Juneau is flanked by white snowcapped mountains, fields of blue ice, verdant green forests and frigid turquoise waters, making it the perfect town for travelers who love cozy small-town vibes, as well as those who seek extreme outdoor adventures in nature. Long the land inhabited by the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people, the capital city of Alaska got its Western name and infrastructure during the Gold Rush. This waterfront town is an outdoor enthusiast’s haven, and boasts that it has more miles of trails and mining tunnels than road (of which there are just 190).
Make sure you pack your rain gear, as this town of 32,000 gets 70 inches of rain a year, and around 235 days of precipitation. But no matter the forecast, locals and travelers alike will be out enjoying nature. As the Scandinavians say, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”
The absolute must-see for most travelers is the Mendenhall Glacier. There are many ways to see the glacier, depending on your level of comfort. The West Glacier Trail is by far one of the best bangs for your buck. While it includes a little bit of scrambling (up a waterfall, for example), the payoff is worth far more than it will cost you to get there. The trail is 3.5 miles out and back, and brings you right up to the face of the glacier. For less experienced hikers, Above and Beyond Alaska offers guided hiking tours.
For a more family-friendly/accessible option, the Nugget Falls Trail brings you around the other side of the Mendenhall Lake directly to a massive waterfall with views of the glacier from a bit farther away. (The short, informational video in the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is the cheapest tour of Juneau you’ll get.)
Liquid Alaska offers canoe tours that go across the lake to bring you to the face of the glacier, getting you closer to the ice. Or, if you’re feeling flush, you can charter a helicopter through Northstar, Coastal or Temsco Helicopters for a flightseeing tour that will land you on the glacier (tours cost $300 or more). Northstar’s Extended Helicopter Glacier Trek is the most adventurous tour for thrill seekers who want to maximize their time on the glacier, learn basic ice climbing techniques and explore more territory than the standard glacier trek tours.
If you’re looking for a more relaxing way than hiking to sightsee and get up close to a glacier, try a full-day boat trip to Tracy Arm Fjord with Allen Marine. For $179, this seven-hour tour is an exceptional value and unforgettable experience. Enjoy cruising through a steep fjord, usually seeing whales, bears, eagles, harbor seals along the way, and culminating at one of the Sawyer Glaciers, which are often actively calving. Even if it’s cloudy or rainy, this trip is sure to be memorable and enjoyable — the glacier can look more blue when it’s overcast. If you’re looking for a shorter tour, several other companies offer two- to three-hour whale watching or city tours during the summer cruise ship season (check out Juneau Tours & Whale Watch and Allen Marine for options). If you’re seeking more water adventures, you’d be remiss not to try spotting whales and other wildlife as you ocean kayak in the Channel Islands State Marine Park on Above and Beyond Alaska’s Kayaking with Humpback Whales tour.
If you’re more of a plant lover than animal lover, check out the upside-down tree gardens at Glacier Gardens. They also offer tours up the mountain in small trams during the summer season. A good place to see fireweed is along Point Bridget Trail. The drive out the road to this trail also makes for great views of the looming Chilkat Mountains. Cycling enthusiasts will enjoy Cycle Alaska’s 8.5-mile biking tour that stops at local breweries.
Another top-notch Juneau experience is cabin camping. You can rent cabins online; however, weekends can generally get booked up to six months in advance, so make sure to book far ahead of time. Most public cabins are in the backcountry and require hiking your gear out. However, there are some private cabins that can be rented that are more accessible, such as those at the Shrine of St. Therese or on Airbnb. Nights at Eaglecrest Ski Resort’s newest cabin, Hilda Dam, during the winter, and a city cabin, Amalga, are among the most coveted reservations in town.
Good family activities include walking along Sandy Beach on Douglas Island. Ruins from the old mine that collapsed there give the beach a historic vibe, and informational signs along the way entertain and inform little ones. The Mount Roberts Tram usually runs during the summer cruise season. Families can also rent strollers and other baby travel necessities like hiking backpacks, carseats and highchairs from Gear Up Baby.
Here are some quick favorites if you’re looking for places to eat, drink, and shop:
Best value breakfast: Donna’s Restaurant.
Best food in the Mendenhall Valley: Zerelda’s Bistro (check their Instagram for specials).
Best food downtown: In Bocca Al Lupo (the chef specials are where it’s at; chef Beau Schooler was recently nominated as a James Beard Award semifinalist).
Best live entertainment: Crystal Saloon (visit their website for full list of shows)
Best food on Douglas Island: The Island Pub (try the salmon dip).
Best family dining: The Hangar on the Wharf (can’t go wrong with anything with the halibut, great views of seaplanes taking off during the summer).
Best tacos: Deckhand Dave’s (only open in summer).
Best ice cream: Gelato by the pint from In Bocca Al Lupo.
Best bar: Alaskan Hotel & Bar (especially on open mic nights or live music nights, check their Instagram for updates).
Best cocktails: Amalga Distillery (early hours — closes at 8 p.m.), The Narrows (late night).
Best craft brewery: Barnaby Brewing Co.
Best new restaurant: Alaskan Brewing Public House
Best place to drink with kids: Forbidden Peak Brewery.
Best drunk food: Pel’mini’s (if you’re not drunk, try them anyway — in Juneau, these dumplings topped with butter, curry, cilantro, Sriracha and sour cream are a staple).
Best people watching: Triangle Club Bar and the downtown cruise ship docks.
Best place to nurse a hangover with salty popcorn and a Bloody Mary: Red Dog Saloon (also best kitschy decor).
Best coffee: The Grind Coffee Co.
Best shopping: Resolute Boutique, Treetop Tees.
Best free samples: Free smoked salmon from Taku.
Best cheap souvenirs: Alaska Shirt Company.
Best Instagram photo ops: The Whale Project, the flower wallpaper at Amalga Distillery, Nugget Falls, holding crab legs at Tracy’s Crab Shack, atop the platforms on the top of the Mount Roberts Tram.
Best souvenirs: Whale tail necklaces from various downtown jewelry stores, whale tail salad tossers, Tlingit silver bracelets from Mt. Juneau Trading Post and others, kitschy matching shirts from the Alaska Shirt Co., Alaskan Brewing Company sweatshirts, smoked salmon from Taku Store, a Ray Troll “Spawn Till You Die” shirt.
Best place to catch a sunset when it’s sunny: Bonfire on the Outer Point Beach on North Douglas or Auke Recreation Area.
Most adventurous tour to do with kids: Alpine Zipline Adventure with Kawanti Adventures
Best activity to do with kids when it’s raining: Alaska State Museum
Best food when you’re cold from walking around in the rain: Old Friend Noodle Soup from Lemon Tree Cafe.
Mollie Barnes is a journalist from St. Louis, Missouri. See more of her work at molliebarnes.contently.com.