Looking for the best things to do in Juneau, Alaska? Let Elizabeth, our Juneau-native guest author, walks you through her 21 favorite activities in Juneau!
*Updated January 2019*
Alaska’s capital may look small during your arrival (Juneau is only accessible by taking a flight or boat), but there are so many things to do in Juneau, Alaksa that you’ll wish your trip to this magical city was longer.
As a born and raised local, I can confirm that many who have come for a visit to Juneau have stayed for a lifetime.
Juneau is full of opportunities that will satisfy all types of travelers. Whether you’re looking for outdoor activity, culture, food, or an all-round adventure, I’ve got you covered with this list of the 21 best things to do in Juneau.
So let’s dive in! Oh, and you definitely won’t want to miss #9!
[affiliate disclosure: making a purchase through a link on this list of the best things to do in Juneau helps support us with a small commission]
The Mendenhall Glacier is the most popular place to visit in Juneau. Despite the crowds, you won’t want to skip it. If you’re not planning to hike, boat, or fly in a small plane during your visit, this may be the closest you will be able to get to the face of a glacier.
Besides supplying the most quintessentially Alaskan photography opportunity, you’ll also find hiking trails, wildlife viewing, and souvenir shopping available. The available outdoor activities accommodate all levels of traveler.
During the late summer and early fall the viewing platforms off the parking area provide a safe, yet close, place to observe black bears feeding on spawning salmon. For those interested in a short walk, the Trail of Time will take you through the forest from the parking lot to the visitor center. The three-mile East Glacier Loop trail is available for the more active travelers.
Both hiking trails along the shore will end at the Visitor Center. Inside you’ll find a small shop full of locally made goods, a short video, and displays about natural rebound after a glacier leaves and some of the wildlife you may see during your visit. The Forest Service Rangers are also happy to answer any questions you might have.
If seeing the glacier from the other shore of a lake isn’t close enough for you, you might consider taking a helicopter tour which will land you on the glacier itself!
Again you’ll find all levels of adventure available. Some tours will supply you with gear and take you ice climbing in crevasses. Other tours will take you to a dogsled camp where you can ride on a sled behind a team of huskies.
Juneau has a history of boom to bust industries starting with its beginning as a lawless gold mining town. It has also been home to people of all different cultures, many which still call it home. See some of the old tools of Alaskan trades and learn the stories of the early Alaskans by visiting any of the three museums in town.
The Juneau City Museum and Alaska State Museum offer family-friend fun for all ages, with hands-on displays and locations easily accessible in Downtown Juneau. The collections on display will tell the stories of Alaskan mining, fishing, logging, and politics, as well as introduce various artifacts from Alaska’s Russian occupation and Alaska
Native culture. The City Museum also runs walking tours through historic Downtown Juneau (Tuesdays, Wednesday, and Thursdays from 1:30-3 PM through September).
The Last Chance Mining Museum in Last Chance Basin is housed in one of the few remaining historic buildings of the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining company. Here you’ll learn about the history of hard rock mining in Juneau and see some of the old tools. This museum is farther from downtown and requires the ability to hike uphill, but if you can make it, you should also check out the old mining train cars behind the building.
Juneau’s namesake, Joe Juneau, found gold while panning in Last Chance Basin in what is now called Gold Creek.
One of the more unusual activities in Juneau is a tour that will take you to this historic spot and teach you to pan for gold like a prospector. You may not be finding large nuggets any more, but you’ll still find tiny flecks of gold. Your tour guide will dress like a gruff old minor, suspenders and all, so you can get the full experience on this unique adventure.
Juneau’s Downtown shopping district has kept many of the facades that make you feel like you’re walking into an 1898 Gold Rush mining town. Today, however, you’ll find souvenir shops and eateries that cater to the summer cruise ship tourists.
When strolling the downtown, you’ll want to keep an eye out for shops with signs in their windows alerting you to local owners and local merchandise. Rather than shelves stocked with gold rush supplies, however, today the shops carry Alaskan books, art, Native crafts, jewelry, and other souvenirs.
While the Red Dog is the closest and only replica of a gold rush era saloon that exists today, there are several other bars, new brewing and distillery tasting rooms, and an up and coming food scene. If you’re looking for a quick bite so you can keep exploring, Juneau’s food cart row is the place to go.
Travel insurance is one of those things you can easily forget about: until you really need it. From renting a car to the medical risks of being stranded in the Alaskan wilderness, travel insurance helps cover you from the worst risks of traveling. Personally I use World Nomads and love it. If you need a quote, just use the below widget to get a quick price check:
While you might not think a place that has to have a lot of food shipped in would have a great food scene, Alaskans have learned to fish, hunt, and forage, and turn these local resources into amazing dishes. If you’re a foodie, you’ll want to take the Juneau Food Tour, run by a local food blogger.
Along your walk you may try fresh seafood like king crab, fish tacos and kelp salsa. Your meal will be paired with local made beer, and for dessert you’ll have a hard time passing up Alaskan made fudge.
If trying Alaskan king crab is on your bucket list, you’ll want to visit Tracy’s Crab Shack.
You can order crab by the leg, try the delicious crab bisque, or go all in with an entire bucket. This restaurant was also featured in an episode of Top Chef, so it’s a popular stop for fans of cooking shows.
Work off the calories by exploring Juneau by wheel with a Cycle Alaska bike tour. As Juneau is situated in the Tongass Rain Forest, you’ll be biking on tree-lined roads.
Depending on the tour, you may see the Mendenhall Glacier, beaches, and fields of flowers. One of the tours will even take you uphill to where the downhill ski area runs during the winter!
A ride up the Mount Robert’s Tram is a great way to see downtown Juneau from the top of one of its surrounding mountains without having to hike. You’ll even find a restaurant and souvenir shopping at the top too. If you do decide you’d like a short hike once you’re at the top, you’ll find a couple trails both above and below tree line.
The visitor center at the top of Mount Roberts also offers short videos about Alaska Native culture and Juneau history. Many of the souvenirs include Alaska Native designs. You will even be able to see a real bald eagle up close, which is one of the birds very important in Alaska Native tribal culture.
The bi-annual Celebration is a week long festival during which members of all the different Alaska Native tribes arrive in Juneau. They perform dances, show off their traditional regalia, and sell handmade crafts.
The week starts with the arrival of Tlingit war canoes and then the Celebration participants parade in regalia to the convention center where they perform throughout the festival. There are few opportunities besides Celebration to fully immerse yourself in so many tribal cultures all at once.
DIPAC Hatchery brings the sealife of the Alaskan waters to you. Inside the hatchery you’ll find a small aquarium where you can see halibut and other large Alaskan fish as well as starfish, anemones, and the smaller creatures found at low tides on the local beaches. If you’re brave, you can stick your hands in the touch-tanks.
Outside the hatchery you’ll see fish runs where the salmon leave from and return to during spawning season. You’ll learn about the life cycle of the salmon and the part that the Hatchery plays in keeping the salmon industry alive in Southeast Alaska.
There isn’t a lot better than spending a calm day drifting on the open water trailing a line behind you. If you don’t have access to a boat and gear, several private charter fishing boats are available for hire. They’ll supply the captain, and the gear, and take you out fishing for Alaskan salmon and maybe even halibut.
Wild Alaskan Salmon tastes much better than farmed salmon, which is why you’ll want to have at least one meal at the Salmon Bake. After having spent time at DIPAC watching fish, or spent the day on a boat hoping to catch your own fish, the Salmon Bake is a great place to eat salmon you neither had to catch nor cook yourself.
Here you’ll find an outdoor eating experience (with heaters and covers for cold, rainy days), tucked in a forest setting with a buffet style meal. What could be more Alaskan than eating salmon outdoors in the Tongass National Forest?
One of the more spectacular ways to spend an afternoon is watching whales play in Juneau’s surrounding waters.
Several tour companies run various types of whale watching boats from a local harbor (click here to price out a tour). Every tour is almost guaranteed to find whales, seals, and porpoises. The picturesque views and the antics of Alaskan sea creatures will keep your attention glued to the windows the entire trip. It’s definitely one of the most spectacular things to do in Juneau!
There are few options for day trips out of Juneau because they require either a boat or a plane, but Allen Marine runs all day catamaran tours that will take you into Tracy Arm Fjord on a shore tour and back. The boats are two-story with a top deck, a small concessions area selling hot drinks and snacks, and the seating is cushioned benches and tables. You’ll be quite comfortable for an eight-hour sightseeing tour.
The on-board naturalist will point out wild life such as whales, seals, bears, and eagles and binoculars will be provided. You’ll also see glaciers calve, and waterfalls running down the walls of of the fjord. This trip is not to be missed if you’re looking for a photography outing.
Another option for getting out of Juneau for a few hours is to fly out to Taku Lodge. Wings Airways provides transportation with small planes to the airplane-only accessible lodge by the Taku Glacier. On your way to the lodge your pilot will take you glacier flightseeing.
At the lodge you’ll enjoy a two hour meal. If you’re lucky, some of the local bears will show up on the lodge grounds, which you can watch safely from inside while you eat. The planes will then pick you up and return you to town, making this an incredible daytrip from Juneau.
Each April Juneau hosts the week long Alaska Folk Festival. Musicians from all over come to listen, play, dance, and teach. Each night between 7pm and 10pm each act performs for 15 minutes. During the weekend, besides the main stage acts, workshops run by musicians and dancers are available during the day and live bands play for dances in the evenings.
Besides the official events found on the printed schedule, musicians gather in coffee shops and bars and on street corners and jam together all week long. If you play, listen, or dance to music, this is the festival should be on your Juneau itinerary!
The Jensen Olson Arboretum is located on the beachfront site of one of the old homestead families of Juneau. If you’re looking for a picnic location without a lot of traffic, this is a beautiful spot. The arboretum is easiest reached by car, and not on the tourist bus routes.
One of the more recent descendants, and a master gardener, donated the property to the city. The garden landscape includes flowering trees, bushes, and local foliage among the flowers. A fenced garden also showcases the vegetables that grow well in Southeast Alaska. The arboretum is a great place to either learn about Southeast Alaskan gardening, or just enjoy a quiet picnic and stroll around a beachfront property.
Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure takes you on a cart ride up a mountain on a dirt road. The road winds through the rainforest while your driver points out the local flora and explains how the landscape changes due to the climate. At the top of your ride you’ll get out at an overlook for a view of Juneau down below.
The large greenhouse/convention space/gift shop at the parking lot should not be overlooked on your list of things to do in Juneau, Alaska.
While most of the activities in Juneau are only available during the summer, there is still plenty to do during the winter. Although Alaska does have larger, more famous, downhill ski resorts, like Alyeska, Juneau’s Eaglecrest Ski Area provides the locals with the opportunity to downhill ski without having to leave town during the winter.
The ski area has three lifts, a lodge with a lunch cafeteria and a gear rental shop, and recently moved the ski school facilities into a new building. The slopes range in difficulty from beginner to black diamonds.
If you’re looking for something off the beaten tourist track to do in Juneau, there are a few cabins available for overnight rental all year round. You’ll need to plan ahead for this adventure, however, because the cabin rentals are available six months in advance and go quickly. You’ll also need a car or to find transportation to the cabin or trail head because they are not on the local bus route.
There are a couple cabins with drive-up access, however, most of the cabins require a hike through the forest on well-marked trails. You’ll also have to carry everything you need in and out with you. These are dry cabins with no electricity or running water. Each cabin has an outhouse out back for your convenience, and a propane stove is available for heat.
Click here to check out the website for cabin reservations. It’s certainly a unique activity in Juneau!
We think those are the 21 best things to do in Juneau, Alaska… but there’s a lot more to explore!
Whether you’re in town for just a few hours with a cruise ship, or you’re visiting for longer, you’ll be at no loss for things to do in Juneau at any time of year, especially if you’re outdoorsy. You’ll want to bring a good raincoat, as you’ll be visiting a rainforest, but if you’re dressed for the weather, you’ll have a fantastic time exploring all the many awesome things to do in Juneau, Alaska!
Oh, and if you want more information for your trip to Juneau, click here to learn our trick for getting a free Alaska Lonely Planet guide download.
Lastly, before you go, be sure to pin this for later on Pinterest:
About the Author: Elizabeth is an Alaskan librarian/archivist and blogger at A Suitcase Full of Books. When not nose deep in a novel, or exploring literary destinations, she enjoys spending time in her Alaskan backyard.