I just got back from a three day weekend in Juneau, and it was the perfect trip! We wanted to get out of town to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary and chose Juneau because my husband has never been there before. It’s a notoriously rainy city in the Tongass National Rainforest, so we expected rain for our trip. But it turned out to be gloriously sunny and warm all weekend long! I barely researched what to do in Juneau before our trip but it turned out to be pretty perfect even though we were winging it half the time. If you’re traveling there and need help figuring out what to do, here’s what we did and what I’d recommend:
Juneau 101: Juneau is located in Southeastern Alaska along the panhandle. It is the capital of Alaska and has been since 1906. It’s only accessible by plane or boat. It’s the third largest city in Alaska, and in terms of land size it’s the 2nd largest city area in the United States (the area of the city is larger than Delaware!). It grows in population by thousands every summer due to the massive amount of cruise ship passengers that travel here! If you’re flying from Anchorage it’s a short 1.5 hour flight, and flights from Seattle are 2.5 hours (and as seen below, the flights are gorgeous on a sunny day!).
What to do in Juneau: If you’re looking for an epic Alaskan adventure, head over to the cruise ship docks and you’ll see lots of stands selling trips and tours – everything from kayaking to flightseeing to dogsledding on a glacier. Since we’ve done all of those things before through our past jobs in tourism, we skipped the stands and created our own adventures. Here’s what we did:
Mt. Roberts Tram: As soon as we checked into our hotel we immediately walked over to the Mt. Roberts Tram for our first adventure. The Mt. Roberts Tram takes you up to the treeline at 1,750 feet above sea level in about 0.1% of the time it would take you to hike all the way up there, plus it means that you’re not nearly as tired as you would be if you hiked from sea level. Since it was our anniversary we decided to treat ourselves and skip the hard work of hiking up through the trees. It cost $32 per person to take the tram (we bought discount tickets at our hotel), but it was worth it! At the top there are lots of viewing decks to take in the view of Juneau and the Gastineau Channel. There was also a coffee shop, restaurant, real bathrooms, water fountains, and a nature center/gift shop. They also had an injured bald eagle at the top that they are rehabbing, which initially sounded really touristy but then I walked by the cage and almost fell over when I saw how big that bald eagle was. I’ve never been that close to a bald eagle in my life and it was honestly really intimidating – I’ve seen those things kill birds and fish so it was really crazy standing right next to one! There were also a few hiking trails that started from the top of the tram that were accessible to people of all levels, and then some that continued up to the top peaks (read about that below).
Mendenhall Glacier: This is the most accessible glacier in Juneau so it’s a pretty popular spot! I’ve honestly never seen that many people at a glacier in my entire life. The visitor’s center has lots of exhibits and guided ranger walks for people who want to learn more about glaciers, but since we know a fair bit about glaciers we skipped all of that and took our own tour of the area. The glacier is pretty far away across the lake, but there is an easy paved trail that leads to a photo spot that has pretty good viewing of the glacier. We also walked out to Nugget Falls (read more about that under “hiking” below) and took lots of photos out on the edge of the lake. There are a few trails that start at the visitors center and another trail on the west side of the lake that we didn’t get to explore but apparently gets you right next to the glacier. To get out here, you can either rent a car, take a shuttle ($45 per person) or take a taxi which might not be able to drive you right up to the visitor’s center.
Driving to the end of the road: When we left Mendenhall it was drizzling and we were burned out from being around crowds, so we decided to drive out to the end of the road to see what else was out there. I actually had no idea Juneau’s road system was that big! We ended up driving about an hour out to the end of the road at Echo Cove and then on the way back we pulled over a few times to check out the view from some state parks. It was sunny and warm out there and relaxing on the beach was exactly what we needed! Notable stops for us were Sunshine Cove and Eagle Beach. Driving out to the end of the road helped me get a clearer picture of what the area around Juneau is like and how gorgeous it is down there.
Driving on Douglass Island: After dinner we drove out to the end of Douglass Island to see what the views were like. And it was worth it! Near downtown there is a bridge over to Douglass Island. If you go left you’ll be in a busy area with great views of downtown Juneau. If you turn right, you’ll be driving through the trees and past large houses. If you keep going you’ll eventually reach an area where the road runs along the beach and has gorgeous views of Mendenhall Glacier! Lots of people were building fires and hanging out on the beach down there, which is something we’d love to do next time.
Hiking: Juneau has an overwhelming amount of gorgeous hiking trails and I honestly was in a panic trying to choose what hikes we could do in a short amount of time. Since it was our anniversary trip and we wanted some down time we ended up choosing a few easy hikes with the hope that we’ll come back down here soon for some of the more epic mountain summits.
Gold Ridge: After you take the Mt. Roberts tram to the top (or hike up there yourself) you can hike up some easy uphills to a cross that overlooks Juneau. The views here are great, but if you want even better views you’ll want to keep hiking up. It’s easy to find the trail leading up from there towards Gold Ridge, Gastineau Peak, and Mt. Roberts. I’d consider the trail moderate for the average hiker – it wasn’t too steep despite constantly going uphill. The views of the Gastineau Channel and the surrounding islands and mountains was incredible and I couldn’t stop taking pictures the entire time. When we reached “the top” we thought we were finally at Gastineau Peak, but a tiny sign almost buried in the snow let us know that a giant snowy peak .6 miles to our right was Gastineau Peak. We knew we weren’t getting there without our snow gear, so we hiked to a high point on our left, which was Gold Ridge. The 360 degree views were absolutely incredible! This is probably one of the most gorgeous hikes I’ve ever done.
Nugget Falls: This is a must-do hike for people of all hiking abilities at Mendenhall Glacier. The trail is less than a mile out to the falls (around 1.5 miles round trip) and is completely flat. When we reached a trail map sign we took the alternate trail along the lake (it’s not marked on the map but is clearly a maintained trail with rock bridges to cross over water). We saw far less people on this part of the trail which made us feel like we were the only people at the glacier. We walked out along the edge of the lake and found bergy bits along the shore and lots of lake birds. When we reached Nugget Falls I was impressed by how big and powerful the falls were. Plus it felt good to get sprayed by the cool mist on a warm day!
Perseverance Trail: The trailhead for Perseverance Trail is at the end of Basin Road, which you can walk to from downtown (although it really shows you how hilly Juneau is!). It’s a bit of a hike from the cruise ship docks up to the end of Basin Road, but since we had already returned our rental car we had no other choice. You’ll walk all the way to the end of the road to find the trailhead. The trail starts with some switchbacks uphill which felt brutal in the hot sun, but then you turn a corner and you’re hit with some gorgeous views of a waterfall and the surrounding mountains. The trail levels out to a gradual uphill from here on out, and we enjoyed walking through the valley and seeing the old mining ruins. We turned around a little before the end because we wanted to get back to town in time for dinner before our flight home, but it was okay because our turnaround spot had a great view of Gold Ridge (where we hiked two days before) and abandoned mine ruins. There were lots of other hikers and trail runners on the trail so we never felt worried about bears. I’d definitely love to go back there to explore some of the other trails that branched off into other parts of the valley.
Lodging: We stayed at the Sheraton Four Points. It was downtown and right on the harbor which meant that it had epic views of Gastineau Channel and everything was in walking distance.
Food: You can’t really go wrong with food in Juneau, especially seafood. Here’s where we ate and if I’d go back again:
- Heritage Coffee: Whenever I’m in Juneau for a work trip I’m usually at Heritage for my daily latte. Luckily there was a Heritage 2 blocks from our hotel, so we had breakfast here our first day. They make yummy sandwiches and breakfast burritos and their coffee is really good.
- Sandpiper Cafe: We had breakfast here on day 2 and while it was good, it wasn’t the best breakfast we’d ever had. It also reminded me how expensive Juneau is.
- Alaskan Crepe Escape: Down on Franklin Street there are tons of little food trucks. We chose to eat at the Crepe Escape both before and after our hike up to Gold Ridge! We got their lunch crepes before the hike and then celebrated after the hike with a cinnamon roll crepe (OMG). I wish this place was also in Anchorage so I could eat there all the time!
- Grumpy’s Deli: I went there twice for lunch and got the PB Banana smoothie each time. Sooooo good.
- Twisted Fish Company: This place is super touristy given its location right next to the cruise ship docks, but I had the best salmon mac and cheese there. 100% recommend it.
- The Hanger: This is in the old wharf building and has insanely gorgeous views of the channel. You can watch float planes take off and land! But the food wasn’t that great so I probably wouldn’t go back there.
- Deckhand Dave’s: This is the #1 rated place to eat on Trip Advisor, and I can see why. You order from a guy in a boat, and then you eat in a heated tent next to their food truck. I got salmon fish and chips and loved it – and I loved the view from our table!
Overall opinion of Juneau: This was my first time visiting Juneau in the summer and I loved it! I’m used to visiting tiny coastal towns in Alaska so it was really cool to be in such a big, spread out city right on the water. The hiking was amazing and the food was great. If you get lucky with sunshine like we did you will absolutely love it!