Up in the Mountains, Out on the Sea – Juneau offers plenty for intrepid travelers.
By Mary Catharine Martin
When I first got to Juneau, I was awed by the steep, cliff-like mountains; the gray-blue glacial water; and the wilderness that was a five-minute walk from my house. Eventually, I hiked my way into a job editing the Outdoors section of the local paper.
It may rain a lot, but all that rain is essential to creating the Tongass National Forest, a one-of-a-kind place that we, the bears, the salmon, the whales, and innumerable other animals call home. If your Alaska cruise begins or calls on Juneau, here are my insider tips to making the most of your time on shore.
Things to do in Juneau
A huge percentage of visitors go see the Mendenhall Glacier, one of 38 glaciers making up the Juneau Icefield — a mountainous, frozen expanse dividing Juneau and Canada. To really get up close, book a guided trip. There’s nothing like walking around on a dense, frozen, slow-motion river of ice, peering down into the cobalt depths or — if you’re lucky and a guide deems them safe enough — stepping into one of the glacier’s shimmering, crystalline ice caves.
If It’s Free, It’s For Me
Step off your cruise ship and look up. The mountains are calling. Juneau has hundreds of trails, and you can access them from pretty much anywhere. A great, medium-grade hike just a 10-minute walk from downtown is Perseverance Trail. At one point it was the first road in Alaska, used to get to Silverbow Basin, where Chief Kowee of the Auk Kwaan Tlingit people led prospectors Joe Juneau and Richard Harris to gold in 1880. Now it’s a three-mile trail each way that’s dotted with interpretive signs. Walk up Gold Street and when it curves to the right and then the left, keep going.
Off the Beaten Path
Rent a kayak from Alaska Boat & Kayak Shop in Auke Bay. Once you pick up your kayak, they’ll drop you anywhere on Juneau’s road system. Depending on your location, you’ll have a chance to see seals, sea lions, or icebergs up close and on your own. You can also take off for a longer, overnight camping trip at, say, nearby Admiralty Island (its Tlingit name, Kootznoowoo, means “Fortress of the Bears”) or take a motorboat to kayak the iceberg-filled Tracy Arm fjord. Just be careful and know your stuff — Alaska’s waters can cause hypothermia in as few as 15 minutes.
How Not to Look Like a Tourist
No one in Juneau carries an umbrella unless they’re a tourist. Locals like to say that because the rain blows every which way, umbrellas don’t do any good. But really we’re just masochists, and we wear our raingear so much we can’t figure out how….
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