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Gondolas In Alaska: A Unique Way To Experience The Last Frontier

Alaska is a state known for its natural beauty and breathtaking views. One of the best ways to take in the sights of the 49th state is by riding one of Alaska’s gondolas, trams, or aerial lifts. 

Gondolas are cable cars that transport passengers up and down mountains, providing stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. At the peak of some gondolas, we had access to hiking trails, wildlife viewing, and other amenities.

Gondolas in Alaska are popular attractions for tourists and locals alike. Several gondolas are located throughout the state, each offering a unique experience. 

Mount Roberts Tram, a popular gondola in Alasla

From the Alyeska Resort Tram in Girdwood to the Icy Strait Point Gondola in Hoonah, there is a gondola for every type of traveler. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely ride or an adrenaline-pumping adventure, Alaska delivers.

History Of Gondolas In Alaska

The history of Alaska’s aerial lifts is a testament to human ingenuity and resilience. The first gondola was built in 1928 in Juneau, the state capital. It served as a lifeline for miners and a symbol of progress. 

This cable car transported miners and equipment up the steep mountainsides to the gold mines. The tram was a great success, and other mining communities in Alaska soon began to build their own.

In the 1940s, Alaska began to use these trams for tourism, and they became a hit with travelers. 

The Alyeska Resort in Girdwood built a gondola to transport skiers up the mountain. This tram attracts locals from Anchorage to enjoy its powdery slopes.

On the Icy Strait Point SkyGlider gondola
On the Icy Strait Point SkyGlider gondola

Today, gondolas in Alaska are not just a mode of transportation but a gateway to mountaintop adventures. From accessing remote hiking trails to providing breathtaking views for tourists, these structures continue to inspire.

Popular Gondola Locations In Alaska

If you’re planning a trip to the 49th state, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to ride one of the state’s several gondolas or lift systems. I’m a big fan of cable car rides and have ridden all four listed here.

From scenic views to wildlife sightings, these lifts offer a unique perspective on the state’s natural beauty. See what each one offers and discover my favorite.

Mount Roberts Tramway

The Juneau Mount Roberts Tramway is a must-see attraction for visitors to Alaska’s capital city. When arriving by cruise ship, this one is conveniently located on the waterfront, next to the Juneau cruise port.

Since Juneau can get cloudy, we found it best to wait until we arrived in the capital to decide whether to go. While the tram can get busy, we boarded soon after purchasing our tickets. Each of the two cars can carry up to 60 passengers and move 1050 guests per hour.

Riding the Mount Roberts Tram in Juneau
Riding the Mount Roberts Tram in Juneau

This lift provides a scenic ride up Mount Roberts, and the trams are wheelchair accessible. Alternatively, avid hikers can make their way up the 4.5-mile difficult trail and ride the tram down.

However, when visiting Alaska in May and early June, expect very muddy conditions. When taking the trail up the mountain, hikers pay a discounted rate of USD 20 to ride down.

Initially, the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company constructed the tram to provide access to its mines. In 1944, the mines were closed after gold was considered non-essential to the war. 

In 1996, Mount Robert’s Tramway became a tourist attraction by offering transportation to the top of the mountain. It’s important to note that this tram runs when ships are in port, so when visiting the capital, it may only be in operation if ships are present.

We enjoyed magnificent panoramic views of the city and the surrounding wilderness at the peak. After disembarking the tram, we could explore the mountain trails, visit the gift shop, and even see a bald eagle. A local artist carved a totem pole inside the gift shop during our visit. 

Informational plaques document the area’s fauna, and I was amazed at the number of birds that frequent the area. They included grouse species, a few warblers, Steller’s Jays, and a Ruby-crowned Ringlet.

View of Gastineau Channel from Father Brown's Cross
View of Gastineau Channel from Father Brown’s Cross

The options for hiking include the easy Alpine Loop, which takes 30 minutes, the moderate one-mile trek to Father Brown’s Cross, or the difficult routes of Gold Ridge, Gastineau Peak, and Mt. Roberts Peak.

We did the first two and found the one to Father Brown’s Cross very rewarding with its views of the Gastineau Channel.

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

One of things we appreciated was a sign showing which ships were in port. It noted the last tram down to meet our ship’s departure time.

Pros: This gondola offers beautiful views from the trams and from the top. We enjoyed a few of the hiking trails before descending. It’s location next to cruise ships, makes it easy to reach, and the tram runs to 9 pm on most cruise port days.

Cons: With 60 people per car, we found it challenging to take photos during the ride. This tram gets very busy with lots of ships in port.

Icy Strait Point SkyGlider

Another unique Alaska experience is the Hoonah Mountain Gondola, a thrilling addition to Icy Strait Point that opened its doors in 2022. Like the Mount Roberts Tramway, it operates exclusively when cruise ships are in port, adding an element of exclusivity to your visit.

Views from the Icy Strait Point SkyGlider
Views from the Icy Strait Point SkyGlider

The Icy Strait Point SkyGlider takes visitors on a scenic ride up Hoonah Mountain on Chichagof Island. It also gives quicker access to its zip line, where previously, guests had to take a lengthier bus ride.

Contrasting the Juneau tram, guests enjoy smaller gondola cars, often to themselves. There wasn’t a lineup when we went, so we didn’t have to share our car. These cars are also wheelchair accessible since the staff can fold the wooden seats.

The best views from this one are during the ride. At the peak, the trees prevent views, except for a small lookout, which offers mediocre vistas.

Icy Strait Point lookout view
View from the one lookout area

The SkyGlider is slightly pricey and offers little at the peak, but the area is still under construction. It’s marketed as an all-day ride, but I wonder who would want to spend a day riding up and down on a gondola.

Travelers who purchase a ZipRider ticket will have complimentary access to the SkyGlider.

We had hoped to hike the one-mile Hidden Lake Loop Trail at the top of Hoonah Mountain. However, due to bear sightings, hiking or walking away from the gondola area wasn’t recommended unless there were ten or more people.

Bear warning sign on Hoonah Mountain
Bear warning sign on Hoonah Mountain

Having read other reviews, we discovered the trails are often closed during cruise ship season because of bears. But, the staff selling tickets won’t tell cutomers that. On Chichagof Island, the coastal brown bears outnumber the people.

Pros: Some might like the ride-all-day feature offered with a purchased ticket.

Cons: Nothing to do at the peak if the trails are closed, which they often are. So, the USD 107 we spent for just a ride wasn’t good value.

Alyeska Aerial Tram

Another popular choice is the Alyeska Aerial Tram, which takes visitors to Mount Alyeska in Girdwood. Visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the Chugach Mountain range and the Turnagain Arm from the peak.

Alyeska Tramway waiting area
Alyeska Tramway waiting area

The Alyeska Tramway provides a scenic 7-minute ride to the mountain peak in summer. This lift transports skiers to the snowy peaks in winter and operates faster, taking three minutes.

It has two tram cars, each with a capacity of 40 passengers. The trams are wheelchair- and stroller-friendly. This gondola runs year-round because it is a ski and summer destination.

This tram leaves from the Alyeska Resort, which is convenient for those staying in the hotel. In fact, guests can purchase room and lift packages, providing a discount for the lift ride.

Also available is a USD 60 lift-and-eat package, which gives a USD 25 food credit to use at the Mountain Peak restaurant. I found the restaurant pricey, with primarily sandwiches and quick-eat foods, so my USD didn’t go far.

Alyeska Aerial Tram
Alyeska Aerial Tram

For an extra treat, consider dining at the Seven Glaciers, which offers a 3- to 4-course prix fix menu. The restaurant gets its name from the hanging glaciers viewable on a clear day. These are Milk, Alyeska, Eagle, Goat, Crow, Clear, and Raven Glaciers.

Pros: Less busy than the venues in Juneau and Icy Strait Point, and the views are spectacular.

Cons: Even in June, the snow hasn’t entirely melted, resulting in the hiking trails’ closure. Without the ability to hike, visitors find the gondola tickets pricey.

Icy Strait Point Transporter

Signage for the complimentary gondola in Icy Strait Point
Signage for the complimentary gondola in Icy Strait Point

While the Icy Strait Transporter doesn’t scale a mountain, I added it to the list because it’s complimentary. Most gondolas charge a hefty fee, which might be out of budget for families of four or more or those traveling with limited funds.

The Icy Strait Point Transporter on Chichagof Island is a unique gondola ride that carries guests from Wilderness Landing to Adventure Landing. 

These are the two ports where cruise ships dock, so this gondola only runs when ships are present.

Icy Strait Point Transporter gondola cars
Icy Strait Point Transporter gondola cars

This one offers a great way to explore Icy Strait Point without walking or taking a shuttle, which is a bonus for families with small children.

Like the others, this one is wheelchair friendly, and each car can carry up to eight passengers. We enjoyed scenic views of the surrounding wilderness and Tree Top Adventure Park during the ride.

Pros: It’s complimentary, and we never had to wait long to get a car.

Cons: It doesn’t offer any spectacular mountaintop views.

Icy Strait Point Transporter
Icy Strait Point Transporter

Eaglecrest Gondola

Currently, the Eaglecrest Gondola on Douglas Island provides access to a ski resort for winter sports. However, it’s under development as a summer tourist destination.

The resort needs a new lift system, which has been purchased from Austria’s Galsterberg Ski Area. This system has cable cars which can carry up to 15 guests.

The Eaglecrest resort is a 25-minute drive from downtown Juneau, which makes it a potential summer destination for cruise passengers.

There are plans to develop the resort as a summer attraction for hiking, biking, and adventure courses. There’s even talk of adding a mountain coaster. Expect this gondola to offer summer rides in 2026.

Wildlife Observations

Since most gondolas run high above the ground, they do not impact the fauna below. Scan below for bears, deer, or bald eagles when riding in one of the cars. You might even see whales in Port Frederick from the Icy Strait Point Gondola.

Mount Roberts Tramway$55/$405 mins
Icy Strait Point SkyGlider$49.958 mins
Alyeska Aerial Tram$48/$383 to 7 mins
Icy Strait Point TransporterComplimentary4 mins
Gondola or lift ride cost and length of ride

Wrap It Up

Alaska is home to spectacular scenery, and riding a cable car to a mountain peak offers a unique perspective on the landscape. 

Alaska offers contrasting experiences in different seasons. While most travelers think summer is the best time to see Alaska because of its tolerable temperatures, winter unveils a whole new side of the state. 

For those seeking unique adventures, visit Alyeska in winter to enjoy skiing and winter sports and witness the northern lights from the mountaintop.

Many might pick the Icy Strait Point SkyGlider as a favorite. While I agree that it provides the best views, if the trails are closed, it lacks anything at the peak.

Among the gondola rides, my personal favorite is Juneau’s Mount Roberts Tramway. Its central location, abundance of hiking trails, and picturesque views make it stand out. The best part was that I didn’t feel like I was just paying for a ride but for a whole day of adventure at the peak.

As I eagerly await the opening of the Eaglecrest summer gondola, it may become my next favorite. Do you have a favorite if you’ve ridden any of the four lifts above?

Three gondolas in Alaska and views from Mount Roberts in Juneau