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The Best Things to do in Juneau Alaska Cruise Port!

Updated: Mar 2

One of my favorite stops on an Alaskan cruise is Juneau Alaska. Visiting a Glacier, a Salmon Hatchery, attending a salmon bake, panning for gold, hiking, and spotting a waterfall make for a real busy day. Those activities were just on one of cruises I took. In this post I will go over the best things to do in Juneau Alaska cruise port area. Plus, I will touch on history, best places to eat (if not attending a salmon bake) and accommodations for those of you who are actually here for a bit of time and not on a cruise ship. That is what happens when you visit Juneau on a cruise, you want to come back and stay for an extended amount of time.


Many cruise lines make stops in Juneau Alaska, in fact I can't think of a single cruise line that doesn't. So, wither you are cruising on NCL, Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean or any other cruise line, you are bound to have a stop in Juneau Alaska. I have been on a couple Alaska cruises and both times there was a stop in Juneau.


Brief History of Juneau Alaska

Juneau has a fascinating history as a gold mining town and the capital of Alaska. Visit the Juneau-Douglas City Museum to learn about the city's past, indigenous cultures, and the gold rush era. You can also take guided tours that delve into the history of Juneau and its role in shaping Alaska.

The area around present-day Juneau has been inhabited by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The Tlingit people, specifically the Auke and Taku tribes, have deep historical and cultural ties to the region.

In 1741, Russian explorer Vitus Bering led an expedition that reached Alaska. Russian fur traders began establishing trading posts in the region, including one on nearby Admiralty Island. In 1880, gold was discovered in the Gastineau Channel by Joseph Juneau and Richard Harris, leading to a gold rush. The town that developed around the gold mine was named after Joseph Juneau. The discovery of gold brought an influx of settlers, transforming Juneau into a bustling mining town.


In 1906, Juneau became the capital of the newly formed Alaska Territory. The decision was made due to the city's strategic location and its economic importance as a mining center. Juneau remains the capital of Alaska to this day. After the gold rush declined, Juneau's economy diversified. Fishing, logging, and tourism became significant industries. The city's accessibility to glaciers, mountains, and the nearby Inside Passage contributed to its popularity as a tourist destination.

Alaska achieved statehood in 1959. Juneau continued to grow and develop as the political, administrative, and cultural hub of the state. Today, it is a vibrant city that embraces its natural surroundings while preserving its unique history.



Attractions and things to do in Juneau Alaska cruise port area.

Of course, you can buy excursions from the cruise ship, and these are some of what is offered on the ship. But you can also buy tours off the cruise ship which can be less expensive. It's you choose this route it's same tours they just have different prices. The cruise ship excursions are protected though, if an excursion is running late, the ship will not leave without you. Shore excursions are a great way to get to know the area and explore. The guides on these excursions are full of information and will give you info about Alaska's capital city along with answer questions about culture, flora, and fauna.


Prepare to be awestruck by the sheer beauty and magnitude of Mendenhall Glacier. As you approach the glacier, you'll witness its massive expanse of ice, shimmering blue hues, and towering ice walls. It's an incredible sight that will leave you in awe of the power and beauty of nature. This is one of the best things to see in Juneau Alaska.


Mendenhall was the glacier I visited while in Juneau and it is located 13 miles away from downtown or the cruise port area, so you can take a tour from the ship or take a tour on your own. The city bus can get you close to the visitor center at Mendenhall Glacier, but the city of Juneau has asked to avoid using the city bus because it puts too much pressure on the city and the locals use this bus in their daily lives. So many tourists using the city buses prevent the locals from getting to work or wherever they need to go easily. Mendenhall Glacier is part of the Tongass National Forest, which is massive and stretches from Ketchikan Alaska in the south, and north past Juneau Alaska. Tongass National Forest is 26,100 square miles or 16.7 million acres large.


Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier

Lace up your hiking boots and explore the trails that surround Mendenhall Glacier. The most popular trail is the Nugget Falls Trail, which takes you on a scenic journey through the forest to a breathtaking viewpoint overlooking the glacier and the stunning Nugget Falls. It's a moderate hike that rewards you with spectacular views. You will have plenty of time to do hiking if you are here from a cruise ship tour, but to really explore the whole trail you will be pushing it to get back to the tour bus. So, if you want to spend all day here, come up on your own to avoid time restraints on cruise tours. Several from my tour group did the whole trail but did not stop at the visitor center because they wanted to do the whole trail. They made it back in time to the tour bus before it left.


Start your visit at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, where you can learn more about the glacier's formation, history, and its significance to the surrounding ecosystem. The center offers informative exhibits, interactive displays, and knowledgeable rangers who can answer your questions. They can answer questions about the glacier or Tongass National Forest too. On the trails you will spot Bald Eagles (look in the trees, if you spot something white in the summer months it's a bald eagle). Possibly brown bears, or mountain goats can be spotted, so always keep an eye out. I spotted a Banana Slug, which I never expected to see.


For a unique perspective of Mendenhall Glacier, consider embarking on a kayaking or canoeing adventure. Paddle along the serene waters of Mendenhall Lake, surrounded by breathtaking scenery and the towering glacier. It's an unforgettable experience that allows you to get up close to the glacier's icy walls. I highly recommend taking the kayak tour, it was amazing, but be sure to book well in advance, to see the glacier viewing from a kayak is a one in a lifetime experience.


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DIPAC's Salmon Hatchery, located in Juneau, Alaska, is a prominent facility that plays a crucial role in salmon conservation and education. The Douglas Island Pink & Chum (DIPAC) Salmon Hatchery was established in 1976 as a nonprofit organization. The hatchery was created to help rebuild declining salmon populations and to support sustainable fisheries in the region.


DIPAC primarily focuses on rearing two species of salmon: pink (humpback) and chum (dog) salmon. These species are native to the waters surrounding Juneau and are an essential part of the local ecosystem and economy. Learn about the life cycle and witness the different stages with your own eyes. The hatchery raises salmon from eggs to smolts, which are juvenile salmon ready for release into the wild. DIPAC collects adult salmon returning to spawn, carefully collecting their eggs and milt (sperm), and incubates them in controlled environments. After hatching, the young salmon are nurtured in tanks until they reach the smolt stage. Once the salmon reach the smolt stage, they are released into local streams and rivers, where they will migrate to the ocean to grow and eventually return to their natal streams to spawn. DIPAC's efforts contribute to the sustainability of wild salmon populations and support commercial, subsistence, and recreational fishing opportunities.

The Gift Shop at the salmon hatchery also operates an educational visitor center, allowing visitors to learn about the lifecycle of salmon, conservation efforts, and the importance of salmon to the region. The visitor center offers interactive exhibits, aquariums, and informative displays that showcase the various stages of salmon development. The aquariums were amazing! You can participate in guided tours, where they can observe the hatchery operations, view the fish-rearing process, and even have the opportunity to feed the salmon. Additionally, there are nature trails nearby that provide scenic views of the surrounding area. It was interesting to watch the salmon swim up the stairs, but it was just as interesting to see all the birds sitting on the roofs, just waiting for their next meal to swim by for them to grab. There are tons of bald eagles in this area.


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Other attractions

  • Mount Roberts Tramway: Take a scenic tram ride up Mount Roberts for breathtaking views of Juneau and the surrounding area. At the top, enjoy hiking trails, a nature center, and a restaurant. This is a great place to see Juneau from a different angle.

  • Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure: Explore the unique botanical gardens featuring upside-down trees and vibrant flora. Take a guided tour or stroll through the gardens yourself. (The day I wrote this blog the website for Glacier Gardens was not working, so this is the trip advisor webpage.)

  • Alaska State Capitol: Learn about Alaska's government and history by visiting the state capitol building. Take a guided tour to see the legislative chambers and learn about the state's political processes.

  • Gold panning: Can be done with the Salmon Bake but there are other places to do gold panning too. I did it with the Gold Creek Salmon Bake. This was a cute experience but I did not get any gold.

Seals hanging out in the Inside Passage Iceberg
Seals hanging out in the Inside Passage Iceberg
  • Fishing expeditions: Visit the following places if you want to go fishing for the day. The Inside Passage: This scenic waterway offers excellent salmon fishing opportunities. You can hire a charter boat or join a guided fishing tour to explore the vast network of fjords, bays, and channels. Auke Bay: Located about 10 miles north of Juneau, Auke Bay is a popular destination for fishing charters. It provides access to productive fishing grounds for salmon and other species. Gastineau Channel: Running through the heart of Juneau, the Gastineau Channel offers convenient fishing opportunities within close proximity to the city. Local fishing charters and independent anglers can be found targeting salmon along the shoreline or from boats.

  • Whale Watching: These never disappoint, look for sea lions too. You might see humpback whales, and possibly even Orcas too. If you choose this adventure, I hope one of the whales breach the water so you can get a picture.

  • Helicopter rides: A helicopter tour is a great to see the sights of Juneau. Feel like a bird flying in the sky while exploring the city. Some helicopter tours even land on a glacier so you can get out and walk around. This tends to be one of the most expensive shore excursions, but worth it for the experience.

  • Sled Dogs: Get the chance to meet and greet the sled dogs, learn about the practice and even take a ride on a sled. A dog sledding tour is a neat way to experience how the people of Alaska, especially in the past, transported themselves and items around in the snow. These dogs truly love to work on the sled, you can see it for yourself with the joy these animals have.

  • Walking downtown Juneau is another attraction, shopping and taking in the sights. Depending on how many ships are in port that day will depend on where your ship will dock, but usually it is a short walk because the ships can dock in the downtown area. Best stores to visit in downtown Effy Jewelry, Juneau Trading Post, Del Sol, Erlinda's Gift Shop, Raven Eagle Gifts, Trove, and Taku Store. There are so many shops I just can't name them all.

Food in Juneau Alaska

Given its coastal location, Juneau is known for its fresh seafood. Don't miss the chance to try local favorites like Alaskan king crab legs, halibut, salmon, and Dungeness crab.

  • Tracy's King Crab Shack: Of course, you come here for crab, but try the Crab Bisque, it is the best.

  • The Rookery Cafe: Best for brunch, they have great breakfast and lunch items.

  • SALT: More of an upscale restaurant with amazing food. Try the Champagne Scallops. Come here for a special occasion.

  • Deckhand Daves food truck: the best fish tacos around, trust me.

  • Sacred Ground Coffee: Best coffee in Juneau but serves so much more than coffee.

  • Stop by the Red Dog Saloon, for some beer and good food.

  • Stop in at the Alaskan Brewing Company where they have many varieties of beer to choose from like the Hazy IPA Juneau Juice or my favorite the Alaskan Amber.

The Juneau Gold Creek Salmon Bake is a popular dining experience in Juneau, this is also an excursion you can take from a cruise ship. This could have been listed in the attractions, because it is so much more than great food.


The Gold Creek Salmon Bake is located in a picturesque, forested area, nestled near the banks of Gold Creek, just outside of Juneau. The setting provides a serene atmosphere and beautiful natural surroundings. This is an outdoors style salmon buffet if you will. sitting at picnic benches. The highlight of the event is the delicious grilled salmon feast. Guests can savor freshly caught Alaskan salmon cooked over an open flame. The salmon is typically seasoned and grilled to perfection, offering a flavorful and succulent dining experience. Alongside the grilled salmon, the salmon bake typically includes a variety of side dishes. These may include options such as salads, baked beans, cornbread, seasonal vegetables, and more. Vegetarian options are often available as well. They also have desert.


Beyond the food, the Gold Creek Salmon Bake also provides a glimpse into Alaska's rich Native American heritage. Visitors can immerse themselves in traditional music, dance performances, and storytelling by Alaska Native performers. It's an opportunity to learn about the local culture and history. In addition to the meal and cultural experiences, there are usually other activities and entertainment options available at the salmon bake. This may include gold panning, nature walks, bonfires, and marshmallow roasting. I went on the nature hike, which was less than a mile to see the little waterfall, and nearby is the area to pan for gold. I did not have any luck finding any.


The Juneau Gold Creek Salmon Bake is a must-visit for seafood lovers and those seeking an authentic Alaskan dining experience. It combines delicious grilled salmon, scenic surroundings, cultural performances, and outdoor activities to create a memorable outing.


Accommodations:

I know this post is for the cruise traveler, but I just had to share a little bit about accommodations, just in case you fall in love with this place as much as I have and want to come back and spend some time in the city, much longer than a cruise ship stays.


For those of you visiting Juneau not on a cruise ship here is a list of accommodations I recommend.


  • Downtown Hotels: Juneau offers a range of hotels in the downtown area, providing easy access to attractions, restaurants, and shops. Some popular options include the Baranof Hotel, and Silverbow Inn.

  • Bed and Breakfasts: For a cozy and personal experience, consider staying at one of Juneau's charming bed and breakfasts. Places like Alaska's Capital Inn and Pearson's Pond Luxury Inn and Adventure Spa offer comfortable accommodations with a touch of local hospitality.

I hope you enjoyed my blog on this wonderful city in Alaska. If you are planning a visit to Juneau by cruise ship, take some of my ideas on shore excursions or just walk around the downtown area that is close to the cruise ship dock. You will not be disappointed. Enjoy your stay, take in the scenery and immerse yourself in the culture of Juneau Alaska. Southeast Alaska is calling your name.


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