact, this excursion is often chosen by past guests as the top excursion on their whole Alaska cruise (source)!
3. Bear & Wildlife Adventure by Floatplane
One of the top questions I get from readers planning trips to Alaska is for bear viewing. This excites me because it means many of you are thinking bigger about how epic your Alaska trip can be (and want to tick off some bucket list items)!
This excursion is a good option along the Alaska cruise route because you’ll take a bush plane from Juneau out into brown bear territory; the landing zone varies based on the pilot’s knowledge of where bears might be. While there’s no guarantees, it’s a good chance and one of the best if you’re only planning an Alaska cruise with no land component.
4. Juneau Food Tour (Various)
Love food? Juneau is a place to try some off-ship local options! There are several different food tours offered by the companies. They vary in terms of tastings vs meals, the stops you’ll make, and what you’ll try. But no matter what, you should opt for 1. local crab, 2. anything foraged, 3. some animal you never thought humans should eat before (reindeer, mmm), and 4. local beer.
I also know that you can book this tour directly with Juneau Food Tours, a local operator (that’s what I did after my Alaska Uncruise in 2017). Owner Midgi says that as of summer 2020, she worked with Azamara, Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Windstar; you’ll see the same tour(s) offered through them as she has on her site.
5. Underground Gold Tour
It’s impossible to visit Southeast Alaska and not learn about the Gold Rush – and how important it was to the settlement of The Last Frontier. This tour is a fun combo of history and unique activities. It reminds me of the Seattle Underground Tour (one of my top Seattle cruise excursions); it also shows a bit more of how tough it was to strike it rich and how rugged the men had to be.
On this tour you’ll visit an old mill where mining technology was developed, then descend into an old mine shaft (they’ll provide the hard hats!). After learning about mining techniques, you’ll come above ground to try your hand at gold panning. While you won’t find any nuggets (most of the gold at these demos is ‘placer gold’), it’s a fun chance to learn about this chapter in Alaskan history.
6. Mendenhall Float
You should only consider this Juneau cruise excursion if you’re not continuing up to Denali. (My favorite Alaskan rafting trip is one of the top things to do in Denali, so if you are going that far north, do that one instead of this.)
On this excursion, you’ll do a five-mile river float with moderate rapids and river flow (this depends on the season and weather!). You can also see some epic views of Mendenhall Glacier and the Tongass National Forest. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife – and big rocks that might cause a splash!
7. Bike & Brew Glacier View
Get your blood pumping – then chill out on this excursion, which is a wonderfully active and delicious half-day tour. Like many Juneau cruise excursions, this one gives you a sample of how much the capital city has to offer. It includes history lessons, an 8-mile bike ride, and a stop at a historic building in downtown Juneau. There you’ll try some of Alaska’s best craft beer. (I’m not sure which beers are on offer, but I personally love 49th State Brewing, Seward Brewing Company, and – of course – Alaska Brewing Company – so be sure to try any beers by them!)
8. Glacier View Sea Kayaking
After days of seeing Alaska on a really big [bleep]ing ship, I think it’s important to get off your behemoth chariot and see Alaska’s waterways the way Alaska Natives did for millennia. That’s why included this sea kayaking excursion on the list. For those of you who love an active excursion, it’s a great option with plenty of amazing wildlife viewing opportunities and stunning vistas.
During this half-day excursion you’ll paddle around the waterways of North Douglas Island. Be sure to admire the wide-angle view of Mendenhall glacier, and learn Alaska history from your guide, too! Honestly, it sounds brilliant, plus you’ll burn off some of those buffet calories.
9. Town, Tram, Trek & Tea
I’ll be honest: I included this quirky Alaska cruise excursion because it’s a bit more off-beat and unusual than the others. It has a lot of interesting Juneau experiences rolled into one: exploring downtown Juneau, riding the Mount Roberts aerial tramway, a short hike, and tea at the Alpine Tea House – along with treats that are made in part by foraged foods from the surrounding temperate rainforest.
10. Mendenhall Glacier in a Traditional Canoe
This excursion caught my eye as one of the best Alaska cruise excursions in Juneau because it’s one of the only to have a cultural element to it. (There are other cities/port stops in Alaska that offer better cultural experiences, like Haines and Skagway.)
You’ll board a traditional Tlingit-style canoe and paddle up to the face of Mendenhall glacier; be ready to feel the cold emanating from this massive ice floe! You can try to spot wildlife (bald eagles are big in Juneau!), feel the mist coming off nearby Nugget Falls, and have a snack as part of the excursion.
11. Fly Fishing by Float Plane
I am not a fisher-person, generally speaking. But, if I do go fishing with my dad, I always prefer fly fishing. And I know that many people who visit Alaska want to try their hand at one of the many ways you can fish in the Last Frontier. (Broadly speaking, the options are: deep sea charters, dip-netting, salmon fishing, and fly fishing.)
That’s why I had to include this Juneau cruise excursion on the list as one of the best in the capital. It’s a great chance to do some fly fishing and have a floatplane ride to/from the fishing hole. You don’t need experience or gear to do this excursion, and it’s even family friendly (kids 7+ are allowed).
There you have it – my take on the best Alaska shore excursions in Juneau. Have other questions about visiting Juneau, taking an Alaska cruise, or choosing Alaska cruise excursions? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
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