When it comes to Juneau, you’ll quickly learn that it’s a place of superlatives. Alaska’s capital city, the second-oldest city in the state (one day after Skagway!), and the only state capital that you can’t visit by car – you have to take a boat or plane to visit Juneau, as it’s not connected to the Alaskan mainland (it’s located on a part of land connected to Canada).
I’ve been to Juneau three times: once as a kid growing up in Alaska for a swim meet (we had to fly there!), and twice more by boat (2017 and 2019) for the two Alaskan cruises I’ve taken. Juneau is a great place to start or end your Alaska cruise (small ships, all the way!), as there’s so much to do that it’s worth adding at least one day to explore, if not more.
If you’ve got Juneau on your Alaska itinerary but you’re not sure what there is to do, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to discover the best things to do in Juneau – more than you can fit into a single trip – and get inspired for your own visit to the Alaskan capital.
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.
1. Visit Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier is one of Juneau’s top attractions – and offers a number of ways to experience it. One of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers, pretty much every visitor wants to see the glacier, which is why I put it first on my list of things to do in Juneau. I’ll be honest that I know of more impressive glaciers you can visit – such as Portage Glacier, Matanuska Glacier, or aboard the Philips’ 26 Glacier Cruise from Whittier… but if you have your heart set on Mendenhall, you should be sure to prioritize a visit on your itinerary.
2. Nugget Falls
One of the most popular things to do at Mendenhall Glacier is hiking the easy Nugget Falls trail. This is a relatively flat two-mile trail that brings you to the plunge pool at the base of the Nugget waterfall. While it might seem like this fall is glacially fed, it actually runs year-round due to snowmelt from the Juneau icefield that sits in the valleys above Junaeu.
This is a great hike if you’re short on time, as it’s easy, can be done in less than an hour, and brings you a bit closer to the face of Mendenhall Glacier.
3. Ice Caves
One of the most commonly asked questions about visiting Mendenhall Glacier is about how to visit the ice caves. To be honest, I’m not sure where the ice caves might be in 2022, since ice caves form and collapse rapidly and the landscape of the glacier is constantly changing.
There is a designated “Ice Cave Trail” that runs some 6.1 miles out-and-back, but again, there’s no guarantee of ice caves there when you reach the far end. My friend Nicki has a good guide on hiking to the Mendenhall ice caves and I strongly recommend checking with the rangers at the visitor center before setting out, so you know what conditions to expect.
4. East/West Glacier Trails
If you want a different perspective on the glacier, there are two trails to consider: the 3.1-mile East Glacier Loop that hikes up above Nugget Falls or the 4.0-mile West Glacier Trail that offers a totally different angle on the glacier. If you have the right gear and the trail looks good, you can extend the West Glacier Trail another half-mile to hike ever closer to the glacier face. Both trails have less than 1,000 feet of elevation gain, making them good moderate hikes for a half-day visit to Mendenhall.
5. Kayaking, Canoeing, or Rafting
Another popular activity at Mendenhall – especially if you’re booking a cruise excursion in Juneau – is to get on the water of Mendenhall Lake by canoe or kayak, or to raft from the lake down Mendenhall River toward the Gastineau Channel. Liquid Alaska Tours and Alaska Travel Adventures are two operators to check out if this sounds interesting to you.
6. Explore the Alaska State Museum
If you love history and are particularly curious about the history of Alaska, there’s no better place to visit in Juneau than the Alaska State Museum. As the name suggests, this is the official museum for the state of Alaska, and the full collection houses some 40,000 artifacts and exhibits from pre-human history in The Last Frontier through modern-day arts and cultures.
Best of all, this museum is reasonably sized so it’s definitely something you can explore in its entirety in a 2-4 hour visit. They also offer a guide to particularly important artifacts, including the oldest-known woven baskets (5,450 years old), great exhibits on the major Alaska Native groups, sections about Russian occupation, the American purchase agreement, and all of the major industries in the state.
This is the place to jam-pack your brain full of Alaska knowledge if you only visit one museum on your Alaska trip. (If you love museums, three others I recommend are the Sitka History Museum, the Anchorage Museum, and the Museum of the North in Fairbanks.)
7. Take a Juneau Food Tour
Another great way to get to know a place is by discovering the flavors and foods you can enjoy there. While I have a section toward the end of this post about places to eat and drink in Juneau, there’s a great way to sample a bunch of them quickly – and affordably: Juneau Food Tours.
The Tour with Taste allows you to try eight different city establishments, including must-tries like Tracy’s Crab Shack and the Alaskan Bar, and newcomers like Deckhand Daves. This tour is also offered for cruise passengers as a shore excursion, but you can book it directly to ensure that Midgi and her team receive the full payment for their work.
8. Ride the Mount Roberts Tramway
While Juneau doesn’t have any high-rises or iconic buildings-with-a-view (like the Space Needle in Seattle or even the Crow’s Nest restaurant in Anchorage), there is one great way to get above it all and see the city sprawl out below you: the Mount Roberts Tramway.
The tramway is operated by the Goldbelt Corporation, one of Juneau’s Alaska Native corporations, and offers fantastic views on the five-minute ride that ascends 1,800 feet “from sea level to see level.” (Their clever expression – not mine!
At the top of the tram, you can explore the large visitor center which houses a cafe, gift shop (with tons of cool Alaska souvenirs including many Alaska Native-made and Alaska-made goods), and a theater that shows a short film on Tlingit history and culture. There’s also a nature center that points out local hiking trails, including an easy quarter-mile loop through the trees with an accompanying audio tour.
Speaking of hikes…
9. Go for a Hike
In addition to the hiking trails I already mentioned near Menhendhall Glacier, there are literally dozens of other hiking trails near Juneau or off the 42-mile road that runs through town. If you’re up for hiking a bunch during your visit, you might want to investigate the trails further from town as they’ll be less crowded, but here are some of the trails close to downtown Juneau and on neighboring Douglas Island.
10. Mount Roberts
In total, the Mount Roberts Trail is 7.6 miles, but most people only hike this out-and-back trail for the first 1.2 miles to the Mount Roberts Tramway terminal then ride the tram back down – this is a great way to save on the Mount Roberts Tramway since one-way tickets down only cost $10.
The shorter 1.2 miles only has about 1,700 feet of elevation, so it’s challenging but manageable; if you go the full distance, be prepared for over 3,600 feet of elevation change each way.
11. Mount Juneau
One of the most challenging hikes near downtown Juneau, Mount Juneau is perfect for those who love a good hike. At 6.8 miles in length, this out-and-back hike has 3,415 feet in elevation change to reach the peak of Mount Juneau. There are plenty of switchbacks and some insanely epic views as you climb up above the treeline; be prepared to spend a whole day out on the trail if this one sounds good to you.
12. Perseverance Trail
For a more moderate hike that departs from the same general area as Mount Roberts and Mount Juneau, the Perseverance Trail is a good candidate. This trail is 4.6 miles out-and-back and has about 1,350 feet in elevation change over its course. While you won’t get the same sweeping views as the summit trails, there are some gorgeous valley views and some cool historic buildings and artifacts along the way.
13. Gold Creek Flume
Are you more of an easy hike kind of person, like me? Gold Creek Flume Trail is the one for you! This is a 1.4-mile point-to-point trail that connects two different parts of the downtown area.
Aside from the elevation gain you need to reach (or walk back from) the two trailheads, this is a completely flat trail as it follows the Gold Creek Flume that was once used to provide power to the city. Today the flume has been covered with treated wood, making this boardwalk trail perfect for all ages and abilities. The wood has also been treated to reduce slipperiness on Juneau’s (many) rainy days, but it’s still worth being cautious if you’re hiking in the rain.
14. Treadwell Mine Ruins
While I didn’t have time on my short trip to Juneau in 2021, I have a few more hikes on my list for my next visit. Both are located out on Douglas Island, which is the island across Gastineau Channel from Juneau – and connected by a bridge.
One such hike is the easy 2.0-mile Treadwell Mine Ruins trail that sets out along the coastline after the road ends. This loop-ish trail wanders through the forest to reveal some of the ruins of the Treadwell gold mine. The mine operated from 1881 to 1922 and extracted over 3 million ounces of gold, though production declined over the decades and structural instability rendered parts of the mine lost or useless before they were fully spent.
In any case, if you find this kind of history fascinating, you can spot a number of building ruins and one “glory hole” – a now-water-filled excavation pit that served to connect a number of the mine shafts and parts of the mine.
15. Mount Jumbo/Bradley
For a more challenging hike on Douglas Island, the Mount Jumbo/Bradley trail is much like its counterparts on the mainland. This 5.4-mile out-and-back trail gains about 3,100 feet in elevation to reach the summit of Mount Jumbo, also called Mount Bradley. From the higher elevations, there are fantastic views of neighboring mountains, the Gastineau Channel, and downtown Juneau.
16. Visit the Alaska State Capitol
Before writing this post, I used to get a lot of questions about visiting Juneau, and many prospective visitors wanted to know about the state capital.
Many people are surprised to learn that Juneau is the capital of Alaska, since it’s such a small town (home to about 33,000 people) and not accessible by road from the rest of the state (the only state capital like that!). However, Juneau is the capital, and there’s a nice building to prove it – plus the governor’s fancy mansion nearby if you want to walk and see that too.
To visit the Alaska State Capitol, you have two options. You can join a guided tour or do a self-guided tour; the latter is easier as you only need to pick up a brochure at the lobby desk. The 2022 guided tour schedule has not yet been released, but you can keep an eye on the page I just linked to see when it is published and whether the schedule works for your Juneau trip.
17. Wander through Historic Downtown Juneau
If you’re up for a walk and just like seeing what a town is like, Juneau is a great place for that! From the tourist-heavy areas near the cruise terminal to the quiet streets lined with historic homes, Juneau has a small but walkable downtown area with a nice grid pattern so it’s pretty hard to get lost. Look past the strange cruise company shops and you’ll see buildings that date back to Juneau’s origins as a turn-of-the-century town born around the Klondike Gold Rush.
Some of my favorite buildings worth visiting include the Capitol and Governor’s Mansion (already mentioned), as well as the Wickersham State Historic Site (high atop the hill), Devil’s Club Brewing Company which is housed in an old theatre, and the Alaskan Hotel & Bar, one of oldest hotels in Alaska and the oldest operating hotel in Juneau.
18. Sip at Alaskan Brewing Company
I don’t usually call out specific food or drink establishments in my “things to do” lists, but I couldn’t skip over Alaska’s most famous craft brewery – which is located right in the heart of downtown Juneau.
Alaskan Brewing Company started in 1986, which makes it older than me, but it’s the beer I grew up seeing in my house; Alaskan Amber is one of my dad’s favorite beers, and became one of my own once I was old enough to legally enjoy it.
Today, you can find Alaskan Brewing Company beers nationwide and they have a huge range of beers to choose from. Some of my other favorites include their Kölsch and White, and if you find the Spruce IPA give it a try since it uses fresh Alaskan spruce tips in the brewing process.
19. Explore Douglas Island
I mentioned it already, but Douglas Island is a great option if you’re looking for something a bit more off-beat to do in Juneau. In addition to the two hiking trails I already mentioned, there are several other trails. You can also rent bikes in downtown Juneau and ride across the Douglas Bridge from Juneau to Douglas Island to explore the area on your own. It’s mostly residential, but you’ll also find a few local restaurants (The Island Pub and Louie’s Douglas Inn) plus a nice park to enjoy if the weather’s good.
20. Go Whale Watching
While my top recommendation for where to go whale watching in Alaska is from Seward in Kenai Fjords National Park, Juneau is a close second – a short boat ride out of Gastineau Channel puts you in the prime whale-watching waterways of Alaska’s Inside Passage.
There are a number of operators to choose from, including:
- Alaskan Humpback Adventures
- Allen Marine (the same folks who operate Alaskan Dream Cruises!)
- Harv & Marv’s
- Juneau Whale Watch
- Lost in Alaska Adventures
- Whale Watch Alaska
…and many more. The most common whales you’ll spot in the waterways near Juneau are Humpbacks and Orcas, two iconic species commonly seen during the summer months.
21. Glacier Flightseeing
Flightseeing is a fantastic activity to splurge on in Alaska; it gives you a real sense of scale for just how big this state is. Pair this with the opportunity to see tons of glaciers, and you’ll probably tick off two items on your Alaska bucket list with one activity!
There are a number of operators that offer glacier flightseeing by plane, floatplane, or helicopter, including Alaska Seaplane Adventures, NorthStar Helicopters, TEMSCO (helicopters), and Wings Airways. They offer routes throughout the area, including over the Juneau Icefield and some even have glacier landings as an add-on option.
If you have your heart set on visiting Glacier Bay National Park but don’t have the time for a cruise, flightseeing is also an option for that. There are two National Park Service-approved concessioners offering flights over Glacier Bay: Alaska Seaplanes and Ward Air.
All this to say, you have lots of options if you have flightseeing in your budget for Alaska!
22. Glacier Dogsledding (by Helicopter)
If you liked the sound of glacier flightseeing but want to get a bit more familiar with these incredible rivers of ice – plus get to meet some of Alaska’s cutest residents, look into doing glacier dogsledding during your time in Juneau.
There are a number of operators who offer dogsledding on a glacier from Juneau; all reach the glacier by helicopter, so this is a cool experience if you want to do dogsledding, see glaciers, and go flightseeing during your Alaska trip. That’s three bucket list items ticked off on one tour!
Start your research by checking out Alaska Heli-Mush, True Alaskan Tours (operated by the same parent company as Alaskan Dream Cruises!), and Alaska Icefield Expeditions. All offer great options for this multi-bucket-list experience.
23. Take a Fishing Charter
Last – and certainly not least – Juneau is yet another great destination for fishing charters in Alaska (along with places like Whittier, Homer, Sitka, and many other waterfront communities). The primary catches will be halibut and salmon, with the type of salmon being seasonal depending on the run.
There are plenty of charters to choose from, including Chum Fun Charters, HiTime Charters, Juneau Sport Fishing, Local Guy Charters, and Moore Charters. All will get you out on the water for a good time and some epic views of Southeast Alaska – even if you don’t have much success with catching anything.
Where to Dine & Drink Locally
While there’s obviously plenty to do in Juneau, it’s equally important to give yourself time to enjoy Juneau’s dining scene. I obviously haven’t eaten everywhere in town, but here’s a shortlist of my favorite places that I recommend
- Alaskan Brewing Company – Home of the famed Alaskan Amber and a range of other beers you can now find nationwide, Alaskan Brewing Company is headquartered in Juneau and has a tasting room right downtown.
- Barnaby Brewing Company – I haven’t been to Barnaby, but my local guide in Juneau said that this is his favorite craft brewery and their small-batch beers are always worth trying.
- Captain’s S’more & Brew – Love sweets and treats? Captain’s literally does two things: coffee and s’mores. The latter range from classic to over-the-top and will satiate any sweet tooth.
- Deckhand Dave’s Fish Tacos – Hands down the best fish tacos I’ve ever had, and we tried every type on the menu. The outdoor seating area is really clever with other food stalls around – and it’s a cool way to pass an afternoon when the weather is good.
- Devil’s Club Brewing Co. – A delightful little craft beer brewery with unusual beers and an incredible food menu; go for the pretzels!
- Heritage Coffee – There are a couple of Heritage locations around town; they’re the best if you want a real coffee to fuel your day of adventure.
- Imperial Saloon – While Sitka is known for the “Duck Fart” shot (Bailey’s, Kahlua, and whiskey), Juneau has its own take: the “Eagle Fart” (Bailey’s, Kahlua, and vodka) which you can find at the Imperial Saloon.
- Pel’Meni – I haven’t eaten at the Pel’Meni in Juneau, but I have eaten at the one in Sitka, and it was awesome. Perfect for a bite after wandering out of one of the breweries or bars.
- SALT – On my first trip to Juneau back in 2017, I had brunch at SALT and it was incredible. This is a great spot for a nice meal if you’ve got an occasion to celebrate while visiting Alaska. (Heck, visiting Alaska is an occasion worth celebrating!)
- Sandpiper Cafe – Full disclosure, I haven’t eaten here, but the line was two hours long when we tried to grab brunch here. It’s one of the best (and only) spots open in Juneau for weekend brunch.
- Tracy’s Crab Shack – A must-visit, Tracy’s Crab Shack is a classic spot, known for their Alaskan King Crab. They’re also right on the boardwalk near the cruise terminal.
- The Alaskan Hotel & Bar – Looking for a local watering hole with history? The Alaskan Hotel & Bar (specifically the bar) is a great place for a drink with locals and tourists – and live music many evenings.
- The Hangar on the Wharf – Right on the Juneau waterfront, you can sit here and watch boats and planes coming in and out of the area. One menu highlight is a delicious reindeer corn dog.
- The Rookery – Looking for a delicious, easy spot for breakfast, lunch, or a coffee? The Rookery is a local favorite – and you should feel no shame for ordering the avocado toast.
Obviously, there are lots of options… good luck choosing! Don’t forget Juneau Food Tours (#7 above) if you love trying lots of different types of food in quick succession.
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.