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13 Most Unforgettable Things to Do in Juneau, Alaska: Tours, Excursions, and More

Alaska’s capital city feels more like a small town, the perfect place to experience the state’s history and witness a wealth of wildlife and spectacular scenery. It sits on a hillside overlooking Gastineau Channel in the Inside Passage, with the downtown area tucked between the water, Mount Roberts and Mount Juneau. The area is full of incredible lodging options including hotels and vacation rentals with breathtaking views. A myriad of outdoor adventures can be enjoyed within minutes from here, and these especially unforgettable tours, excursions, and things to do should be added to your itinerary.

Whale Watching with Jayleen's Alaska Humpback whale breaching while whale watching with Jayleen's Alaska
Credit: Humpback whale breaching while whale watching with Jayleen's Alaska by jayleensalaska.com

Whale Watching with Jayleen's Alaska

If you want to see whales, you’re in the right spot as Juneau is often named the very best place in the state to do it between May and early September, with countless humpbacks just off the city’s shores. For an intimate experience with a local expert, Jayleen’s Alaska can’t be beat. Jayleen grew up in the area in a whale watching family and will take you out with just a small group, bringing the opportunity to learn all about the animals while watching what’s pretty much guaranteed to be a show you won’t ever forget. In addition to humpbacks, you might spot orcas, particularly in July and August, along with seals, sea lions, bald eagles, and more.

Paddle with Whales! Kayak Adventure Kayaking near Juneau
Credit: Kayaking near Juneau by K.C. Dermody

Paddle with Whales! Kayak Adventure

If paddling among whales and other marine life sounds like fun, this adventure starts by bringing you through the Inside Passage to Channel Islands State Marine Park, the heart of humpback whale feeding, in a small boat. The captain will determine the best spot to launch, the one with the greatest odds of spotting humpbacks. You’ll likely have plenty of curious sea lions around you, along with breathtaking mountain scenery. And, if the whales are off in the distance, you and your group can decide if you prefer to hop back on the boat and travel to them.

Hike to Nugget Falls and Mendenhall Glacier Nugget Falls at Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau
Credit: Nugget Falls at Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau by K.C. Dermody

Hike to Nugget Falls and Mendenhall Glacier

While there are tours that can bring you to Mendenhall Glacier, if you prefer to take in the sights without the crowds, go on your own. If you haven’t rented a vehicle, public transit, shuttle service, or a taxi can take you to the visitor center. While you can easily see the glacier in the distance from there, for the very best view, plan your visit early in the morning before cruise passengers arrive and hike the short Nugget Falls Trail. Just .8 miles one way, it leads right to the breathtaking waterfall that plunges 377 feet onto a beach, and a close-up view of the 13.6-mile-long glacier. Keep an eye out for seals and the occasional bear too.

Visit Eagle Beach Bald Eagle at Eagle Beach, Juneau
Credit: Bald Eagle at Eagle Beach, Juneau by K.C. Dermody

Visit Eagle Beach

About a 30-minute drive along Glacier Highway will bring you Eagle Beach. While bald eagles can be seen throughout the area, there is a very high concentration here as they come for the salmon that can be seen swimming through shallow streams out on the flats. Despite it being one of the best places to see bald eagles up close in their natural habitat, few visitors make it out this way which means it’s likely to be just you and the birds. The views of Lynn Canal, the Chilkat Mountains, and Juneau Mountains make it even more photogenic.

Mount Roberts Tramway Mount Roberts Tramway
Credit: Mount Roberts Tramway by Wikimedia Commons

Mount Roberts Tramway

If you want an aerial view of the city and its surrounding, one of the best ways to do it is to hop on the Mount Roberts Tramway. It will carry you 1,800 feet up to the summit of the mountain in six minutes, while providing magical vistas of Juneau, the Gastineau Channel, and Douglas Island on the other side. Once at the top you can hike miles of scenic trails, visit a gift shop and nature center. There’s a theater if you want to learn more about the indigenous Tlingit people while the Timberline Restaurant offers tasty traditional Alaskan fare.

Helicopter Tour and Guided Icefield Walk Helicopter Tour and Guided Icefield Walk
Credit: Helicopter Tour and Guided Icefield Walk by Viator.com

Helicopter Tour and Guided Icefield Walk

This excursion brings a true bird’s-eye view over the area with a helicopter flight that soars over rainforest, icefalls and rock formations while the pilot/guide provides insight into Alaska’s natural history. Many feel that it’s a highlight of a trip to Southeast Alaska. One thing’s for sure, being able to look down at Juneau Icefield from above, landing on Herbert Glacier and walking right on the icefield while learning about the local geology is a unique experience. The glacier is tucked high into the mountains, bringing countless photo-ops too.

Pack Creek Bear Tour Brown bear on Admiralty Island
Credit: Brown bear on Admiralty Island by Forest Service Alaska Region

Pack Creek Bear Tour

If a close up look at brown bears is what you’re after, you might want to plan your trip around the Pack Creek Bear Tour, with the best time to see them in late July and August. A floatplane will bring you and a small group of no more than 10 over Tongass National Forest before paddling in a kayak to Windfall Harbor and venturing into the protected Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area. Here in the Alaskan wilderness you’ll get to witness the bears feasting on salmon in the rivers and perhaps frolicking in the meadows, roaming free in their natural environment. As these tours are so popular and the number of visitors quite limited, you’ll need to book well in advance.

Alpine Zipline Adventure Alpine Zipine Adventure
Credit: Alpine Zipine Adventure by Viator.com

Alpine Zipline Adventure

Don’t miss this one if you like zipline adventures. You’ll head through the Tongass National Forest to Eaglecrest Lodge on Douglas Island, just across the channel from Juneau. Sail through the canopy of trees on five different zipline routes with specially designed platforms to stop along the way, enjoy the views, and capture Instagrammable shots. You’ll also cross a 150-foot suspension bridge that hovers above a roaring stream and conclude it all by testing your axe throwing skills.

Alaska State Museum Alaska State Museum
Credit: Alaska State Museum by Wikimedia Commons

Alaska State Museum

Exploring the Alaska State Museum is a great thing to do on a rainy day or anytime for those who want to learn more about Juneau and Alaska’s past. It showcases a wide range of artifacts with exhibits that include everything from topics like native cultures and the state’s Russian colonial eras to mining, fishing, forestry, and fine art.

Juneau Underground Gold Mine and Panning Experience Results of gold panning
Credit: Results of gold panning by bigstock.com

Juneau Underground Gold Mine and Panning Experience

Many Alaskan towns were built on gold, through treasure hunters and those who supported them, including Juneau. Its 1880 gold rush resulted in some of the world’s largest gold mines, and this tour will bring you back in time to experience it. Begin with a short ride along the Gastineau Channel, then put on your hardhat before strolling 360 feet along a boardwalk and into the state’s only underground tunnel tour. An experienced miner will demonstrate hard rock mining and fill you in on the mining style. You’ll get insight into why this mill was so unique, watch the John Peterson Stampmill in operation and try your hand at panning for gold and garnets. You get to keep what you find, and they say “pay dirt is guaranteed.” Check out the very first steam engine brought to Alaska along with informative displays, and pick up souvenirs at the General Store.

Day Trip to Tracy Arm Fjord Tracy Arm Fjord
Credit: Tracy Arm Fjord by © Donald Fink - Dreamstime.com

Day Trip to Tracy Arm Fjord

An exciting day trip can take you through some of Alaska’s most magnificent fjords, with Tracy Arm often referred to as one of the state’s top treasures. There are a long list of outfitters that depart right from downtown, including the most highly rated Adventure Bound Alaska. They’ll bring you to see the face of Sawyer Glacier and the icebergs that float out front, with hundreds of seals and their pups often lounging on them, soaking up the sun when it’s shining. If you’re lucky you’ll even get to witness ice calving, with the ice plunging off the glacier into the water with a booming crash.

Wander Through Downtown Historic buildings in downtown Juneau
Credit: Historic buildings in downtown Juneau by © Darryl Brooks - Dreamstime.com

Wander Through Downtown

Downtown Juneau offers lots of things to do whether you want to experience its frontier history in museums like the Douglas City Museum with exhibits focusing on local history, art and culture, shop or dine. It can be fun just to wander around as the entire area is like one big open-air museum with historic saloons, churches, and more. In the Walter Soboleff Building you can check out Alaska’s largest installation of Southeast Alaska Native art with works by the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples. Downtown Juneau is also a great place to stay, with dozens of hotels from boutique hotels to well-known chains and more. 

Feast at Tracy's King Crab Shack Sign at Tracy's King Crab
Credit: Sign at Tracy's King Crab by jimmywayne

Feast at Tracy's King Crab Shack

For those who like crab, your trip to Juneau won’t be complete without dining at Tracy’s King Crab Shack. This isn’t just a place that caters to tourists, it’s where the locals go for the best crab in town when they aren’t catching it themselves. It’s become so popular they’ve had to open up a second location to help prevent the lines from growing so long. While the locally caught crab legs are the star, there’s crab bisque, crab cakes, and other items on the menu too. On a summer’s day, enjoy your mouth-watering feast outdoors while gazing out at the beauty of the waterfront.

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