Juneau, the capital of Alaska, accessible only by boat or by plane is a secluded but sociable place. The capital city serves as a hub to numerous Southeast communities, it is host to legislators from across Alaska, and home to more than 30,000 year-round residents. During the summer season, the capital city of Alaska welcomes an additional million or so visitors via cruise ship, air, and ferry.
Location / Coordinates: On the Alaskan panhandle, Juneau, an exceptionally picturesque city, is in the heart of Alaska’s famous Inside Passage on the Gastineau Channel. Juneau’s tucked into the Tongass Rainforest with the Mendenhall Glacier behind it. Accessible only by sea or air Juneau is southeast of Anchorage. Driving from Anchorage, and heading to Skagway to take the ferry to Juneau is roughly 900 miles.
Coordinates: Latitude 58.30 & Longitude 134.42.
Population / Elevation: 30,000 people and over half of the world’s population of Eagles live in Juneau. The capital city of Alaska has virtually no flat land. It begins at sea level and rises steeply up Olds Mountain. To create a flat area for building or just out of convenience, the gold mines dumped their waste rock into Gastineau Channel. The new flat land quickly became sites for bars, churches, and brothels. Besides people, Juneau is home to bears, mountain goats, sea lions, seals, and other wildlife.
Description: Juneau is located within a temperate rainforest, the Tongass Rainforest and has an average 222 days of rain or mist annually. The sun is expected shine two to three days a week in April, May and June. Downtown Juneau receives an average of 91.32 inches of rain annually. It does snow in Juneau, a little over 100 inches a year. The warmest months of the year are the summer months with temperatures ranging from 44°F to 65°F. Winter months range in temperature from 25°F to 35°F; it rarely gets below zero here.
The most infamous weather factor in Juneau is the Taku Wind. Taku winds can blow more than 100 MPH. The average wind speed in and around Juneau is only about 7 MPH.
Juneau, often called “little San Francisco,” clings to the base of two 3,500 foot mountains, behind the city and mountains lies the 1,500 square mile Juneau Ice field, the source of 38 separate glaciers. Lacy ferns, abundant wildflowers, and lush forests complement, these majestic mountain peaks and massive ice fields. The capital city itself is a collage of historic buildings, remnants of the gold rush, coffee cafes, government offices, and distinctive shops all connected by a maze of streets and staircases going up steep hillsides and back down again to the wharf.
The summer season in Juneau is bustling with tourists, as well as locals. On any given day there may be as many as six cruise ships docked at the capital city’s cruise ship terminal. Probably a lot like the gold rush days, people jostle their way up and down the streets, seeing the sites, shopping, and doing business in Juneau.
The winter season in Juneau is a bit more subdued. The Alaska State Legislature is in session from January through May and legislators and their aides have moved into town.
What to do there: The easiest way to explore downtown Juneau is on foot. The narrow streets are congested with pedestrians and traffic, and parking is always at a premium. If you must drive, park in the public parking at the Juneau Municipal Garage below the library on Marine Way; street parking is very limited, closely monitored, and available for only 15 minutes to an hour.
There are walking tour maps available at the Centennial Hall Visitor Center (101 Eagan Drive), the Marine Park kiosk, and the cruise ship terminal. The Juneau-Douglas City Museum offers a free Historic Downtown Juneau Guide. The downtown historic district is well marked with descriptive signs identifying significant sites.
Museums: To get a good feeling for this city, start your tour at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, located across the from the state capitol building at Fourth and Main Streets. Informative exhibits of early gold-mining techniques, Tlingit culture, and life in general in Juneau and Douglas at the turn of the last century. Don’t miss the video, “Juneau: City Built on Gold.”
Another stop on your tour should include the Alaska State Museum (395 Whittier Street). Alaska’s Native peoples, and icons and artifacts from Russian-American days are on display here. Bring the kids to explore the life-size eagle nesting tree and a replica of Captain George Vancouver’s ship, Discovery.
The Last Chance Mining Museum, (open during the summer season), has a nice display of tools, machines, and infrastructure for what was the world’s largest gold mine at the time. Original buildings house antiques, minerals, and a 3-D glass map of the mine tunnels and glory holes inside the mountain.
Hiking is a main attraction in Juneau and on Douglas Island. There are 262.2 miles of hiking trails, and so much to photograph if you’re so inclined.
Mount Roberts Trail begins close to the international hostel. The trail is a four-mile trek up to the mountain above the capital city of Alaska. The trail ends at the new tram station and nature center. There are great views and photo opportunities of Juneau, Douglas and the entire Gastineau Channel here! Rest your feet and take the Mount Robert’s Tramway back to S. Franklin Street.
Perseverance Trail off Basin Road is one of the most popular trails in Juneau. It includes the Perseverance, Mount Juneau and Granite Creek Trails. Combined, these trails are a rugged 10-hour trek for the hardy hiker, or an overnight excursion into the mountains surrounding Juneau.
Moraine Ecology Trail (1.5 mile loop) and the handicap-accessible Photo Point Trail (0.6 miles round trip) are some of the shortest trails in the Juneau area.
East Glacier Loop Trail from Mendenhall Glacier (3.5 mile loop), has some good views of the glacier, but not as close to the glacier as the West Glacier Loop Trail.
West Glacier Loop Trail (7 miles round trip) is for the more advanced hiker with a climb up to the ice caves on the glacier itself. This should only be done with proper equipment and with people who know what they’re doing.
Dan Moller Trail (6.5 miles round- trip) An easier trail, that ends at a Forest Service cabin. Check with the Forest Service about staying there.
Mendenhall Glacier is a very popular glacier in the Juneau area, it’s close to town (13 miles north of downtown) and easy to get to. Capital Transit buses stop at the glacier hourly during the summer season. The glacier itself is 12 miles long, and one and a half miles wide. You are able to get within a mile of the face of the glacier for photos or just to get a good look. The Forest Service Visitor Center has a ten-minute video about glaciers that is worth watching. The visitor’s center is open daily during the summer season and on weekends during the winter season.
Mount Roberts Tramway. Two 60-passenger aerial trams transport visitors from Juneau’s downtown waterfront to a modern mountain complex at the 1800-foot level of Mount Roberts. The mountaintop observation platform provides a panoramic view of Juneau, harbor and surrounding mountains. Besides the trail-heads and the observation deck you’ll find a theater, a restaurant, bar, and a gift shop.
Back in downtown Juneau, stop in for an Alaskan Amber at the Alaskan Brewing Company for a taste of the gold-rush recipe and others while you tour the brewery.
For more history and a little exercise, walk up Seventh Street to the Wickersham State Historic Site. Judge James Wickersham was the first judge of the Third Judicial District of Alaska. The little house contains Wickersham’s collection of Native artifacts, baskets, and photographs.
Russia has played a huge part in the history of Alaska, especially in the Southeast. One of the most notable marks left by the Russians is the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (Fifth and Gold Streets), the oldest original Russian Orthodox Church in southeastern Alaska. The octagon-shaped building was built in 1894. It houses Russian icons, original vestments and religious relics.
For those of you who like politics and government, you’ve hit the jack pot! Juneau being the seat of government or the State of Alaska has lots of government buildings.
The State Capitol Building; the Governor’s Mansion; Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure; Macaulay Salmon Hatchery; Tracy Arm and Tracy Arm Fjourd; Orca Enterprises, Glacier Bay National Park; Alaska-Juneau Mine Tours; Douglas Island; Bear watching at Pack Creek; fishing; the Evergreen Cemetary; South Franklin Street Historical District; the State Office Building (also known as the SOB);lLandmarks: The USS Juneau Memorial; Hard Rock Miners bronze sculpture, the Patsy Ann bronze sculpture;
History: The first inhabitants of Juneau were, and still are, the Tlingit people. They hunted and fished along the shores of Gastineau Channel. Great craftsmen, their stories are carved into magnificent Totems found throughout Southeast Alaska.
In the 1870s mining engineer George Pilz, from Stika, offered a reward to anyone who could lead him to gold-bearing ore. Chief Kowee, of the Auk Tlingit tribe brought Pilz samples from Gastineau Channel. Prospectors Richard T. Harris and Joseph Juneau were then dispatched to find the source of this gold. They sampled gravel in what is now known as Gold Creek where they found “color” but they failed to find the source. Chief Kowee urged Pilz to send the pair back again. This time they climbed Snow Slide Gulch and found the mother lode in Silver Bow Junction. On October 18th, a 160-acre town site on the beach was officially staked and named Harrisberg, after one of the original prospectors. This was the first American-established town in its new territory. Disenchanted with Harris’ dubious claim-staking practices, the miners briefly switched the name of the town to Rockwell and then to Juneau in 1881. Juneau was named after Joseph Juneau the other original prospector.
Within a few years, Juneau grew from a Native fishing village inhabited seasonally to harvest fish, to become a hub for a large-scale hard-rock mining industry. The mountains surrounding Juneau were honey-combed into a giant underground gold mine: the Alaska-Juneau Mine (better known as the A-J Mine) and the Alaska-Gastineau Mill, owned by The Treadwell Gold Mining Company. The AJ Mine, at its peak, was the largest gold mine of its type in the world. Economic factors caused the mine to close in 1944. At that time it had produced more than $75 million in gold. It still has more miles of tunnels underground than there are surface roads in Juneau.
Juneau served as the seat of government for the Territory of Alaska until January 3, 1959, when the territory became the 49th State in the United States of America. Federal, state, and local government employs one out of every two Juneau workers today. Tourism is now the community’s largest private industry, with commercial fishing, retail services, and mining on Admiralty Island.
How to get there: Juneau is very easy to get to, even though there are no direct roads or rail links. Air service is provided daily from Anchorage and Ketchikan, and the ferries of the Alaska Marine Highway system ply the waters of the Inside Passage. There is a fast ferry as well as the normal ferry.
Facilities: There are hotels, motels, cabins, and Bed & Breakfasts for every budget. Fine dining, to fast food, GREAT chocolate shops, and dining on the dock.
RV info: Juneau has a couple of full-service RV parks—make your reservations early.