The best Tourist Attractions in Juneau, Alaska

The best Tourist Attractions in Juneau, Alaska

The best Tourist Attractions in Juneau, Alaska

The first thing that strikes you about Juneau (pop. 32,277) is its majestic setting: Two mountains, Mt. Juneau and Mt. Roberts, tower over the city. Once you get into town, you’ll notice the contrast between the Gold Rush-era buildings and modern high rises—and, on the street, between the rubber-booted fishermen and the suit-and-tie government employees.

1. The best Attractions & Things to Do in Juneau, Alaska

1. The best Attractions & Things to Do in Juneau, Alaska

S. Franklin and Front Streets throb with tourist activity. Steep, narrow lanes wind past art galleries, gift shops, restaurants and Victorian homes, some accessible only by staircase. The business and government sections of the city are higher up the hill, around 4th, Seward and Main Streets.

Gold brought  in Juneau, Alaska

Gold brought the first big influx of people, who built Juneau on crushed rock hauled out of the mines in the 1880s. The city quickly replaced Sitka both in importance and as Alaska’s capital—a title it has had to struggle to hold onto in recent years. Modern Juneau has much to offer visitors: its gold-rush history, preserved in museums and restored buildings, as well as its proximity to glaciers, mountain trails, rushing rivers and islands and inlets abundant with wildlife.

Mt. Roberts Tramway in Juneau, Alaska

Juneau’s top attraction, the Mt. Roberts Tramway (east of the cruise terminals), offers excellent views of downtown, the Gastineau Channel and the Chilkat Mountain Range. Shops, the Chilkat Theater, the Rainforest Restaurant and alpine hiking trails are worth the money, even on misty days. (If the line for the tram is too long, take a walking tour of the city first.)

Seawalk and Marine Park in Juneau, Alaska

Sculptures and flower baskets decorate Juneau’s Seawalk and Marine Park, north of th e cruise terminals. Nearby is the Juneau Library (atop the municipal parking garage) where you can see a mural depicting the Tlingit legend of the creation of humans. 

S. Franklin in Juneau, Alaska

If you go inland from the library to S. Franklin it’s the main drag, with lots of shops and restaurants you’ll be in the heart of historical Juneau, where the streets are narrow, the wooden buildings have colorful facades, and street lights are decorated with baskets of flowers. Walkthrough the swinging doors of the Red Dog Saloon (next door to the police station) to get a taste of Juneau’s bawdy pioneer days sawdust floors, stuffed grizzly bear and Alaskana galore. The hallways of the Emporium Mall (by Heritage Coffee) are also lined with photos of old Juneau.

corner of 3rd and Seward Streets in Juneau, Alaska

Just west of Franklin, at the corner of 3rd and Seward Streets, is the Davis Log Cabin Information Center. It’s a replica of Juneau’s first public school as well as the town’s main tourist office. One block up the hill from the cabin is the State Capitol. Absent a dome, it looks more like an office building than a state capitol (the 30-minute tours are more interesting than the building’s appearance would suggest).

Windfall Fisherman in Juneau, Alaska

Just south of 4th and Main is the Windfall Fisherman, an artist’s rendition life-size, in bronze of a brown bear fishing. Across the street, in the State Office Building, you can get good shots of the city from the eighth-floor balcony. (There’s a free pipe-organ concert in the atrium at noon on Fridays.) The Governor’s House, a stately columned New England-style building with a totem pole out front, is two blocks uphill from the city museum. Tours are available with advance reservations.

St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, in Juneau, Alaska

St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church
, at 326 5th St., has an amazing history: It was built in Siberia, disassembled, shipped to Juneau and then reassembled. This octagonal structure with an onion dome is said to be the oldest church in Southeast Alaska (built-in 1894), and it’s filled with Russian icons and religious relics. On Sundays, the divine liturgy is sung in three languages English, Slavonic and Tlingit.  

House of Wickersham in Juneau, Alaska

The House of Wickersham, on 7th Avenue, is the former home of pioneer Judge Wickersham. (Wickersham proposed the first statehood bill in 1916.) The house is open for tours in the summer.

Alaska State Museum at 395 Whittier in Juneau, Alaska

The city’s if not the state’s best museum is the Alaska State Museum at 395 Whittier, north of the cruise terminals (it’s also on the trolley route). The museum also has exhibits on gold mining and the Russian period. The highlight for us, however, was the eagle’s nest (uninhabited) atop a two-story tree a circular staircase around it allows you to see it from all angles. This museum is definitely a must-see. 

Juneau founders Joe Juneau and Richard Harris are buried in Evergreen Cemetery on the northwest side of town. (It’s bounded by Seatter Street on the north and 12th Street on the south.) The graves of Juneau and Harris are at the east end of the cemetery, and there’s a monument to their Tlingit guide Kowee at the west end, close to Glacier Avenue. (Kowee was cremated near the cemetery.)

drive-up glacier in Juneau, Alaska

Juneau’s drive-up glacier” is 13 mi/21 km northwest of town. Though you may see others on your Alaska cruise, the mighty Mendenhall Glacier is the only one you can drive to.  state of Rhode Island. (The massive icefield is one reason the re are no roads to Juneau.) If it’s overcast when you’re there, you’re actually lucky: The glacier’s blue ice is more spectacular then.

center at the glacier in Juneau, Alaska

The visitors center at the glacier (scheduled to reopen in late 1998) has a large map of the entire icefield and a telescope to give you a close-up view of Mendenhall. Several hiking trails lead to closer vantage points. You could take a city bus to within a mile of the visitors center, but several groups offer tours for about US$15 (check with the Davis Log Cabin Visitor Center for information). Some of the same operators run tours for the cruise ships, so space may be limited.

Gastineau Salmon Hatchery in Juneau, Alaska

On your way back to town, consider stopping at the Gastineau Salmon Hatchery. It’s on Gastineau Channel about 3 mi/5 km north of town. You can watch the salmon swim up ladders outside and see saltwater aquariums inside that are full of marine life. There’s also a gigantic brown bear who’ll pose for pictures with you (he has no choice he’s stuffed). 

Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

The city is pleasant to explore, but the countryside around it has even more to offer. With more than 100 trails, you can hike from town to one of the nearby mountains, or try your legs on ice with a hike around and on the Mendenhall Glacier. Before you decide, pick up a copy of Juneau Trails at the visitors center or the Forest Service Information Center in Centennial Hall, at the corner of Egan and Willoughby. 

There are several trails around Mendenhall Glacier. Most are easy and offer great views of the glacier. Some take you right up to the ice, so you can walk on it if you’re properly outfitted. (Be aware that the ice is jagged and slippery.) Maps are available at the visitors center.

For panoramic views of Juneau and Gastineau Channel, you can hike partway up Mt. Juneau or (if you’re ready for a challenge) Mt. Roberts. See Juneau Trails for more details. Rubber-soled boots and rain gear are recommended for hiking. And watch for wildlife . It’s not unusual to see bald eagles perched in the trees looking for salmon. (If you see something that looks like a white golf ball in the trees, it’s probably a bald eagle’s head.)

Pack Creek Bear Preserve in Juneau, Alaska

To see bears, you can’t beat the Pack Creek Bear Preserve on Admiralty Island, about 15 mi/24 km south of Juneau. It’s home to the world’s largest (and most accessible) brown bear population. (The Tlingit called the island Xootsnoowu, which means Fortress of the Bears.)