Everything You Need to Know Before You Go to Juneau, Alaska

Juneau, Alaska is a popular port if you are taking a cruise to Alaska, but it's also a great place to plan a stand-alone trip too as well. There are plenty of shore excursions to take so that you can explore this Southeast Alaska gem. This Alaska town, like many others, was born because of gold and after a whole treasure trove was found and a rush occurred, Juneau became the state capital. It's fairly easy to get to. From Seattle, it's only a two-hour flight. So come explore Juneau, Alaska and see what you should plan while you are there!


Visiting Juneau, Alaska: Everything You Need to Know!


Getting around Juneau

If you come into Juneau on a cruise ship, the port is downtown making everything an easily accessible walk. You'll find that most of the excursions and tours will have direct pick-ups in the downtown area. It's very convenient.

If you are flying into Juneau, the airport is about a 20-minute drive outside of the downtown area. Uber/Lyft are the more expensive {about $35} and less convenient option since there are so few in the area, a taxi is your best bet to get you into the city and will cost you about $25. 

I have been to Juneau twice, once on a cruise and a second time flying in from Seattle. It was easy to navigate the area without a car rental, though if you want to explore more rural parts of the area, renting a car may be your best bet.

Everything You Need to Know Before You Book a Cruise to Alaska

If you are considering a cruise to Alaska, Holland America is hands down the best line for Alaska Cruises. They've been coming to Alaska for 75+ years {since before it was a state} and set the bar for other cruise lines. You'll get fresh wild caught local seafood on board through a new partnership with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. And there are amazing in-depth opportunities to learn more about Alaska and the wildlife, landscape, and history from Park Rangers brought on board and from local experts as well as information sessions by the cruise director.


What I Wish I Had Packed on My Cruise to Alaska

When to Visit Juneau

It's not unusual to find 5-7 cruise ships docked in port daily from May until September. You'll find most excursions running along that same cruise port schedule. The weather changes quickly, but the days are long and occasionally sunny. Many businesses and popular attractions close after the summer season, but if you don't mind exploring the area like a local, you'll find some great deals in the offseason. 

Visiting Homer? Check out this post!

On a Cruise? Should You Book a Ship Excursion?

If you are traveling to Juneau on a cruise, there are more benefits than not to booking an excursion directly through the cruise line. They are slightly more expensive, but so is missing your departure and having to buy a plane ticket to catch up with the cruise at the next port. This literally happens to at least one person/group on every cruise sailing. Believe me, I've asked the captain, the cruise director, heck even the PR executives of the cruise line because I've been curious!

If you book an excursion through the cruise line, and something happens {a transfer bus breaks down, an excursion runs long for any unexpected reason, etc...}, the cruise will not leave without you. So yes, the excursion costs a little bit more, but consider it insurance so you don't miss the boat. Literally.

Not on a Cruise? Negotiate!

I recently walked up and down the dock in front of the cruise ship terminal and chatted with a few of the excursion salespeople in the booths. First of all, if you aren't on a cruise, your time is more flexible. I found that I could easily negotiate rates for the excursions simply by asking. At two different booths, I was able to negotiate whale-watching excursions down by about 40%. 


There are a few things to keep in mind while trying to negotiate though. They are looking to fill empty spaces that day so be prepared to be flexible. Ask how many spaces they are looking to fill. If there are just two or three empty spaces for a full excursion, they are going to be less likely to negotiate but if they have a half-full whale-watching boat, they want people in those seats and you'll be more likely to negotiate a better rate.

The Best Excursions in Juneau


Juneau Glacier Tours

Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most easily accessible glaciers in the United States. It's part of Tongass National Forest and is 12 miles from downtown Juneau. The Mendenhall Glacier is one of the many major glaciers that connect to the Juneau Ice Field, a 1500 square mile remnant of the last ice age. 


How to Get to Mendenhall Glacier

The best way to get to Mendenhall Glacier is with a tour. You can head to the visitors center {open daily from 8 am-7:30 pm during the summer season}, but there's no inexpensive way to get there on your own. 

You can take the city bus for around $2, but it will take you about an hour and it drops passengers off about a mile and a half from the entrance. There are two private shuttle companies that will take you for around $55/per person round trip. Uber/Lyft are hard to come by, but they are your best option going into the park at around $25. The taxis are required to charge a fee {even if you have a parks pass}, so it will cost you around $45. However, on the way out, a taxi is less expensive. So if you want to go on your own, Uber/Lyft in, and take a taxi on the way out. 


Explore Mendenhall Glacier From the Water

There are a few different options to explore the glacier from the water. You can take a sea kayaking tour {around 3 1/2 hours} leaving from Auke Bay {the same bay the whale-watching tours explore, so you may get to see some amazing sea life}. Most kayaking trips are two-person kayaking trips, so it's best to have a partner and not an odd number on these types of excursions. Sometimes you get paired up with the guide, but sometimes it's a stranger and that can be awkward or awesome depending on your personality.

There are also rafting tours, where overall, you'll experience a relatively calm-water ride, but there are some class II and III rapids and you might get a little wet. You can also explore the waters on a canoe trip {ages 12 and up}, some even allow you to walk up and around the glacier to explore a bit more.


Explore Mendenhall Glacier From the Air

Flightseeing tours are very common in Alaska and will allow you to get up above it all and see just how very vast and diverse Alaska is. With all flightseeing excursions, please know that they can and will be canceled if the weather conditions are not optimal. This is for your own safety and while it's disappointing, it is something that should be understood before booking. 

A helicopter tour allows you to land on the glacier and then walk around and explore. The helicopter ride is only about 20 minutes but it will allow you to see various parts of the glacier as you fly above. There are three different adventures you can take once you are on the glacier, the walkabout {the least strenuous and includes a one-hour walkabout for a total of 3 1/2 hours}, the trek {slightly more strenuous with about 2 hours of walking on the glacier for a total of 4 1/2 hours}, or the x-trek {extreme exploring with some vertical rope climbs on ice walls}

You can also combine a helicopter tour with a dog sled adventure. There's nothing that screams traditional Alaska like dog sledding and this is often a very memorable tour for those who book it.

Whale Watching

I'm going to start this by saying that I've not gone whale watching in Juneau, but I have done a bit of research to find mixed reviews on this excursion. If you are on a cruise ship that will be stopping in Icy Straight, I have heard that whale watching is better in that location. So if you have the choice, book whale watching in Icy Straight and enjoy other options in Juneau. If you are visiting Juneau and whale watching is a bucket list item, here are the top-rated customer tours I have found that I'd recommend booking. 

Harv & Marv's: small vessels with six passengers or larger with 18, they boast more time on the water than the other guys
Jayleen's Alaska: A small {6 passengers max} tour perfect for groups and family's
Alaska Humpback Adventure: small group passenger tour and very personable crew with great customer service


Mt. Roberts

Mt. Roberts is a 3,819-foot mountain notable for its easy access to downtown Juneau. There are two ways to get up the mountain, you can hike it, or take the Goldbelt tram from the cruise ship terminal. 


Goldbelt Tram

The Goldbelt Tram {formerly Mt. Roberts Tramway}, is an aerial tram that takes a 6-minute ascent to get from the bottom of the cruise ship port to about 1800 feet up where you'll find a restaurant, theater, and nature center as well as hiking trails that will allow you to get a different view of the city. 

There isn't a great way to book tickets ahead of time, but instead, it's easy to buy a ticket for the tram when you arrive. It's around $45 per person {children 3-13 are $30} and will provide unlimited rides up and down the mountain.


Hike Mt. Roberts

I hiked Mt. Roberts on my last visit and I really enjoyed it. I always find that one of the best ways to really explore an area is to get out into nature and explore it on foot! I thought that the trailhead would have been close to the tram terminal and it is not. The Mt. Roberts trailhead is an easy walk through downtown Juneau about .7 miles {there are some signs, but google maps are helpful}. The trailhead is on Basin Road and it's well marked. Follow the signs up towards the tram. It's a two-mile hike through a very beautiful wooded forest with several peek-a-boo glimpses to the water below. 


There are a lot of tree roots and the trail can get muddy. The 2-mile hike gains about 1800 feet of elevation pretty quickly, so you will be working up a sweat. If you have knee problems, this is probably not the trail for you.

Once at the top of the tram, you can continue to hike up towards the peak for about 2 more miles. This path is a slower gradient through alpine hills and it was much less muddy. 

If you want to ride the tram down, they ask that you spend $15 {they do ask to see your receipt}, in the gift shop or at the restaurant but then you can join the line to head down the mountain on the tram and end up downtown, or you can take the way back down that you hiked up.

Juneau alaska know before you go

Hundreds of thousands of travelers make their way to Juneau every summer, and you can easily see why after just spending a few hours in this beautiful town in Southeast Alaska. Don't miss taking the time to explore it. I promise, once you do, you'll fall more in love with Alaska!

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