When we first landed in Juneau, Alaska it was a bit of a shock to us. For us, and I think many others, when we thought of Alaska, we thought of large and rugged, snow capped mountain peaks. Being that it was late August we knew it wouldn’t necessarily be winter conditions, but to land amidst a heavy downpour and lush green mountains was a bit of a surprise. Our friend Matt picked us up at the humble, yet efficient, international airport and within a 10 minute drive we got what we had expected at the base of Mendenhall Glacier. Not only were we welcomed by a spectacular mountain/glacier vista, but also greeted by bald eagles, porcupines, salmon making their runs to their home streams, and hungry black bears catching salmon out of the river only 10 feet away. Welcome to Alaska!
Quickly, we found out that the southeast section of this vastly large state is part of the temperate rainforest that runs from Oregon through British Columbia and even a ways north of Juneau. Although the summer weather remains cool due to how far north it is, Juneau warms up nicely during sunny days and requires a full wardrobe of clothing to properly prepare for the less than predictable weather. Feel free to bring your bikinis in the summer months, but match that with a warm raincoat to cover up with for cooler nights and frequent summer rains. It’s safe to say that none of my (Lianne) summer gear came in handy. Sigh.
If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you have to come to this part of the globe! From hiking, mountain biking and year round dog-sledding, to whale watching, sea kayaking and deep sea fishing, this place has an activity for everyone. Being a port for many Alaskan cruises, Juneau is set up to entertain you from the moment you step into it’s quaint European style downtown.
The vast majority of guests only end up staying for a few hours to a day due to coming off of their ship, so figure out what you want to do and be ready for any weather condition. We would highly recommend flying in and spending as much time as possible here. But regardless if you’re here for a an hour, a day, a week or a year, make sure you check out a humpback whale watching tour, hiking up to Mendenhall Glacier where you can watch those aforementioned bears munching on some salmon or grabbing a sea plane or helicopter to fly over the abrupt mountain peaks and get a great view of the glacial activity. If you happen to be on a ship that gets you to port on the early morning or are staying longer than a day, we highly recommend taking a day trip to see Tracy Arm Fjord! Don’t worry about booking something right on the ship, there are plenty of operations that you can find once you dock and many times they will be better priced and more personal.
Our trip included an amazing local guide, who is a friend of Lianne’s and has lived and worked in the area for 3 years. Because of his generosity, local knowledge and adventurous spirit, not to mention the incredible weather, we took the opportunity to be dropped at the base of South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm, where we kayaked between the two glaciers, camped on Sawyer Island and kayaked out to be picked up near the entrance to the fjord the next day. It was a physically demanding couple of days, but the experience and endless breathtaking views take away any aches and pains you might have. This is a trip for the more adventurous and preparation and knowledge are key, but we both agree that anyone who loves adventure as we do, needs to bucket list this trip!
We only had 5 days in Alaska this time, but feel we were able to absolutely maximize our time. No matter where you lie on the adventurer scale there is something for everyone. Just walking around downtown Juneau, mingling with the courteous and talkative locals and seeing the colonial homes and buildings would be a great way to spend some time here. And although this time around we were far too tired to explore Juneau’s nightlife (we’re still shocked ourselves), we can’t wait to come back and get a bit further into the vast wilderness soon and highly recommend this area to any and all!