Published: Jan 01, 2021
Last Updated: Nov 30, 2023
You can only reach Juneau, Alaska’s capital city, by boat or plane – there’s no road to Juneau – but its remote location doesn’t mean it’s a sleepy town. Juneau is among cruise travelers’ favorite destinations, because there’s so much to see and do.
You can explore downtown and get a feel for the 1898 Gold Rush. Or, venture out onto the water for whale watching (there are so many whales in Juneau that seeing whales on a whale watching tour is guaranteed.) Take a helicopter tour and soar over Tongass National Forest, then land on one of Juneau Icefield’s glaciers. Enjoy the thrill of a dog sled ride or settle in for a cozy and delicious meal. Juneau has something for everyone.
Juneau is the best port for whale watching, because there are so many whales that seeing them is 100% guaranteed. It’s one of the best places in the world to see Humpback Whales, who love the nutrient-rich waters of the Favorite and Saginaw Channels. Get ready to watch them flip, breach, and hunt by blowing bubbles to bring fish to the surface of the water.
There’s a great collection of Juneau whale watching tours to choose from. You can pair it with a salmon bake, a visit to Mendenhall Glacier, or enjoy the experience on its own.
The Mendenhall Glacier is just a short drive from the cruise docks in Juneau, and it offers something for everyone.Your first stop should be the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, where you can learn about the history and landscape. From there, it’s a short walk (about 0.15 miles) along an accessible, paved trail to a beautiful photo point, where you can enjoy a great view of the glacier. If you only have a short time to check out the glacier, the Visitor Center and viewpoint will get you some great photos and history.
But if you have more time, you can enjoy a 2 mile gentle walk along a well-maintained gravel trail to Nugget Falls. At Nugget Falls, you can watch water spill into an iceberg-filled lake. (It’s the closest you can get to the glacier from this side of Mendenhall Lake.) If you are up for more of an adventure, the canoe tour or ice adventure will give you an unforgettable experience, up close to the majestic glacier.
The best way to get there is via a Mendenhall Glacier tour experience, which includes transportation from the cruise ships and gives you the opportunity to get up close to the glacier. However, if you’re just headed to the visitor center, you can take the bus.
A dog sledding tour is a must-do in Alaska, and Juneau is a great place to do it. The tours combine many of the best things Alaska has to offer: a helicopter ride, beautiful views, Alaskan Husky sled dogs, and a thrilling glacier experience.
There are no age restrictions on dog sledding tours, and the experience often ends up being the whole family’s favorite excursion. It’s not uncommon to see three generations enjoying their time together.
No matter what’s on your itinerary for Juneau, be sure to carve out time for the Mount Roberts Tramway. It’s located right next to the travel office near the cruise ships. The 3-minute ride soars above the trees and offers scenic views of Juneau, Douglas Island, and the Gastineau Channel in between.
The tram operates May through September, rain or shine. If you’re hungry, you can grab a meal and a view at the Timberline Bar & Grill at the top. Or, if hiking is your thing, combine the tram ride with a hike along the Mount Roberts Trail.
You can grab a map of downtown Juneau from any of the welcome centers (or view the pdf here) and take yourself on a self-guided walking tour of Juneau. You can explore old saloons, remnants of the gold mining era, historic buildings and churches, the Governor’s House, and more. Most of the sights are within 15 minutes of the docks.
If a food tour is more your style, you can check out our Juneau Food Tasting Tour, which hits up many popular restaurants in the city. And if art is your thing, there’s a self-guided tour for that, too.
The Taku Glacier Lodge Flight and Feast is a beautiful, relaxing excursion. It begins with a seaplane ride from Gastineau Channel. Along the ride to the Taku Glacier Lodge, you’ll get an unrestricted view of five glaciers. You’ll land on the Taku River, right in front of the rustic lodge that faces Hole in the Wall Glacier.
There, you’ll be able to sit and enjoy a glass of beer or wine, shop for memorabilia in the lodge, or explore the walking trails in the rainforest. Soon after, you’ll enjoy an all-you-can-eat feast featuring Alaskan King Salmon, and then have more time to explore or to relax and enjoy the cozy, idyllic lodge.
Helicopter tours are among some of the most popular tours we offer in Juneau. The Juneau Icefield extends more than 1,500 square miles and includes the very popular Mendenhall and Taku glaciers. Flying over them is one of the best ways to experience their vastness and grandeur. Many tours include a landing with an opportunity for you to walk atop a glacier.
The Alaska State Museum in Juneau features exhibits on the history of Alaska, the gold rush, native culture, and Russian history. If you’re just beginning your vacation, it can be an especially nice way to set the stage for what’s to come on the rest of your travels. The museum is in a state-of-the-art, newly renovated building that’s just a 15-minute walk from the cruise ship terminal.
If you like museums, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum is a small but well-rated museum near the cruise ship terminal that showcases the history of the Juneau area, including Tlingit culture and the Gold Rush. The historical walking tour is highly-rated by museum patrons.
Juneau is home to the Alaskan Brewing Co, and you can take a brewery tour and enjoy a tasting experience on your trip. (It must be scheduled in advance.) To get there, you’ll need to drive, or you can take a shuttle from the Alaska Brewing Company Depot (just a 5 minute walk from the cruise ship terminal) via our Alaskan Brewery and Tasting Tour.
The National Shrine of St. Therese is a Catholic spiritual and holy place located in Tongass National Forest, 22 miles north of downtown Juneau. To get there, you’ll need to rent a car or hire a taxi.
If you’d like to attend a service all are welcome at the Eucharistic Benediction and Adoration service every Friday from 2-3pm that includes an hour of prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the Shrine Chapel.
11. Rent a Bike
Juneau is a great place to ride a bike. The streets are lined with the trees of the Tongass National Forest, and views include the Gastineau Channel. Cruise downtown or venture onto one of the many trails.
Tracy’s King Crab Shack offers some of the best King Crab in America – it was even featured on Top Chef. There are no reservations; it’s first come first served. One of the best ways to eat there is via a Juneau food tour that includes a visit.
13. Pan for Gold
The 1898 Gold Rush was a pivotal moment in Juneau’s history, and you can experience it for yourself on a gold panning tour. The gold in the area is so plentiful, that you are guaranteed to strike gold on your tour. This one is fun for all ages.
Alaska is known for its salmon. A salmon bake is a great way to enjoy an all-you-can-eat salmon feast with none of the work spent fishing. It’s a great excursion on its own, or you can pair it with whale watching or gold panning.
Glacier Gardens is a family-run botanical garden in the temperate rainforest of Juneau that’s perfect for flower-lovers. It’s located about 7 miles from downtown, so you’ll need a taxi or ride share service like Uber or Lyft to get there. Once there, plan to spend about an hour strolling the garden paths.
16. Go Zip Lining
A zipline tour is a super fun way to soar above Tongass National Forest. The ziplining tour takes place on Douglas Island at Eaglecrest Ski Area and includes a suspension bridge over a stream where salmon spawn.
Speaking of salmon, the Hatchery is a fun place to visit and learn about salmon’s life cycle. At DIPAC’s Macaulay Salmon Hatchery, you can watch baby and adult Salmon, visit the aquariums, and taste smoked salmon products. To get there, you’ll need a taxi or ride share.
This tour is so popular and well-loved it deserves a second mention. Canoe Mendenhall Lake and walk atop Mendenhall Glacier exploring the ice caverns and glacial formations. Seriously, if you only have time for one excursion in Juneau, make it this one.
This is just a taste of what’s available in Juneau. To find more, check out all of our Juneau tours. To plan more of your journey, read our picks for the best things to do in Skagway, Ketchikan, Denali, Icy Strait, Anchorage, Seward, and Sitka.
What are the best tours in Juneau?
The best tours in Juneau are:
- Mendenhall Glacier Ice Adventure Tour
- Dog Sledding & Glacier Helicopter Tour
- Mendenhall Glacier Dog Sledding & Helicopter Tour
- Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier Tour
- Mendenhall Lake Canoe Adventure
Can I go whale watching in Juneau?
Yes! Juneau is the best port for whale watching, and you are 100% guaranteed to see whales. Our top whale watching excursions are:
- Juneau Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier Tour
- Juneau Whale Watching Adventure Tour
- Whale Watching & Salmon Bake Combo
- Whale Watching, Mendenhall Glacier & Salmon Bake
- Juneau Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier Private Charter
What should I expect at Medenhall Glacier?
The Mendenhall Glacier is just a short drive from the cruise docks in Juneau, and it offers something for everyone.Your first stop should be the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, where you can learn about the history and landscape. From there, it’s a short walk (about 0.15 miles) along an accessible, paved trail to a beautiful photo point, where you can enjoy a great view of the glacier.
How do I get to Juneau?
You can only access Juneau via plane or boat. Most visitors come to Juneau via cruise ship.