Juneau is very popular for many outdoor activities and offers several tour options for visitors. The most common attractions include gold history, whale watching, zip line, kayaking, glacier, ice caves and city tours. So what would be the top most attraction ?. This depends on many factors:- duration of stay, weather conditions, tour cost and your group’s interest. Most cruise ships stop in Juneau for atleast 8 to 10 hours and you might want to pick one or two attractions based on your available time.
My best picks in Juneau
Mendenhall Glacier – This is one of the top attractions in Juneau and there are different ways that you can get close to this glacier. You can see this glacier by helicopter, dog-sledding tours, kayak and rafting tours. Helicopter and dog sledding would give you a closer look than any other modes. It is the most expensive one as well ranging between 300$ – 600$. If you are doing the dog sled, you are likely to spend close to $550. We skipped the helicopter attraction as we had the helicopter tour of Mt.McKinley during our first land visit to Alaska. If you have never been to a glacier in Alaska, I would highly recommend doing either Mendenhall or Mt.McKinley glaciers. If you do plan a helicopter ride, please book this in advance and there is a very remote chance that you would get a ticket if purchased on the day of your travel. Also this is a weather permitting attraction and totally depends on mother nature.
Glacier Rafting/Kayak – For those who want to see the Mendenhall Glacier from the water, glacier rafting or kayaking would be another option to mass of ice sheet and experience other scenic views. There are bus tours available as well and you would probably get to see the same view from a raft or kayak. But rafting or Kayak is more fun and adventurous than a bus tour in my opinion.
The Glacier Rafting tour is a 3.5 hour total duration. You will basically glide across the iceberg studded lake with the glacier ranging 1.5 miles wide and is the most famous part of the massive Juneau Ice field.
Unlike the traditional white water rafting, it is is not required for you to do any rowing. There is a guide for every 9 people per boat and the guide takes care of all the rowing. It is totally safe and the tour group provides all the gadgets needed for the tour. The rafting is done across a six mile route that starts with calming water followed by Class II and III whitewater rapids.
You can relax and enjoy the scenic views while the guide narrates all about the glacier. In our group none of us knew swimming and I was skeptical to take this ride until the very last minute i stepped into the boat. Our guide was awesome and talked about the native fauna and flora of the area. He explained that for the most part they navigate around fallen logs and things to keep the river as natural as possible.
As we entered into our second part of the rafting that involved fast rapids, it was totally fun mixed with faster heart-beat and slight fear that popped here and there :-). You will feel a bumpy ride with water rolling and light splash of water especially for those seated in front rows.
This was our first whitewater rafting and one of our long pending activity checklist as well. I have personally gained some confidence in exploring more rafting rides in future after the Mendenhall Glacier Raft tour.
Mount Roberts Tramway – This is one of the cheapest option to see the glacier. The tramway takes you to the visitor center where you can either hike down or see the glacier from the visitor center. This is located few blocks away from the cruise docking station. There is a free shuttle from your cruise point to the Tramway place.
Ice Caves Tour – I wanted to do this tour so badly but we did not have the tour available at the time that we were looking for. The Ice cave tour is also slightly challenging when compared to other attractions. You will need to kayak for around 2 hours and take a 8 mile hike to access the caves. There are guided ice caves tour and if you are a person who love to do adventurous hikes and passionate climbing the ice-fields, this is the tour for you. Here is the trip advisor link that I researched and would definitely want to do this sometime in future.
My thoughts on Whale Watching
There are so many whale watching tours across many ports in Alaska be in Juneau, Skagway or Ketchikan. Since I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for many years, I never thought of doing a separate tour just for whale watching. If you are on a cruise, there are plenty of opportunities to see these whales in the comfort of watching it from your cruise. We saw many of them in Juneau, Ketchikan and on the way to Victoria, British Columbia. It was such a great sight to see the whales just jumping out of the water and swimming along with the cruise ship. Yes wildlife is very popular in Alaska but would recommend based on the time you have in Juneau. It is also subject to the money that you want to spend for multiple attractions especially if you are going as a family.
Alaska is so vast that you can see wildlife in many parts of the state. Denali National Park is a great place and plenty of wildlife available there. You have very limited time on your cruise travel and I would not squeeze every attraction to a single port destination.