ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

An Explorer's Guide to Juneau, Alaska

Mount Roberts Tramway and a cruise ship at dock - Juneau, Alaska
Population: 32,556 (2012)
Latitude 58.30, Longitude -134.42

    Located on the mainland of Southeast Alaska, Juneau was built at the heart of the Inside Passage along the Gastineau Channel. It lies 900 air miles northwest of Seattle and 600 air miles southeast of Anchorage. The city was named after Joe Juneau one of the two men who began the first gold mining in the area, in 1880 (the other man was Richard Harris).

    In 1906, while Alaska was still a U.S. Territory, the capital was transferred to Juneau from Sitka, which had been the main base for Russian Alaska.

    Juneau has no road access to the rest of the continent, so is serviced by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system, and has an airport north of the downtown core, in the much drier Mendenhall Valley. The single paved runway at the Juneau International Airport (JUN), 08/26, is 8,457 x 150 feet in size. In 2011, the airport had 86,564 aircraft operations, mostly air taxis, with Alaska Airlines to Seattle and Anchorage being the primary scheduled jet routes.

    Juneau has a mild, maritime climate. Average summer temperatures range from 44 to 65°F; winter temperatures range from 25 to 35°F. It is in the mildest climate zone in Alaska. Annual precipitation averages 92 inches in downtown Juneau and 54 inches ten miles north at the airport. Snowfall averages 101 inches each year. The historic weather averages may help you decide when to visit.

    As expected in a capital city, state and local governments are the largest employers, with 41% of the workers. Trade, Transportation and Utilities are in distant second position at 18.5%, with Leisure and Hospitality, including tourism, in a distant 4th place at 7.8%.

    Cruise ships bring most of Juneau's visitors, and there are 5 cruise ship docks located downtown. In 2014, 929,269 guests plus crew members are expected to arrive by that method, between May 1 and September 24. Some of the most popular visitor activities are:

  • The Mount Roberts Tramway whisks visitors in enclosed gondolas to the 1,800 foor level of the mountain, just below treeline. As well as offering spectacular views, there is a lot to do at the top, from endless hiking trails and art demonstrations, to a bald eagle display and a bar and restaurant.

  • The Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most popular activities in Juneau, for both locals and visitors. This 2½-mile-long river of ice is one of the 38 large glaciers that flow from the the Juneau Icefield, a 1500 square mile expanse of ice, snow and rock. It can be reached on many tours (including as an add-on to many whale watching tours), by shuttle bus from the docks, or by taxi or rental car. Some people use the city bus, but its closest stop is almost a mile from the glacier visitor center.

  • Although populations are endangered or depleted in many areas of the world, humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), up top 60 feet long (18 meters), are abundant in the Juneau area. Most whale watching tour operators guarantee that you see some. Orca are sometimes seen, but much less often, as they are transient int his area.

  • Getting into the air is always a special way to see Alaska, and there are many options in Juneau - strictly flightseeing, add on a glacier landing with a dog sled ride, fly to a glacier and go hiking, fly to the Taku Glacier Lodge for lunch, etc.

  • There are 4 main options to explore Juneau's history - the Alaska State Museum, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, the Last Chance Mining Museum, and the AJ Mine/Gastineau Mill tour.

  • One of the most spectacular fjords in Alaska, Tracy Arm, is about 60 miles south of Juneau and can be reached by small-boat tours. Its 2,000-foot-high granite cliffs and the two Sawyer Glaciers at the head of the arm are the main attractions, but wildlife viewing can also be good.
    The links below will give you a great deal more information about the Juneau area and its attractions. In particular, our photo album is captioned to give you information about the site (or sight) being shared, and the Visitors Bureau Web site will give you tour operators' contact information as well as lots more.

Juneau Links

Juneau Photo Gallery

Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau

2014 Cruise Ship Calendar (with dock map and codes)

The History of Juneau

Photojournals: A Day in Juneau
  - mid May - arrived on Celebrity's Infinity
  - early June - arrived on the Celebrity Millennium
  - early June - arrived on the Coral Princess
  - mid June - arrived on the Coral Princess
  - late June - arrived on the Coral Princess
  - July - arrived on Holland America's Amsterdam

Clicking on the aerial view of Juneau below will open an interactive map at Google Maps, in a new window.