9 Things to Do in Juneau, Alaska

Named for a gold prospector, Juneau, Alaska’s capital city welcomes more than a million visitors each summer. Downtown Juneau is pleasant and attractive with colorful buildings along a scenic waterfront. Topping the list of things to do in Juneau is simply walking around downtown, exploring shops and eateries.

The real highlight of the port of Juneau is its pristine natural surrounds. Hike or tram up Mount Roberts to chance upon wild deer and bald eagles. Kayak Auke Bay with a pair of binoculars to spy whales. Or take a flightseeing excursion to Chichagof Island or Admiralty Island to watch bears, who are born entertainers.

1. Go way up on the Juneau Tram

A ride on the Goldbelt Juneau Tram is an exhilarating adventure that leads to glorious views. Zip up 1,800 feet above the city to take in panoramas of the Chilkat Mountains, Stephens Passage, Douglas Island and the once rich-with-gold Silverbow Basin.

Once you’re at the top, you can wander sub-alpine meadows or savor a bite and a drink at a restaurant with the best view in town and the best view of town. This is a good first or last thing to do in Juneau.

2. Meet the Mendenhall Glacier

Meeting the Mendenhall Glacier is a rite of passage for Juneau visitors. It is a must-see, but the only question is from what angle. Some fly by in a floatplane or land on it in a helicopter; others hike in or take a tour bus and some even dog sled on it. Paddle across Mendenhall Lake and enjoy the immense glacier from the water. Along the way, you’ll pass icebergs and majestic Nugget Falls, and spot some of Alaska’s most beautiful birds, including bald eagles and arctic terns. Find out more about Alaska glaciers.

3. Watch Juneau’s Brown Bears

Go into brown bear territory via an Alaska bush plane. These Alaska wildlife tours take you close (but not too close) to these iconic Alaska animals on their home turf, to watch their captivating and sometimes amusing behaviors, like fishing or splashing in streams. Experienced guides give expert insights into the brown bear and their surrounds.

Many Juneau first-time visitors mistake one bear for another. Coastal brown bears and grizzlies may look similar, but they’re different. Coastal brown bears live along the Alaska coast and grizzlies live inland.

4. Visit Glacier Gardens

For a place known for frigid temps and inclement weather, Alaska is surprisingly, almost startingly green. There are boreal forests from the Kenai Peninsula to the Tanana Valley. A tour of Glacier Gardens shows off Alaska’s flora. Walk winding pathways up into the mountainside to gaze at cascading waterfalls and carefully manicured gardens. Features both native and non-native Alaska arrangements.

5. Explore History at Juneau-Douglas City Museum

This little yellow museum showcases Juneau’s fascinating history, from its roots as a Tlingit gathering place to its era as a literal gold mine. The building itself is something to see, as the site of the July 4th 1959 Statehood Ceremony. You can see an Alaska Native fish trap that dates back hundreds of years. Also check out totem poles and the 49th star flag.

6. Shop the Juneau Artist Gallery

When you want a one-of-a-kind souvenir or just to gaze upon a dizzying array of art, check out the Juneau Artists Gallery. This shop and exhibition space stay open year-round and are staffed by the artists themselves. From oils and watercolors to jewelry, carved birds and blown glass, the variety of Alaskan-made work available here affirms a thriving and supportive creative community.

7. See glaciers from a Juneau Seaplane

Juneau seaplane tours are the way to go to see the amazing Juneau Icefield, which is the source of 36 named glaciers, including the Taku Glacier and Mendenhall Glacier. Within minutes of your departure from downtown Juneau, you’ll soar over Alaska wilderness. On some seaplane tours, you can view five different glaciers from the air: Norris, Hole-in-the-Wall, Eat and West Twin Glaciers, the biggest, the Taku Glacier.

8. Go whale watching on Juneau’s Auke Bay

Did you know that female humpback whales have besties? Amazing! These are the kind of facts you learn on an Alaska whale watching tour. Whales are a joy to watch because they’re surprisingly acrobatic. Orcas and humpbacks breach and spy hop, which is when they poke their head vertically out of the water to get a better look. Auke Bay is a favored destination for humpback whales, but you may also spot orcas, sea lions, Dall’s porpoise, and other marine life on Juneau whale watching cruises.

Relax in a warm cabin while you look out for that signature spray or tail fluke.

9. Take a hike on a Juneau shore excursion

Juneau hiking is top-notch. You can hit the trail as part of an Alaska shore excursion, which is typically coupled with another adventure and lunch. The Mendenhall Glacier National Recreation Area has serene trails. Traipse through lush meadows, past waterfalls in the Tongass National Forest on a guided hike.

Or hike Juneau at your own leisure. There are 250 miles of Juneau hiking trails, so you’ll have your pick. Carefully consider your comfort level, ability to prepare and the timing.

Popular Juneau Hiking Trails

  • Rainforest Trail, a wheelchair and stroller-accessible trail loops 0.8 of a mile through old growth forest down to a pebbly beach with island and mountain vistas.
  • Perseverance Trail, an out-and-back trail from downtown Juneau to Silverbow Basin and an abandoned mine.
  • Not for the tenderfoot, Mount Roberts Trail is another popular Juneau hiking trail that goes up to 1,760 feet.
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