The capital of Alaska and the USA’s second-largest city by area, Juneau is a key port of call on Alaskan voyages operated by lines such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Carnival Cruises because of the large number of attractions and spectacular natural wonders which are within easy reach of the city. Within Juneau itself, there’s also a fascinating history to explore, too.
As it lies in a region which played a significant role in the American Gold Rush, it’s perhaps not surprising that Juneau was named after the Canadian gold prospector Joe Juneau, who discovered gold there and co-founded the city with fellow prospector Richard Harris. It has been Alaska’s capital since 1906 and is today part of the Municipality of Juneau, along with Douglas and the greater Juneau Borough, after merging with them in 1970.
If it’s natural beauty you’re after, then Juneau’s the place, as there’s so much to see nearby and all manner of excursions are operated from the city. Tracy Arm Fjord is perhaps the most famous natural attraction associated with Juneau; a spectacular body of water which carves two glaciers; North and South Sawyer.
The Mendenhall Glacier, which boasts an excellent and informative visitor centre, is another hugely popular excursion from Juneau, and together with the spectacular Mendenhall Valley it forms the protected Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area. There are a number of trails from the centre which all offer spectacular views of the glacier and surrounding scenery another key Juneau attraction can be found along one of them; Nugget Falls. Formed by the Nugget Glacier creek, the falls drop some 377 feet into Mendenhall Lake and offer some fantastic photo opportunities.
Mount Roberts is another popular natural wonder and whether you choose to take an exhilarating tram ride (these trams are more like big cable cars) or a scenic (albeit slightly more demanding) hike to the summit, you’ll enjoy a great view of both the city and the Chilkat Mountains.
The Juneau Rainforest Garden is the best natural attraction close to the city if you really want to get up close with Alaska’s plant life as well as experience its stunning vistas. Examples of Alaska’s wildly-contrasting indigenous vegetation are all on display and you’ll encounter everything from tiny flowers to towering spruces.
There are a number of cultural attractions which all play their part in telling Juneau’s story. Built to honour Alaska’s patron saint, the Shrine of St Therese is a tranquil place for quiet contemplation regardless of your faith, located about 20 miles from Juneau on a tiny island.
The city’s also home to the Alaskan State Museum, which is the ideal place to learn all about the history of Alaska, from the story of its native peoples to Russia’s later ownership. Speaking of Russia, a legacy of the country’s link with the region and a popular cultural attraction is St Nicholas, a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church which offers visitors a little slice of Eastern Europe in Alaska.
The Last Chance Mining Museum meanwhile, is the place to go to find out all about the history of the region’s gold mining industry and the role it played in the great American Gold Rush.
By Simon Brotherton