Nestled among the mountains and meandering waterways of Alaska’s Inside Passage, Juneau is an unlikely place for a state capitol. Originally a Lingít Native Alaskan campsite, Juneau was settled by European-descended people in 1880 and became territorial Alaska’s second city in 1900 (one day after Skagway!). Today it’s a bustling small Alaskan city with the seat of government, blue-collar industry, and lots of tourism thanks to the cruise port that can host up to seven ships on a single day.
I recently visited Juneau as part of my cruise aboard Alaskan Dream Cruises. Mr. V and I spent two full days sampling the best Alaska‘s capitol city has to offer. Based on experiences, I wanted to put together a guide to help others who find themselves in Juneau with limited time – whether that’s due to it being a port stop on their cruise itinerary, a pre- or post-trip for a cruise, or a destination they’ve always wanted to visit.
So if you’re planning a trip to Southeast Alaska and find yourself with one day in Juneau, read on. In this post, you’ll learn how to make the most of your limited time – and why you should consider giving yourself one extra day to enjoy even more.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the Lingít Aaní of the Áak’w Ḵwáan (Tlingit) people. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Juneau Travel Tips
Before jumping into the full list of things to do in Juneau on your one day there, it helps to cover a few basic aspects of visiting Juneau first.
Getting to Juneau
Most people are surprised to learn that Juneau is located on an island and inaccessible from the mainland. Yep – there’s no road you can drive to reach Juneau, and it’s the only state capitol in the country like that. All this to say, you’ll need to arrive in Juneau by boat or plane.
For boat options, a lot of folks arrive by cruise ship. Juneau is one of the major cruise ports in Southeast Alaska, and almost all major (and minor) cruise companies make a port of call here. Additionally, small-ship companies like Alaskan Dream Cruises and Uncruise offer itineraries that start and end here.
By plane, you’ll fly into Juneau International Airport. Alaskan Airlines offers multiple daily flights year-round; Delta offers flights too though the schedule changes frequently enough that I don’t want to commit to any details here! The airport is located about 9 miles from downtown Juneau and requires either a rental car or taxi/rideshare to get into town.
Getting Oriented in Juneau
Speaking of town, it helps to get oriented in Juneau a bit. Broadly speaking, there are two parts of Juneau: Downtown and The Valley. Most locals (70%) live in The Valley, which is located 8 miles northwest of Downtown. Most tourist attractions are located downtown – other than Mendenhall Glacier, for which The Valley is named. In this one-day Juneau itinerary, I recommend spending all of your time downtown and only heading into The Valley if you have an extra day.
When to Visit Juneau
Though it’s located in the heart of Alaska’s temperate rainforest, Juneau experiences four distinct seasons and gets plenty of rain all year and snow in the winter (almost 90 inches of precipitation annually!). In the summer months, average temperatures range between the mid-50s and mid-60s Fahrenheit – but there’s still plenty of rain.
Since precipitation is a given, the best months to visit Juneau are during the spring and summer, especially between April and July. These are the driest months with the warmest (or warming) temps each day.
What to Pack for Juneau
Whenever you visit, it’s best to plan for rain! In addition to the essentials I recommend packing for Alaska, I suggest:
- A waterproof jacket – Because water resistance isn’t going to cut it in here! (I wear the Pendleton Sonoma; the most similar jacket they currently offer is the Eureka.)
- Waterproof boots – I love XTRATUFs, and a lot of other Alaskans do too.
- Good walking shoes – If you’re planning to hike, but be prepared that they might get muddy.
- An eye mask – Juneau experiences up to 18 hours of daylight during the summer months; the OwlzzZ is my go-to eye-mask for travel.
What to Do in Juneau (When You Only Have One Day!)
If you’re reading this post, it’s likely because you’re either an independent traveler headed to Alaska or going on a cruise and want to do your own thing. (I do have a list of the best Juneau cruise excursions if you want help choosing a designated excursion.) You’ve come to the right place! Read on for how I would spend one perfect day in Juneau.
Grab Breakfast Downtown
Every big day of adventure requires the right fuel; there are some great spots for breakfast in Downtown Juneau that are within walking distance of the cruise piers and all the hotels I recommend at the end of this post. Start the day as early as you can – whether that’s being the first to disembark your ship or setting that alarm at your hotel.
I recommend The Rookery for a delicious, quick sit-down breakfast. Mr. V and I had breakfast here during our Juneau trip and their breakfast menu is eclectic and delicious. Sandpiper Cafe is another good option, though they can fill up really fast (we tried to go here and the line was crazy long). For a backup, there’s a Heritage Coffee Roasting cafe in the Foodland grocery store nearby that serves incredible scones and coffee.
Go for a Hike
If you only have one day in Juneau, you probably don’t have a car available, so stick close to downtown for a hike. If you’re up for a challenge, you could head up the valley between Mt. Roberts and Mt. Juneau toward the moderate 3-mile Perseverance Trail. This is a 2-4 hour hike so plan accordingly.
An easier option is the Gold Creek Flume Trail, which requires a walk uphill to the trailhead and back down at trails end – but all along streets and sidewalks. This 1.4-mile one-way trail is a great way to feel like you’re way out of town though it’s close and easy to reach. It’s also a cool way to reclaim the land from a previous electrical energy project. You can do this hike in about 60-90 minutes, making it perfect for the morning’s agenda.
Take a Walking Juneau Food Tour
After finishing your hike, you might be feeling peckish: it’s the perfect time for a light lunch. The best way to make the most of one day in Juneau’s dining scene is by taking the “Tour with Taste” from Juneau Food Tours.
This 2.5-hour tour takes you to several stops around Juneau where you can sample local foods – including famous spots like Tracy’s Crab Shack and the Alaskan Bar. It also includes local faves like Deckhand Dave’s and a stop at the Juneau Food Tours office where you can try items in the Taste Alaska box they offer. There are two tours offered daily: 11:30am and 2:30pm. I recommend the midday tour so it allows you to have a great lunch at a number of places.
On our recent trip, there were only two cruise ship passengers wise enough to book this as their Juneau cruise excursion; I guarantee they ate better than everyone else that day.
Head to the Alaska State Museum
Unless the weather is crazy nice on the day you visit Juneau (unlikely due to the general weather patterns of Southeast Alaska), I recommend heading into the Alaska State Museum for an hour or two to dry out and learn more about Alaska history and culture.
After a massive renovation, the Alaska State Museum reopened in 2016 with an incredible series of galleries that introduce you to every aspect of Alaskan life, culture, and art. The museum starts by educating about the Alaska Native groups across the state, covers the chapters of Alaskan territorialism, and more modern aspects like tourism, the oil industry, and more. There are also rotating exhibits with modern and traditional art – including weaving and dioramas (when I visited).
While the Anchorage Museum is bigger and perhaps more impressive, I still consider the Alaska State Museum a must-do if it’s your first trip to Alaska and/or you’re not planning to visit the museum in Anchorage.
(If the weather is really nice, I recommend spending the whole afternoon outside: walk along the Juneau Seawalk, spend the entire time on Mt. Roberts, or look into getting a ride out to Mendenhall Glacier for a short time.)
Ride the Mt. Roberts Tramway
To cap off a day of exploring Juneau, end by ascending the Mt. Roberts Tramway to enjoy views from 1,800 feet above the city – and to take another small walk in the woods learning more about Juneau and its traditional people.
You can’t miss the tramway station at the bottom of Mt. Roberts; it’s right next to the cruise port and travel information office. The tram ride itself takes three minutes and is beautifully scenic, even on a rainy day. You might spot eagles in the trees, and can certainly see sweeping views of Juneau, Douglas Island, and the Gastineau Channel (Lingít: Séet Ká) between them.
At the top, there’s a large visitor center with a cafe, gift shop, and theatre. There’s also a nature center from which you can start a short quarter-mile loop that has an audio tour and several stop points along the way. It’s a super easy walk though the trail can get muddy on rainy days.
On the way back down, don’t forget to take in the sights again for that three-minute descent.
Enjoy a Local Dinner
If you’re on a cruise, you probably won’t get to have dinner in town; you may not even get to do all the activities I recommend for one day in Juneau. That’s (what I consider) a mega bummer on the mega cruise ships: you don’t get enough time in port.
If you aren’t on a mega ship though, you’ve got time for a lovely dinner before calling it a night. You could head back to your favorite spot from the food tour, or explore somewhere new. SALT is great for a fancier dinner option; you may want to freshen up at your hotel before heading here but it’s not required. For a more casual option, Devil’s Club Brewing Company has a cool tasting room and really good bar-food menu. For dessert, head over to Captain’s S’mores & Brew for a sweet treat.
Have an Extra Day in Juneau? Here’s How to Fill It
Sold on visiting Juneau for (at least) one day? The crazy part is that there’s still so much I didn’t mention that you can do! If you decide to extend your Juneau trip and add another day, here are some other activities and experiences you can do.
Visit Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier is probably Juneau’s most popular attraction – though it’s actually located up the valley and thus requires a rental car or bus (provided from your cruise ship) to reach.
To be honest, I wasn’t as impressed with Mendenhall as I expected to be; you can’t get nearly as close to the glacier as I imagined. Instead, you’ll spend time out here hiking (Nugget Falls is a good 2-mile out-and-back trail to a roaring waterfall) and at the Visitor Center – which does have cool panoramic views of Mendenhall and its lake, plus a great video that discusses the glaciology of the region.
I’d give yourself no more than a half-day at Mendenhall if you have the time, but I don’t consider it a must-do if you only have one day in Juneau. (Especially if you’re on a cruise – you’ll see plenty of other glaciers!)
Explore Douglas Island
Across the Gastineau Channel (Lingít: Séet Ká), Douglas Island used to be its own town – and the traditional site of the Lingít people when the T’aaku Kwáan had a winter camp here.
Today it’s fully modernized and very local; this is the place to escape the crowds. If you have a car (or arrange a taxi), you can head out to the southern end of town for a good hike. Two options here include the Mt. Jumbo trail or the Treadwell Mine Historic Trail. The latter takes you past some sites of the old gold mine that used to operate in this area (and was part of the reason the Lingít camp was destroyed).
Visit the Alaska State Capitol
Governmental history buffs will consider the Alaska State Capitol a must-visit. This building seems understated from the outside compared with the dazzling domes of many other state capitols in the Lower 48, but it can still impress.
To visit the Alaska State Capitol, you can do a self-guided tour on weekdays between 7am and 5pm, or arrange your itinerary to participate in a guided tour (Tuesday to Friday at 1:30pm and 3pm) if it works in your schedule.
Juneau is a great spot for a half-day or full-day fishing charter if you have the time in your Alaska itinerary! You can fish for Alaskan halibut throughout the summer season, as well as a number of salmon species, depending on the time of year you visit.
A number of charters operate from all around the Juneau area; Travel Juneau has a great resource page with everything you need to know about charters, fishing licenses, and more.
Take a Whale Watching Tour
If you’re visiting Juneau with no plans to board a cruise ship (big or small), you should A) definitely spend more than one day in Juneau and B) book a whale watching tour!
There are a number of whale watching tour operators that will take you out of the close, shallow waterways near Juneau to look for orcas, bears, eagles, and more. Humpback whales are also common in between April and November as they migrate to and from Alaska.
Where to Stay in Juneau
For those not visiting by cruise ship, you might need a place to stay for a night or more while visiting Juneau. There are plenty of options for accommodation in Juneau; I recommend staying near downtown so you can easily walk to all of the activities I recommend.
- Four Points by Sheraton – Where we stayed, this modern hotel is right along the waterfront and has all the amenities your expect. Rooms at the Four Points by Sheraton are comfortable and spacious, and the staff is very helpful. From $229/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- Silverbow Inn – Located in the heart of downtown, the Silverbow Inn combines modernity with rustic elements of Juneau’s past. You’ll be staying right in the center of it all – making this a super convenient option for those without a car who want to walk everywhere. From $149/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- Alaska’s Capital Inn B&B – For those who love the B&B style, this homey property is set up the hill but still within walking distance of downtown. As a B&B, they fill up quickly and the 1906 house has quirks – but that’s part of the charm of staying here. From $161/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- The Alaskan Hotel & Bar – Stay in a slice of history! The Alaskan Hotel & Bar is one of the oldest hotels in Alaska, and I can neither confirm nor deny whether any past guests still roam the halls. The rooms are all updated and you can’t beat the location, though it’s likely to be a bit more… lively on weekend nights. From $TK/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
For those who prefer a vacation rental, there are plenty of options – though it’s hard to tell outright how many on Airbnb are owned by locals. A few that caught my eye include: The Nook (a cozy 2-person studio on Airbnb), The Pigeonhole (which fits 3 and is right downtown), and this spacious home on the edge of town (VRBO) that’s perfect for a family
There you have it – everything you need to spend one day in Juneau – or longer, if you have the time! Have any questions about visiting Juneau? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks to Travel Juneau who hosted us during our visit. This post was produced as part of our partnership.
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