Inspiration’s Top 5 Things to Do in Juneau, Alaska
Known as the gateway to Alaska’s wilderness, Juneau is far more than the state’s capital city. Its raw beauty and wild scenery encapsulate what we love about this part of the world. A modern city with a frontier past, it offers everything from hiking near icefields to watching humpback whales breach the deep blue waters of Auke Bay! Here are just a few of the best experiences in Juneau, from the perspective of local insiders.
“This is the real Alaska,” says Serene Hutchinson, the General Manager of Juneau Tours and Whale Watch. This family business has been introducing visitors to the region’s wonders for the past 15 years. “Juneau is a small town, and the people here take pride in showing off their town. There are no tourist traps here.”
The epic natural beauty of Mendenhall Glacier is one of her favorite things to introduce cruise travelers and first-time visitors to. The deep blue crevices of this 12-mile-long ice sheet spill into the sparkling Mendenhall Lake.
While Alaska is known for its bush pilots and floatplanes (keep reading!), places like Mendenhall Glacier are accessible by car. In fact, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is just a 12-minute journey from the cruise port. “You can drive right up to it and view [the glacier] from less than a mile away,” Hutchinson says.
A platform and walkways allow for easy viewing from across the lake, including views of the tiered Nugget Falls. Surrounding the center are miles of walking paths and plenty of wildlife, including mountain goats, bears and spawning salmon.
Alaska’s bush pilots—the “taxi drivers” of the state—hold legendary status in far-flung wilderness areas like Juneau. Wings Airways, another family business and Inspiration partner, is home to some of the best bush pilots in the world. “So much of the beauty around Juneau is only accessible by plane or boat. It’s incredibly remote,” says Holly Johnson, the President of Wings Airways. “But there’s so much to experience: glaciers, wilderness, wildlife, culture and history.”
Her company offers a set of popular tours that allow visitors to view multiple glaciers from a unique airborne perspective. The 5-Glacier Seaplane Exploration Tour shows off Juneau’s icy wonders in all their glory.
“You are guaranteed to see something extraordinary,” Johnson says. “It’s hard to imagine the expanse of the ice and glaciers until you are flying above them. If you’ve come this far [to Alaska], don’t miss going a little farther to experience the vastness of this wilderness.” On these flights, expert narration unpacks the natural wonder, and every guest sits by a window seat as their plane soars above the azure crevices and meltwater pools of the 1,500-square-mile-long Juneau Icefield.
Taku Glacier Lodge
Mary Joyce’s pioneering 1,000-mile-long dogsled journey through the Alaska wilderness is legendary in Alaska. In fact, it put this historic 1923 hunting and fishing lodge on the map almost a century ago. Joyce went on to become one of the state’s first female bush pilots and political candidates, and her historic property is now a prominent destination for visitors to Juneau.
Our friends at Wings Airways transport travelers over sparkling glaciers en route to this wilderness retreat. The lodge itself is on the National Register of Historic Places. Surrounded by untouched rainforest, guests can relax with majestic views on every side before enjoying a savory meal of fresh, wild-caught salmon cooked outdoors at the lodge.
“It’s quiet and close to the wilderness,” says Johnson of Wings Airways. “You can even see black bears meandering in the distance at times.” A family-friendly retreat, this getaway is perfect for those looking for breathtaking views or simply a place to sit and reflect on God’s creation. “Visitors return time and again for the friendly atmosphere and authentic experience,” Johnson says.
An annual migration from Hawaii brings dozens of humpback whales more than 3,000 miles across the ocean into the protected waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage. Teeming with baitfish, the nutrient-rich waters near Juneau fed by melting glaciers make whale-watching a highlight of any visit.
Our friends at Juneau Whale Watch offer the perfect experience, using smaller catamarans that hold up to 49 people—with fully heated cabins and plenty of deck space for viewing, without the crowds. “It never gets old, even for me,” says Serene Hutchinson. “Even now, after years, the experience of seeing a whale crest the water takes my breath away. They are so peaceful to watch.”
These smaller boats have the ability to navigate narrow passages that cruise ships can’t, taking them closer to the shoreline. That means more wildlife, including the whales themselves and bears stalking the water’s edge. Even an occasional orca greets whale watchers. Once a whale is spotted, the boat stops to give passengers ample time to observe its behavior while a naturalist shares about these amazing creatures.
Nestled against towering mountains and surrounded by lush forests, this coastal gem includes charming shops, delicious restaurants and waterfront views. Founded during the gold rush of 1880, Alaska’s capital city is home to another kind of rush these days, as travelers flock to this land of scenery and adventure.
Each of these excursions represents a once-in-a-lifetime moment for our passengers. But we’ll be honest: Inspiration staff members enjoy these experiences too, every time we accompany travelers to Juneau. We can’t wait to return and take you with us!
Juneau never fails to foster newfound respect for the natural world and a deeper intimacy with God through the glorious displays of creativity and strength.