Juneau, Alaska, population 32,660, is reachable only by air or sea. While that limits a road trip to visit Alaska’s capital city to a ferry crossing, cruise passengers visit by the boatload. Thank goodness we chose a cruise because it would be a shame to miss this city.
Juneau was founded as the result of gold strikes by Richard T. Harris and Joseph Juneau in 1880. The town was first named Harrisburg but later changed to Rockwell and finally to Juneau when Joe garnered enough support. It has been the capital since 1959 when Alaska was granted statehood but controversy continues as to whether the capital should be moved to a more populated and accessible location.
We planned to take the tram up 3819 foot Mt. Roberts to enjoy the view but the weather changed our plans. Overcast skies and impending rain weren’t very conducive to viewing Juneau from the mountain top.
We rethought our plan and decided instead to take a glacier shuttle out to Mendenhall Glacier. Bus tickets were conveniently available from Juneau Tours directly adjacent to the cruise port for just $20 roundtrip with buses leaving every 30 minutes. City buses go that direction, too, but you have to walk a mile and a half at the terminus. The glacier shuttle, on the other hand, dropped us right at the entrance.
The bus ride was fairly short since the glacier is just 12 miles away and the bus driver provided a lively commentary throughout the drive.
Our first view of the glacier and Mendenhall Lake was, in a word, breathtaking. The ice appears blue because it transmits the blue color in the light spectrum while it absorbs all the other colors.
We opted to hike the trails first while it wasn’t raining and save the visitor’s center for later. It turned out to be a good plan and the rain held off for virtually all of our hike. After seeing the sign below, I talked or hummed most of the time to prevent an up close personal encounter with a black bear. I have no idea whether it was due to my strategy (or my humming), but bear encounters were zero.
The trails were well marked with lots of scenic beauty along the way. The trail out to Nugget Falls and back was just 2 miles and an additional photo loop added another half mile.
To see the falls on video, click below.
Following our trip to Mendenhall Glacier, we explored downtown Juneau a bit. Frankly, the rain limited our explorations somewhat but we definitely wanted to see the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska, St. Nicholas, built in 1894.
We also stopped by Starbucks to warm up with a coffee and “get connected” for awhile. Travel tip: Starbucks is the one place in any country where I have always found the Wifi adequate for my needs. Then it was back to the ship in plenty of time for our departure.
Based on events of June 2015.