|a l a s k a j o u r n e y . c o m|
Location/Climate: 560 air miles east-southeast of Anchorage on the continental mainland side of the Inside Passage. 92"/yr. precip. (downtown), 54"/yr. precip. (airport, 10 miles north of downtown), 101"/yr. snowfall, 20°F65°F.
Population: 29,755 (12.9 percent native, mainly Tlingit).
Travel Attractions: Mendenhall Glacier, Mount Roberts Tramway, city walking tour, Alaska State Museum, tours and backcountry access for Tracy Arm, Admiralty Island, Glacier Bay.
Getting There: Alaska Marine Highway System from Prince Rupert, Haines, and Sitka; scheduled air service from Anchorage and Seattle.
Americas most beautiful capital city is also its least recognizable. No capitol dome graces the meager skyline. No sprawling commons surround a stately government complex. Instead, a capitol that looks like an old bank is crowded among similarly inauspicious structures on a narrow backstreet of this small and wonderful town. In addition to being a compact city, easy to tour on foot in an afternoon, Juneau is the main gateway for backcountry activities in the northern panhandle.
Long a fishing camp for Tlingit Indians, Juneau came into existence in 1880 when Joe Juneau and Richard Harris discovered gold in Gold Creek. The town became the Alaska state capital in 1906. Mining declined in the 1930s and all but ended when the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mine closed in 1944. With new technologies available, mining is beginning again with as many as three major operations to be underway by the turn of the century.
Today Juneau is the chief city of the Southeast, a major regional transportation hub, and a destination for nearly a million visitors annually. Travelers arrive by plane, ferry, or cruise ship to enjoy a walking tour of historic and government sites, the shops and lanes of downtown, a tram ride up Mount Roberts, and the excellent exhibits of the state museum. The city has every modern convenience, including scores of restaurants, lodging options, and minor attractions. Mendenhall Glacierthe only glacier in the Southeast where close road access is possibleis the most popular destination for short excursions.
Located about 11 miles north of downtown, the Mendenhall Glacier is Juneaus premier attraction. Unless youre spending time with some wilder glaciers elsewhere, the Mendenhall is well worth a visit. The glacier ends at Mendenhall Lake, about 3 miles from the coast. The visitor center is at the lakes west end and features a viewing platform and naturalist-led activities. Below the lake is suburban Juneau. Capital Transits Mendenhall Valley buses (#3 and #4) run hourly from downtown to a spot 1- to 1.5 miles from the visitor center ($1.25, 789-6901). Various companies operating on or near the cruise dock offer tours (see the Appendix).
If youre driving, take the Glacier Highway north from town and turn right on Mendenhall Loop Road. Follow the signs for the visitor center and eastside trails. Continue on the Loop Road to reach Montana Creek Road, the Mendenhall Lake Campground, and the westside trailhead. All trailheads can be reached with a 1- to 1.5-mile walk from a city bus stop (ask the driver).
Hiking Trails near Juneau
Road access to Douglas Island and 45 miles of coastline makes it easy to get to several short but excellent hiking routes, including the following:
Amalga Trail (Eagle Glacier, 51/2 miles, 200' gain)The trailhead is north of Juneau at Mile 28.4 of the Glacier Highway. This easy hike passes beaver ponds on the way to great views of Eagle Glacier. RTall day.
East Glacier Loop (31/2 miles, 400' gain)One of the two main Mendenhall Glacier routes, this easy trail begins at the visitor center. Take Mendenhall Loop Road. Glacier views and wildlife. Loop23 hrs.
Mount Juneau Trail (4 miles including 1 mile on Perseverance, 2,900' gain)Head north from the junction, 1 mile up the Perseverance Trail. This steep, difficult trail climbs to the summit of Mount Juneau, which presides over the city. Certain sections require care, especially in the early summer when an ice axe may be handy. Stellar views! RTall day (because you wont want to come down).
Mount Roberts Trail (41/2 miles, 3,500' gain)The first 2 1/2 miles and 2,500 feet are via a steep but well-used route, from the upper end of 6th Street to a view, memorial cross, and tram station. The route continues a half mile to Gastineau Peak (3,666'), then 1H additional miles to the high ridge of Mount Roberts (3,819'), about 4H miles from town. For a shorter hike to the heights, use the Mount Roberts Tram to gain the early elevation and hike from there. RThalf day (with tram leg).
Perseverance Trail (3 miles, 700' gain)From downtown Juneau, take Gold Street to Basin Street and follow it to its end. This easy trail climbs gently to the site of old Perseverance Mine. Views, wildlife, and mining ruins. RT34 hrs.
Two miles in, the Perseverance links up with the Granite Creek Trail (1H miles, 1,200' gain plus Perseverance gain), a more difficult route that climbs to an old mining area in Granite Creek basin. RT34 hrs.
Sheep Creek Trail (6 miles, 900' gain)The route follows Sheep Creek Valley from the parking area and trailhead, 8 miles south of Juneau on Thane Road. Views and several mining sites. RTall day.
West Glacier Trail (3.4 miles, 1,300' gain)Take Mendenhall Loop Road to Montana Creek Road. Follow signs to campground and trailhead. More difficult but beautiful trail with outstanding glacier, valley, and icefall views. RT56 hrs.
Other Things to See and Do in Juneau
Alaskan Brewing CompanyBrewery tours are offered, followed by beer sampling. 5429 Shaune Drive, 780-5866. Open MaySeptember TuesdaySaturday; rest of year ThursdaySaturday; tours every half hour.
Alaska State CapitolDuck in for a peek and a self-guided walking tour if you wish, though dont expect much. A pamphlet points out architectural features, history, and artworks. Fourth Street between Seward and Main, open during government hours.
Alaska State MuseumA must-see in my book! As you might expect, it features permanent and rotating exhibits on the natural and human history of Alaska as well as displays of native arts. If its wet outside, this is a great place to come in from the rain for an hour or two. 395 Whittier Street, 465-2901, www.educ.state.ak. us/lam/museum/asmhome.html. Open business hours daily mid-MaySeptember; winter TuesdaySaturday; $4.
House of WickershamAt the age of 45, James Wickersham was the first white man to attempt the summit of Mount McKinley. He went on to become a Congressional delegate and district court judge, fighting along the way for the establishment of the Alaska Railroad and Mount McKinley National Park, as well as introducing the idea of Alaska statehood. His Victorian home (also home to other Alaska luminaries) is on the National Register of Historic Places. 213 7th Street, 586-9001. The house is open daily May 15October 1.
JuneauDouglas City MuseumAcross Main Street from the capitol, youll find this small museum of Juneau and local gold-mining history. Fourth and Main Streets, 586-3572. Open daily in summer; winter FridaySaturday; $2.
Last Chance Mining MuseumLocated at Jualapa Mine Camp National Historic District, this museum features mining-history items in an old compressor building. Mining ruins are found outside. Basin Road on Gold Creek, 586-5338. Open daily, morning and late afternoon, $3.
Mount Roberts TramwayClimbing from the cruise-ship area at the south end of downtown, the tram takes tourists up 2,000 feet to the slopes of Mount Roberts. You can link up with the Mount Roberts Trail, for the walk down, or for a hike deeper into the hills to Gastineau Peak and the Mount Roberts summit (see Mount Roberts Trail above). South Franklin Street at cruise docks, 463-3412. Open daily during tourist season, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., $16.
Naa Kahidi TheaterEssentially a native dance show for cruise tourists, Naa Kahidi is nonetheless worthwhile and true to form. Cultural Arts Park at cruise docks, 463-4844; check location or visitors bureau for performance times and admission.
Saint Nicholas Orthodox ChurchConsecrated in 1894, this unique National Historic and Architectural Site was founded at the request of Tlingit Indians and Slavic immigrants, using Russian blueprints and furnishings. Inside, you can view various icons and liturgical items. Weekend services are held in English, Slavonic, and Tlingit Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 10 a.m. 326 5th Street. Open mid-MaySeptember, daily 9 to 6, $1 donation.
Where to Stay in Juneau
Alaska Bed-and-Breakfast Association (booking service for over 30 area B&Bs), 586-2959. Good central resource for B&Bs, tour bookings, and rental cars.
The Alaskan Hotel and Bar, 167 Franklin Street, (800) 327-9347, 586-1000. $60 (shared bath), $75 (private bath or studio). This oldest operating hotel in Juneau (1913) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its charming, well-kept, reasonable, and right in town.
Inn at the Waterfront, 455 South Franklin Street, 586-2050. $60 and up (shared bath), $77 and up (private bath and suites). Historic hotel (once a brothel) with fine keeper and charming bar. Somewhat famous, but the remodeling cut some corners.
Juneau International Hostel, 614 Harris Street, Juneau, AK 99801, 586-9559. Beds range from $7 for members to $10 for nonmembers. Expect sex segregation and typical hostel rules.
Taku Lodge, head of Taku Inlet, 30 air miles from Juneau, 586-8258. The lodge caters to day-trippers and offers glacier and wildlife viewing, salmon-bake dining, and a chance to relax. Call for information on charter flights and packages. BL
Where to Eat in Juneau
Armadillo Tex-Mex Cafe, 431 South Franklin Street, 586-1880. Tasty and friendly! A favorite of mine.
Fiddlehead Restaurant and Bakery, by the Alaska State Museum, 429 W. Willoughby Avenue, 586-3150.
Hangar on the Wharf Pub & Grill, 2 Marine Way, 586-5018. Juneaus best selection of microbrews on the waterfront.
Heritage Coffee Company, 174 South Franklin Street, 586-1087. Open until 11 p.m.; good coffee and conversation.
Third Street Pizzeria, 3rd and North Franklin Streets, 586-1087. Good stuff!