Downtown Juneau sits perfectly wedged between the huge snow capped mountains of Mount Roberts and Mount Juneau, surrounded by lush greenery and waterfalls that seem to go on forever.
As one of Alaska’s State Capital and one of its oldest cities, Juneau has the architecture to match. Lively and beautiful, Juneau downtown is definitely worth exploring. A great budget day trip involves spending all morning marvelling at the Mendenhall Glacier area and taking a gentle trail, then the rest of the day doing lunch and wandering the old streets of Juneau with the optional extra of Mount Roberts aerial tramway.
Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls
Located about 14 miles from downtown Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls Trail are easily reached by catching the white or blue Mendenhall Glacier bus for approximately $16 for a roundtrip. Although I suggest buying a one way ticket - that way you have the option of getting the blue or the white bus back (and less waiting time).
Once the bus drops you off, do not hang around the visitor centre. Getting as close as possible to Nugget Falls and Mendenhall Glacier is the only way to truly see and experience the power of this area. Take the Nugget Falls Trail to Mendenhall Glacier. It is a gentle twenty minute scenic walk.
Once you get to the falls and glacier, get down onto the sand and allow at least an hour or more to marvel at the beauty of this area. With the Glacier in front of you, the thunderous Nugget Falls to your right and massive icebergs in the lake to your left, there is much to take in.
The white water of Nugget Falls comes pounding down so loudly, it is difficult to hear anything else. When you can finally drag yourself away from this breathtaking scenery, walk back along the sandy shores to the Visitor Centre.
Best place for lunch in Juneau, Alaska
Once you get back into downtown Juneau, the Red Dog Saloon is the place to go for lunch and very reasonably priced - I paid $12 for a delicious lunch. With sawdust on the floor, rocking unique entertainment and the kind of decor and atmosphere that will have you scouring every inch of the place in fascination, the Red Dog Saloon is well worth the visit. Just be aware than when you order chips with your meal they are crisps in a bag (not hot chips).
Mount Roberts Tramway - great views of Alaska
If after exploring the town you still have time and an extra $31 or so dollars to spend, take the vertical aerial Mount Roberts Tramway to the top of Mount Roberts for incredible views over Alaska and the Gastineau Channel. The tram itself only takes a about 6 minutes to get to the top and is expensive from that point of view. There is refuge for injured eagles up the top, and a great restaurant for lunch or hot drinks. There is also a cultural complex screening a free short film on Tlingit culture.
In good weather you may be able to hike around the top and then I believe the trip would be more worthwhile. However, in late May, the top was covered with snow and hiking wasn’t possible.
Best Juneau Day Trip
You can do Mendenhall Glacier, Red Dog Saloon, wander downtown and Mt Roberts aerial Tramway as an action packed but easy day trip. The Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls should be the top priority if you only have half a day though.
Juneau is truly beautiful and there are many other more expensive day trips like flight-seeing or bears that can be taken if you want to splash around some cash. But the day trip detailed here is well worth it for a first trip to Juneau and for those on a budget. I loved it so much, I wouldn’t hesitate to do the same trip all over again.
Hot Tip for this Trip: Take very warm clothes as it can get extremely cold close to the Glacier, and allow plenty of time to spend at the glacier and falls.