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How To Spend A Day In Juneau, Alaska, 10 Top Activities

Juneau, Alaska, offers a unique blend of natural beauty and adventurous activities, making it a must-visit destination. This guide highlights the top things to do and how to spend a day in Juneau.

From exploring the stunning Mendenhall Glacier to whale spotting in Auke Bay, Juneau presents an array of experiences for every traveler. 

There’s something for everyone in this vibrant Alaskan capital, from hiking through lush trails and sampling local cuisine, to panning for gold or delving into the rich cultural history.

About Juneau 

Downtown Juneau waterfront
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But first, where is Juneau, Alaska? Interestingly, the state’s capital city is not on the mainland. It’s in the Gastineau Channel and is part of the Alaskan panhandle. 

The terrain is rugged, and towering peaks such as Mount Juneau, Cairn Peak, Mt Roberts, and Gastineau Peak surround the city.

This means driving into Juneau is not possible; the only ways to get there are by plane, ferry, using the Alaska Marine Highway, or on an Alaska cruise.

Our favorite mode of travel is a cruise ship! During the warmer summer months, cruise guests can take an Alaskan cruise from Vancouver, Canada, or Seattle, WA.

Juneau lies within the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness Region. If the Alaska cruise includes Tracy Arm Fjord, it will cruise there early in the morning and arrive at the Juneau city port at 1 pm.

Joe Juneau established the city. He was a Canadian gold prospector who came to this United States town looking to get rich. Today, you can learn about this history and Tlingit culture and see a mining gallery at the Juneau Douglas City Museum.

Consider these activities for spending a port day in Juneau.

See Mendenhall Glacier

As a rule, we will start from the most obvious to the most surprising for this list. 

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier

The Mendenhall Glacier is the only glacier in the region accessible by car. Its electric blue ice draws thousands of tourists every year. Even if Glacier Bay National Park is part of your itinerary, I recommend visiting Mendenhall Glacier too.

The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is only 30 minutes from downtown, so drive or take a tour bus to get there quickly. For 2024, tour buses cost USD 90 per person, including the USD 5 Park fee, double were they were in 2023. This is the best option for those visiting Juneau solo.

At the park, start at the visitor center. It’s the best place to learn all about the Juneau Icefield with museum-quality exhibits. The informative displays flow directly into trails and photo opportunities. 

Since the glacier has been melting since the Ice Age, it’s best to visit before it’s gone. Global climate change will make it retreat faster (and yes, they keep track). 

From the lookout, guests can view Mendenhall Lake which often has large icebergs. Those who take a canoe or raft tour will get closer to the terminus and have a chance to explore a Mendenhall ice cave.

Ride On A Dog Sled (Or Cart)

Mushing is Alaska’s state sport, a fact that might not be too surprising. Discover this and more at Gold Rush Dog Tours in Juneau.

Two dogs from our dog sledding team
Sled dogs on Herbert Glacier in Juneau

A Dog mushing excurion is a popular and modestly priced. The canine athletes will pull guests in a wheeled cart. This summer training for racing dogs is as close as you can get without the snow. 

Opting for dog sledding on ice and snow requires hopping on a helicopter. These experiences are more costly than mushing but offer an authentic dog sledding experience over a glacier.

Coastal and Temsco Helicopters travel to Mendenhall Glacier and Herbert Glacier, where the fun begins. It’s a bucket list adventure, sure to create lasting memories, but be prepared to pay over USD 650 per person! 

I went dog sledding on Herbert Glacier in Alaska years ago. It was one of those experiences I happily scratched off my bucket list. 

While participating in the Iditarod isn’t an option, there are methods to enjoy mushing, even in summer. The optimal visitation period is from May to September, which is the off-season for competitive mushing.

Sometimes, they may even have puppies-sorry, future athletes, to take pictures with. 

Go Whale Watching

Humpbacks surfacing near a boat
Whale watching in Juneau

Juneau whale watching tours are popular, and they are offered from May to September. Orca, humpback, beluga, or gray whales are sighted depending on the time of year. 

Most whale tours focus on humpback whales. From June to September, they can reliably be sighted at Point Adolphus in the Icy Strait.

Cruises that pass through there may see whales without paying an extra fee. However, seeing whales from the cruise ship contrasts with the experience on a smaller vessel. I’ve taken several whale watching excursions, and they never disappoint.

The creatures visible on whale-watching expeditions extend beyond whales. Sightings may include:

  • Bald eagles. 
  • Brown bears. 
  • Seals/sea lions. 
  • Dolphins and porpoises. 

So, a lucky boat ride can help cross off many items from a wildlife list!

Some cruises may offer whale watching as part of their packages. Plan early so you can set aside a day, or at least a few hours, for whales. 

Eagles And Salmons And Bears, Oh My! 

Alaska is known for its natural beauty and its fierce northern wildlife. Bears are usually at the top of the wish list for wildlife sightings.

A flying eagle
Bald Eagle

Juneau has plenty of opportunities to see bears. Catch an organized tour, see one on a hiking trail, or take a tour to Admiralty Island, one of the ABC Islands in Southeast Alaska.

Admiralty Island has a large population of brown bears. The Pack Creek or coastal brown bears are large in size and a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly.

When entering Juneau, visitors may get lucky and see bald eagles on the road. Some sites advertise bald eagle sightings; Lemon Creek is one of the more consistent spots, as is Eagle Beach.

Like many wild animals, bald eagles do not make scheduled appearances. However, there are more bald eagles in Alaska than in any other state in the U.S.

Finally, a summer vacation is the perfect time to see salmon in the wild. Several different kinds of salmon come up in May and stay until autumn in Alaska. By planning to come in the summer, you are just in time!

Be sure to watch for the bloodred sockeye salmon- a delicacy and an impressive-looking fish!

Take A Hike

Juneau, AK, has hills that give it the nickname “Little San Francisco.” Anyone visiting can get a workout just by walking around town! But Juneau has fantastic hiking trails for hikers of any rank. 

Hiking to Father Brown Cross at Mount Roberts
Hiking to Father Brown Cross at Mount Roberts

Some of them, like Nugget Falls, are right near a glacier. 

Juneau has Mt. McGinnis for the truly ambitious. This full-day hike is not for the faint of heart. 

Around Juneau, there are many hiking trails from easy to more challenging. Please heed all trail warnings and dress warmly. You’ll do some mild hiking by visiting the other sites on this list! 

Visitors can take the Mount Roberts Tramway in downtown Juneau to access several incredible trails. Depending on their ability, they can choose from short, medium, or long hikes at the peak.

Alternatively, the Mount Roberts Trail provides a Stairmaster workout! The best reward is the spectacular views from the peaks. Brian and I took a mid-level hike in Juneau and loved it.

Mount Roberts Tram
Mount Roberts Tram

However, be sure to take bug repellent. We encountered lots of mosquitos in the Tongass National Forest in July.

The tram up the mountain only operates when cruise ships are in port. Although, since Juneau is the state capital, cruise ships arrive almost every day during the summer.

Pan For Gold 

Digging for gold has always been a big part of American history. Contrasting the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, Juneau did not see prospectors until 1880. Interest in panning for gold never dies, and Juneau delivers. 

Scheduled tours are the easiest way to earn gold. Many historic tours have a guaranteed gold-panning experience that nets a great souvenir! 

The Last Chance Mining Museum features a small exhibit managed by a local family. For USD 8, visitors receive a plastic gold panning kit and can keep whatever they pan. It’s an ideal activity for budget-conscious families.

Juneau hosts a festival honoring the Juneau Gold Rush, for guests who arrive in June. The 30th Anniversary was in 2022, but the festival happens every year! 

Along with panning for gold, they have lumberjack shows and other fun festivities.

See Native Art

Mammoth ivory carving
Mammoth ivory carving

Juneau has many “state” facilities, like the Alaska State Museum. The State Museum has rotating exhibits but always has something by Indigenous artists. 

Exploring the town is a fantastic activity for Northwestern tribal art lovers. Juneau flaunts Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian art everywhere. 

Juneau wants to become a bastion for the arts, among other things. Depending on the museum visiting, it may include:

  • Eskimo art, including ivory, tools, and utensils, from prehistory into the modern day. 
  • Mounted specimens (including native plants and animals). 
  • Information on Russian America. 
  • Information on the Matanuska Valley Colony-Alaska’s ghost town. 
  • World War II in Alaska. 

Get A Different Perspective From Sea Or Sky 

Coastal Helicopter on Herbert Glacier
Helicopter landing on Juneau Icefield

Sometimes, seeing a glacier from miles away through binoculars is not enough. Perhaps getting up close and personal with nature and wildlife around Juneau is the goal.

A guided tour via sky or kayak brings visitors near bears, whales, and other Alaskan wildlife. Whether a guided tour is necessary or not, kayaking offers a unique way to experience Juneau.

Alternatively, there are many ways to see Juneau from above. “Flightseeing” by helicopter or seaplane is increasing in popularity. These tours fly over Auke Bay, some even land on a glacier! However, helicopter tours come with sticker shock.

Taku Glacier Lodge offers a seaplane ride and salmon bake. This bucket list adventure combines a fantastic flightseeing tour with an authentic Alaskan meal.

Taste The Town 

Tracy's King Crab Shack
Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau


If preferring to experience the tastes of Alaska, Juneau offers the ideal destination. The food tour guides at Juneau Food Tours, all locals, eagerly showcase their town through the visitors’ taste buds.

Some dishes such as salmon and king crab are expected. Others, such as blue tea and salmon ice cream, will be less predictable. 

Juneau boasts “one of everything,” so discover what it offers by walking around. Red Dog Saloon, an iconic bar in town, intriguingly offers a “duck fart” on its menu.

Some of the seafood delicacies include:

  • Alaskan king crab legs. 
  • Crab bisque soup. 
  • Fried salmon fish tacos. 
  • Candied salmon ice cream. 

One of Juneau’s hidden culinary gems is “In Bocca al Lupo,” an Italian restaurant. Local legend claims the chef creates dishes using every part of the salmon. However, those not fond of seafood might still find it appealing.

Although Juneau’s specialty is seafood, there are both creative fish dishes and places that do other things. 

Find one other person who has tried salmon ice cream! We promise that it is more palatable than it sounds. 

Take A Walk Through The Rainforest 

One of the hikes near Mendenhall Glacier also passes through Juneau’s temperate rainforest. If the word “temperate” seems less exciting, it shouldn’t. Plenty of animals and wild plants await that are not common back home!

Steep Creek Trail at Mendenhall Glacier
Steep Creek Trail at Mendenhall Glacier

Along with bears, moose, porcupines, and other large wildlife that screams “Alaska,” visitors may glimpse some literal odd birds. 

One of them, the Stellar’s Jay, proves that crows and blue jays are close cousins. Another songbird, the American dipper, can be found around water; it can swim! 

You may also see a plant that looks like a giant maple leaf. This is not a young tree; it is a shrub called “devil’s club” or Alaskan ginseng. Although not related to ginseng, both Native peoples and modern tea shops believe it might have medicinal properties. 

For those seeking something less rugged, Glacier Gardens offers beautiful botanical floral displays in a rainforest.

Final Thoughts

Brian and I have been to Juneau many times, and it has always been one of the highlights of our Alaska cruises. As the Alaska state capital, there is more to do in Juneau than in other Alaska towns and cities.

Some amazing sights in Juneau, may be predictable. However, without a previous visit, one has not seen them all. Perhaps this guide reveals some previously unknown attractions.

When someone asks about your trip to Alaska, tell them about the bears, glaciers, and dogs. But don’t forget to mention the salmon ice cream and a duck fart! 

Juneau waterfront, bald eagles, and a helicopter landing on a glacier

Don Sanderson

Wednesday 12th of June 2024

We went last year, our first time.We flew in and stayed at a house for a week. Could have stayed a month.Seen everything listed and more. Words can not define how great it is. I wouldn't have believed it,until I seen it.You have to go. PS We did see some bears, also.

Karen Hosier

Wednesday 12th of June 2024

I'm so glad to hear you had a wonderful time. I just flew back from Fairbanks this week and only home four days before heading back to Alaska. I call it my second home.

Liz

Wednesday 12th of June 2024

Nice article however there are no moose in Juneau.

Karen Hosier

Wednesday 12th of June 2024

While moose are rare, they have occasionally been spotted at Point Bridget State Park and Mendenhall Lake.