A Cruise Passenger’s Guide to Juneau

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Alaska cruise ports - Juneau-Mendenhall visitor center
Alaska cruise ports – Juneau-Mendenhall visitor center

Discover Juneau, Alaska: A Cruise Ship Visitor’s Guide

We love Juneau! From the easily accessible Mendenhall Glacier, to the quaint & walkable downtown area, a visit to Juneau on your cruise is sure to be a highlight. With over 280 species of birds, brown and black bears, five species of salmon, and whales, Juneau is a terrific spot to plan to see much-anticipated wildlife. Of all the Alaska cruise ports, Juneau seems to have the MOST excursions to choose from. You can save money, and choose from dozens of choices of small group tours that guarantee your return to the ship, here.

Whether it’s exploring Mendenhall Glacier on a Float Trip, heading to a salmon bake, or booking one of the popular helicopter tours, you’re sure to enjoy what Juneau has to offer! Juneau is pretty walkable too, depending on where you dock. It’s fun to explore the local shops, feast on a bucket of crab at Tracy’s Crab or warm up with a Duck Fart (say whaaaat?) at the Red Dog Saloon! What the heck is a duck fart, you ask? Well, a Duck Fart is a delicious layered shot that’s made with Kahlua, Bailey’s Irish Cream and whiskey. Try one- it’s very Alaskan (wink!).

Or, maybe you’ll want to book a combination of a few different types of adventures- like Whale Watching AND a Salmon Bake (the sauce they slather over that salmon- YUM!). In Juneau, you can do that too!

Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, offers a unique blend of stunning wilderness, rich history, and vibrant culture, making it an exceptional destination for cruise ship visitors. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, history buff, or adventure seeker, Juneau has something to enchant everyone. In this guide, we’ll explore the top things to do in Juneau, what weather to expect, and how to dress appropriately for each activity to make the most of your visit.

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Introduction to Juneau, Alaska

Nestled between the Gastineau Channel and the towering mountains of the Juneau Icefield, Juneau is accessible only by sea or air (totally inaccessible by road), adding to its allure and tranquility. As a popular cruise ship stop, the city offers a wide range of activities that showcase its natural beauty and cultural heritage. Fun fact: Juneau is HUGE! Juneau is one of the largest municipalities in the United States and the largest capital in the US by area with a total area of 3,255 miles!

Top Activities and Outfits for Juneau Visitors

Mendenhall Glacier Tour & Activities

  • Activity: Visit the magnificent Mendenhall Glacier, located just 13 miles from downtown Juneau. The stunning Mendenhall Glacier is one of Juneau’s most famous attractions. You can explore the visitor center, walk the trails, or even kayak in Mendenhall Lake for a closer view of the glacier. This tour includes a city tour, and a visit to the glacier, and is perfect for first time visitors.
  • Want to see more from the water? The Mendenhall Glacier Float Trip takes you on a five mile route to take in the spectacular views of the glacier and allow you the opportunity to experience short sections of class three rapids for a 1 mile stretch.
  • Prefer a kayaking tour? Your professional nature guide talks about local flora and fauna, explaining the history behind landmarks such as Smuggler’s Cove. Back at the kayak base, you will enjoy a tasty Alaska style snack before the bus journey back to the pier.
  • How to Dress: Wear sturdy, waterproof hiking boots, layers including a thermal top, and a waterproof jacket. Consider bringing binoculars for wildlife viewing.
Alaska cruise ports - Juneau Mendenhall Glacier
Alaska cruise ports – Juneau Mendenhall Glacier

Whale Watching Excursions & Combos

  • Activity: Juneau is one of the best places in the world to watch humpback whales, especially from May through September. Escape the masses and join a SMALL GROUP guided whale watching boat tour to see these majestic creatures. These tours offer an unforgettable experience of Alaska’s marine life and they offer over three hours on water with the whales!
  • Do MORE! Looking to combine whale watching with a wonderful meal? This tour really packs in a ton of fun- Experience the thrill of guaranteed whale sightings in Juneau on a 48-passenger jet boat, feast on an all-you-can-eat Alaskan meal at the famous Gold Creek Salmon Bake, spot sea lions, harbor seals, Dall’s porpoises, and seabird and go gold panning at Wagner Mine.
  • How to Dress: Opt for warm layers and a heavy-duty waterproof coat. The wind on the water can be chilly, so a hat and gloves are recommended.

Salmon Bake

We’ll be honest, the salmon bake is pretty touristy. But, it’s darned delicious and you have to try it at least once! Book it as a combo tour, or alone!

  • Gold Panning & Salmon Bake: Keep all the gold you find on this thrilling Alaska Gold Panning and Salmon Feast Cruise Excursion in Juneau, then satisfy your hunger with a mouthwatering salmon bake at Gold Creek, complete with blueberry cake for dessert.
  • Whale Watching & Salmon Bake: A professional ship captain and naturalist welcomes you aboard the North Star, a state-of-the-art 48-passenger jet boat custom-designed for Juneau whale watching. Large windows, an outdoor viewing deck, and an amplified hydrophone system for listening to whales communicate underwater provide a unique encounter with the lovable creatures. If the day is clear, you’ll have a breathtaking view of the Mendenhall Glacier.You’ll probably be feeling hungry by now on this Juneau shore excursion. It’s time for an all-you-can-eat Alaskan feast. Featured on Bravo Television’s Top Chef, Gold Creek Salmon Bake is a delicious event grilled to perfection for over 38 years. Savor the aroma of wild Alaskan salmon grilling over a fragrant alder wood fire–the event’s signature entree. The delectable food spread has options for everyone; choose from a variety of Alaskan entrees, sides, and blueberry cake for dessert.
  • How to dress: casual layers are key, along with comfy shoes. You’ll probably be feeling hungry by now on this Juneau shore excursion.

Take the Tram to the TOP!

  • Activity: Zoom to the top of spectacular Mt. Roberts for a view of your cruise ship on the famous Mt. Roberts (aka Gold Belt) Tram. Tickets are a bit spendy, but it’s worth it for the views. HOT TIP: Spend some time hiking the short, well marked trails at the top. You paid a lot to get up there, and there’s a lot to see! An all day pass in 2024 was $55.00 for adults and $44.00 for kids. The Goldbelt Tram is located just just steps off the cruise ship dock. The tram makes a six-minute ascent up Mount Roberts to a height of about 1,800 feet. A restaurant, theater, and retail shop are located at the top of the tramway, as well as connections to trails leading both up and down the mountain. The tram has two 60-passenger cars, capable of moving 1050 people per hour UP Mount Roberts!
  • How to Dress: Wear water resistant outdoor shoes, and layers. It can get chilly at the top!

3 Juneau Tours you’ve NEVER heard of

Looking to do something new and DIFFERENT? These curated shore excursions are perfect for travelers looking to do something different on their visit to Juneau. They’re unique and uncommon, and offer something for everyone:

Prohibition Progressive Dinner Party: You’ll be treated to authentic Alaskan food, which is as much a part of the state’s history as its stories. To complement the dining experience, you’ll enjoy a selection of drinks that harken back to the prohibition era. These beverages, carefully chosen to reflect the period, add an element of authenticity to your journey. As you sip and savor, imagine the clandestine gatherings of the past, where the thrill of the forbidden added flavor to every drink.

Tongass National Forest Rainforest Meditation Walk: I told you we were getting creative here! Surrounded by the Tongass National Rainforest, this tour is not just a walk; it’s an intimate exploration of nature, for those who seek a deeper connection with the environment and themselves. Your walk includes guided, intentional breathing exercises and a healthy lunch, specially prepared to nourish your body and complement your mindful experience.

Juneau Sights and Sips by Jeep with Lunch: On this exclusive journey through the scenic landscapes of Juneau, Alaska, you’ll board private jeeps to explore landmarks such as the Mendenhall Glacier and the Shrine of St. Theresa. Your tour takes you away from the tourist crowds, ensuring an intimate experience as you explore the city’s hidden gems and scenic locales. Visit a harbor-side local craft brewery where you’ll have the pleasure of tasting menu items designed by the award-winning chef Lionel Uddipa.

Historical Downtown Walking Tour

  • Activity: Explore the rich history of Juneau by visiting the downtown area. Highlights include the iconic Alaska State Capitol, Juneau-Douglas City Museum, and numerous local shops and eateries.
  • How to Dress: Comfortable walking shoes, casual wear, and a light rain jacket should suffice, as this is a less physically demanding activity.
Alaska cruise ports - Juneau Tracy's King Crab Shack
Alaska cruise ports – Juneau Tracy’s King Crab Shack

Helicopter Tours and Dog Sledding

  • Activity: For a thrilling adventure, take a helicopter tour that lands on a glacier. Your Juneau excursion will take you over the spectacular rock formations and icefalls of the Juneau Icefield, as it heads toward the Herbert, Taku, Lemon, or Norris Glacier. Depending on weather conditions, your skilled pilot will choose the best glacier to touch down on, so you can do a little ice exploration.
  • On some tours, you can combine a helicopter tour with dogsledding. These bucket lists tours are worth saving for, and we highly recommend them for all ages! Your experienced pilot will fly you over the colossal ice fields and formations, deep blue crevasses, and luminous ice rivers of Alaska while pointing out the once-in-a-lifetime views below. Upon landing at your destination, it’s time to take part in Alaska’s favorite sport: dog sledding. Glacier-carved peaks open up before you as you approach the dozens of sled dogs, pups, and staff at the dog sled camp.
  • How to Dress: Gear up in insulated, waterproof outerwear, boots, and UV-protective sunglasses and sunscreen for your face, neck and hands. The glare off the glacier can be intense.
Alaska cruise ports - Juneau Helicopter
Alaska cruise ports – Juneau Helicopter

Hiking on Juneau’s Trails

  • Activity: Whether it’s the Perseverance Trail or Mount Roberts, hiking in Juneau offers breathtaking views and a chance to encounter local wildlife. For breathtaking views of Juneau and beyond, take the Mount Roberts Tramway. At the top, you can dine, shop, and hike trails that offer expansive views of the city and Gastineau Channel.
  • How to Dress: Dress in breathable layers and sturdy, waterproof hiking boots. A backpack with snacks, water, and a rain poncho is advisable.
Alaska cruise ports - Juneau Mount Roberts Goldbelt Tram
Alaska cruise ports – Juneau Mount Roberts Goldbelt Tram

Typical Weather Conditions in Juneau

Juneau’s climate is predominantly maritime, meaning mild temperatures and high levels of precipitation throughout the year. Summers are cool, with temperatures ranging from 50°F to 65°F (10°C to 18°C), making it an ideal season for cruise visitors. It’s not uncommon to experience a mix of sunshine, clouds, and rain during a single day, so preparing for varied conditions is key.

Conclusion

In sum, Juneau is a destination that promises an adventure as vast and profound as the glaciers it houses. Whether you are watching humpback whales breach in the cool Alaskan waters, hiking through the verdant trails of the Tongass National Forest, or exploring the rich history of the Treadwell Mine, Juneau offers a unique blend of natural beauty and historical depth that resonates with every traveler.

A cruise to Juneau is more than just a journey; it’s an opportunity to connect with nature’s marvels and to return home with stories that linger like the mist over Mendenhall Glacier. So as your ship pulls away from Juneau’s docks, and you watch the city fade against the mountainous backdrop, know that the memories you’ve made are as enduring as the landscapes you’ve explored.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Juneau, Alaska

Q: What is the best time of year to visit Juneau on a cruise? A: The ideal time to visit Juneau by cruise is between May and September when the weather is mildest and the days are longest. This period also offers the best opportunities for wildlife viewing, including whales and bears.

Q: What are the top excursions in Juneau? A: Popular excursions in Juneau include whale watching tours, helicopter flights over the Mendenhall Glacier, and hiking or guided walks in the Tongass National Forest. For a more cultural experience, visiting the Alaska State Museum and the historic sites of downtown Juneau are highly recommended.

Q: How can I see the Northern Lights in Juneau? A: The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are sometimes visible in Juneau but are more common in the colder months from late September to mid-April. For the best viewing, plan a night excursion away from the city lights and with a clear sky.

Q: Are there dining options available in Juneau that cater to special diets? A: Yes, Juneau offers a variety of dining options, including restaurants that cater to special dietary needs such as vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and seafood allergies. Many restaurants highlight local ingredients like salmon, halibut, and wild berries.

Q: What type of clothing should I pack for a cruise to Juneau? A: The weather in Juneau can be unpredictable, so it’s best to pack layers. Waterproof and windproof jackets, warm underlayers, and sturdy, water-resistant footwear are essential. Don’t forget accessories like gloves, hats, and scarves, especially if you’re planning to participate in outdoor excursions.

Q: Is Juneau accessible for travelers with disabilities? A: Many of the cruise ships and main attractions in Juneau are equipped to accommodate travelers with disabilities. However, it’s important to check with tour operators and venues in advance regarding specific accessibility needs, particularly for more adventurous activities like glacier treks.

Q: Can I bring back souvenirs from Juneau, and what are some recommended items? A: Absolutely! Juneau is a great place to shop for unique Alaskan souvenirs. Popular items include local Native crafts, jewelry made from natural materials like jade and ivory, and packaged salmon and other seafood products. Make sure any wildlife products comply with wildlife protection regulations.

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