12 Best Things to Do in Juneau During an Alaska Cruise

Juneau, Alaska

TripSavvy / Linda Garrison 

Juneau is one of the most scenic state capitals in the U.S., and cruise ships sailing along Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage almost always include it as a port of call. Surrounded by rainforests, mountains, inter-coastal waterways, and glaciers, the city serves as a marvelous backdrop for the many activities visitors can do. It's also the only state capital that is inaccessible by car—you'll have to arrive via cruise ship, air, or ferry.

With a population just under 32,000 people, Juneau is Alaska's third most populated city after Anchorage and Fairbanks. It's also the largest state capital in the U.S., covering 3,255 square miles, and the only one that shares its border with a foreign country (Canada). Because of its size and importance, Juneau is a good shopping city with many excellent bars and restaurants.

If you are visiting via cruise ship, you'll probably only have a few hours to spend in Juneau, so you'll need to decide which activities to pursue. Those staying in the area longer will want to visit its museums and plan even more outdoorsy adventures like whale watching, wildlife viewing, salmon bakes, fresh and saltwater fishing, biking, glacier trekking, or winter recreation such as skiing and snowboarding.

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Tour the Alaska State Capitol Building

Exterior of the Alaska State Capitol Building

Visions of America LLC / Getty Images

120 4th St, Juneau, AK 99801-1162, USA

Start by taking a free tour of the Alaska State Capitol building on 4th Street, where you can pick up a brochure and explore the grounds on your own daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. or sign up for a guided 30-minute tour in the lobby Tuesday through Friday at 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. through late-September. Either way, you'll be able to view the building's murals and Art Deco design, as well as a replica of the Liberty Bell, historic photos, and art honoring Alaska's official designation as the 49th U.S. state in 1959.

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Check Out Juneau's Interesting Museums

A look at the building that houses the Alaska State Museum

Alaska State Museum

395 Whittier St, Juneau, AK 99801-1718, USA
Phone +1 907-465-2901

For an overview of Juneau's history, stop by the Alaska State Museum on Whittier Street off Egan Drive, which houses impressive exhibits about the area's rich Indigenous culture, Russian involvement in Alaska, and wildlife.

The Juneau-Douglas City Museum, located at Fourth and Main Streets across the street from the State Capitol, focuses on the history of the town and the lives of the pioneers who once lived here. The first Alaska state flag was raised in front of this building on July 4, 1959.

Those interested in Juneau's role in the mining industry can take a 45-minute walk (or a short ride) to the Last Chance Mining Museum at the end of Basin Road, which features some of the original tools and machines from the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mining Company that operated from 1912 to 1944.

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Visit Mendenhall Glacier

Terminus of Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska, in summer

kschulze / Getty Images

Juneau, AK 99801, USA
Phone +1 907-789-0097

For a real treat, make time to visit Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, named in 1892 for Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, who was appointed by President Harrison and served as the Superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1889 to 1894. Mendenhall also served on the Alaska Boundary Commission, which was responsible for surveying the international boundary between Canada and Alaska.

The Visitor Center, touting over 400,000 visitors each year, is located 20 minutes outside Juneau in the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest and was the first Forest Service center built in the U.S. Its indoor observatory offers terrific views of Mendenhall Glacier as well as excellent educational exhibits and materials like videos, maps, charts, and photos about glaciers and the area's rich flora and fauna. There's a small admission fee to enter the center, but you don't have to pay to access the outdoor portions of the recreation area or its restrooms.

Mendenhall Glacier, one of 38 found in the Juneau Icefield, is one of the most accessible in the world. You can drive, take a tour bus from the cruise ship pier, or even catch a city bus out to the Recreation Area. The views of the glacier are impressive but it's important to note that roughly 12 miles of the Mendenhall Glacier can't actually be seen from the Visitor Center. There are several hiking trails of varying lengths (paved, unpaved, or wooden walkways), some of which provide excellent scenic views of the glacier, while others lead to waterfalls, salmon streams, and vast forestlands.

The area around the glacier offers great opportunities for viewing wildlife such as bears, beavers, porcupines, minks, and eagles. Hearty hikers with a full day to dedicate to the trails should take on the West Glacier Trail, which leads to the edge of Mendenhall Glacier. Note that like most of the other trails, this one doesn't start near the Visitor Center; you'll need to take Mendenhall Loop Road to Montana Creek Road, then follow the signs to Mendenhall Campground.

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Ride the Mount Roberts Tramway

Mt Roberts Tramway, Juneau Alaska

Jodi Jacobson / Getty Images

490 S Franklin St, Juneau, AK 99801-1328, USA

Mount Roberts Tramway operates right at the cruise ship pier, with cars carrying passengers 1,800 feet straight up the side of Mount Roberts every six minutes. On a clear day, you'll be able to enjoy views of downtown Juneau, Douglas Island, Admiralty Island, and the Chilkat Mountains. If it's really clear, you might even catch a glimpse of Glacier Bay to the northwest.

At the top of the tramway, watch the 18-minute film about Tlingit culture that is included in the price of the tram ticket, then check out the gift shop or pick up some snacks. Keep an eye out for bald eagles at the Juneau Raptor Center, where birds too injured to be released into the wild after rehabilitation may live.

From here, the extensive trail system ranges in difficulty from the half-mile Alpine Loop Trail to the six-mile hike to the Mt. Roberts summit more than 3,800 feet above sea level (and 2,000 feet higher than the Tram Mountain House). Many make the intermediate hike to Father Brown's Cross, which is about 300 feet higher than the starting point at the Nature Center and provides sweeping views of the Juneau and the Gastineau Channel. Hearty hikers with plenty of time can do a one-way ride on the tram by either hiking to the top of the tramway or by hiking back down the mountain using the trail that starts on Basin Road in Juneau.

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Try a Dog Sledding Adventure

Summer camp for dog sledders on the Juneau Ice Fields

TripSavvy / Linda Garrison 

Herbert Glacier, Juneau, AK 99801, USA

Those who take a helicopter tour may stop at a summer camp for sled dogs training for the next year's Iditarod Race. The dogsled operator is flown up via helicopter early in the season and sets up camp on the Herbert Glacier in advance of the summer tours. Small groups can spend time speaking with the mushers and petting the dogs. You may also have the opportunity to have a wild ride on a dog sled.

Otherwise, you can embark on a dog sledding adventure with companies like Alaska Shore Tours or Gold Rush Dog Tours, which each offer 2.5-hour excursions in and around Juneau.

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Paddle a Sea Kayak

Sea kayaking and glacier viewing in Juneau

TripSavvy / Linda Garrison 

Douglas Island, Juneau, AK, USA

Whether or not you've had previous experience in a sea kayak, give it a shot on your next trip to Juneau. Board a bus at the cruise ship pier and ride across the bridge to North Douglas Island. On this particular tour option, you'll reach the boat ramp across from Mendenhall Glacier and Auke Bay in about 25 minutes. The kayaks are lined up on the shore, where the guides provide participants with a short lesson, help you don your gear, and assist you with boarding the kayaks. Two-person sea kayaks often have foot pedals in the rear seat that operate the rudder, making them easier to steer.

Depending on your tour, you may spend several hours paddling around the bay so having good upper body strength is important if you want to keep up with a kayaking group. You can expect to paddle against tidal currents and wind at least part of the time. Keep an eye out for harbor seals and eagles gliding overhead. After your tour, some outfitters treat guests to snacks like reindeer sausage, cheese, salmon spread, crackers, and water.

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Take a Jeep Tour and Hike

Hiking the Rainforest Trail on Douglas Island

TripSavvy / Linda Garrison 

14020 NF-Fh31, Juneau, AK 99801-7600, USA

Juneau's main coastal highway is only about 45 miles long, stretching five miles south of Juneau and about 40 miles to the north, though several other roads cross this main highway and run along Douglas Island. A number of jeep companies offer tours of the area on a combination jeep, rainforest hiking, and zip-lining tour.

Most tours begin with a ride around downtown Juneau where your knowledgeable guide points out sites of historical significance. Moving across the Gastineau Channel on the Juneau-Douglas Bridge, the route turns north, taking you to the end of the island and stopping at the Rainforest Trail for a 1.5-mile hike along the well-maintained gravel trail. Your guide's knowledge of the mushrooms, fungi, and other plant life along the trail adds to the experience. Next, you'll travel along the beach where you can view the Chilkat Mountains in the distance.

Juneau is home to many other hiking opportunities, including around the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, Mount Roberts, and downtown Juneau. One popular trail is the three-mile "Perseverance Trail," which starts downtown on Gold Street and follows one of the valleys that produced Juneau's gold before connecting with a more strenuous trail to the top of Mount Juneau.

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Zip Through the Forest Canopy

Zipline Course at Eaglecrest ski area near Juneau

TripSavvy / Linda Garrison 

3000 Fish Creek Rd, Juneau, AK 99801, USA
Phone +1 907-790-2000

Catch a ride to the Eaglecrest ski area for a zipline adventure, where you'll have a short briefing and don rain suits to protect your clothing from the tree sap. Next, you'll board a van for the ride up the hill to the starting point of the zip lines.

Instructors will help rig the gear, while participants walk up a flight of stairs to the first zip line. There's a short zip line near the gear station which uncertain newbies like to test out—once you begin the course, there's no turning back and you'll have to complete it.

The zip line course is exciting and incorporates themed platforms serving to both educate and entertain participants as they wait for their turn. Once you complete the course, take the swinging bridge back to the ski lodge and wait for your ride back to the cruise ship dock in Downtown Juneau.

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Walk Around Downtown Juneau

The Red Dog Saloon, placed at Franklin St, Juneau.

Ruben Ramos / Getty Images

Juneau, AK, USA

Although Juneau is home to several organized outdoor activities, wandering Alaska's capital city independently on foot is both interesting and educational. Cruise ships dock in the heart of downtown and maps of the area are available at the Visitor Center along the Franklin Street waterfront or from the Centennial Hall Convention Center on Egan Drive. The downtown area is very compact (it's constricted by water on one side and mountains on the other), making it impossible to get lost since you can always see the large cruise ships along the harbor.

In town, shops sell everything from Indigenous art to t-shirts and jewelry. Take a look at the dog statue you'll see when disembarking your ship, which tells the touching story of Patsy Ann, a stray dog who greeted every ship visiting Juneau back in the 1930s. The waterfront pier also features three other memorials: one to the men who work in the commercial fishing industry, one to the USS Juneau, a ship christened by the Juneau mayor's wife in 1942 which sank a few months later during World War II, and one to Archie Van Winkle, the first Alaskan to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Red Dog Saloon at the corner of Franklin Street and Marine Way, is very noisy and touristy, but exactly the type of bar visitors associate with the gold rush days. You probably won't find any locals here, but it's worth a peek just to see the inside.

Downtown Juneau is also home to interesting historic buildings like St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, which was built in 1894 and features the same iconic onion domes that can be seen on Russian Orthodox churches around the world.

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Sample Local Beer at Alaskan Brewing Co.

Alaskan Brewing Co. plant in Juneau

TripSavvy / Linda Garrison 

5364 Commercial Blvd, Juneau, AK 99801, USA
Phone +1 907-780-5912

In 1986, a young Juneau couple convinced 80 other Alaskans to invest in their new venture, a craft brewery, and the Alaskan Brewing Co. was born. It has since grown to produce a wide variety of year-round and seasonal beers, all made from the clear icy waters surrounding Juneau; thus far, they've garnered over 100 major medals and awards.

Its onsite Brewery and Tasting Room offers free tours where visitors can learn about the company's history and beer-making process, offering a look at the original 10-barrel brewing system and the current 100-barrel brewing system. Browse the collection of artifacts and the international collection of beer bottles and cans, then buy some beer gear (apparel, glassware, and other fun novelties). Lastly, make sure to enjoy free samples. There's typically a rough draft beer or smaller batches of local beers available for tasting in addition to its regular tasting menu.

Alaskan Brewing Co. was the country's first craft brewery to install a carbon dioxide recovery system and an energy and water-saving mash filter process. Since Juneau does not have roads connecting it to the outside world, all raw materials and products must arrive or leave by air or water, so saving energy (and costs) is even more imperative.

Those who arrive via cruise ship may be disappointed to learn that the brewery and tasting room are located about five miles from the cruise ship dock. Instead, head for the Alaskan Brewing Depot retail store on Franklin Street in downtown Juneau, which also has a direct shuttle to the brewery and tasting room.

Liquid Alaska Tours also provides hourly transportation between the brewery's locations for $25, which shuttles departing from the Depot at 40 minutes past the hour starting at 10:40 a.m. and a guided tasting included in the ticket price.

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Experience the Beauty of Tracy Arm

Waterfall Along Alaska's Tracy Arm Fjord

Matt Anderson / Getty Images

Tracy Arm, Alaska, USA

The beautiful Tracy Arm Wilderness Area is located about 45 miles south of Juneau, and you can visit it as part of a full-day tour of the fjord and its twin Sawyer Glaciers. Many cruise ships include shore excursions to Tracy Arm Fjord so guests can get a closer look at the impressive waterfalls, towering granite walls, and icy blue glaciers. You might also see seals, whales, bears, and many types of birds.

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Fly in a Helicopter Over the Icefields

Helicopter On Snow Covered Landscape

 Carissa Lewis / EyeEm / Getty Images

Juneau Icefield, Juneau, AK 99801, USA

A helicopter ride over the glaciers and snowy slopes of the Juneau Icefield on a spectacularly sunny day is one of the best things you can experience in this part of Alaska. Like most helicopter and floatplane rides, it can be very expensive but makes for a truly a memorable adventure. Zip over glaciers, leaving the green mountains surrounding Juneau on a warm sunny day and arriving just a few minutes later in a snowy wonderland.

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12 Best Things to Do in Juneau During an Alaska Cruise