One day in Juneau on a budget was enough to know I wanted more. 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.
The plan was to visit Mendenhall Glacier first, do a short hike and return for a later lunch in town at the famous Red Dog Saloon.
Upon getting off the boat, the first thing we did was wander into town and find a bus to Mendenhall Glacier. Located about 14 miles from downtown, Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls Trail were 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). We got a return ticket, which meant we had to wait for that specific type of bus to get back. The bus dropped us off near Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Centre.
Getting as close as possible to Nugget Falls and Mendenhall Glacier is the best way to truly see and experience the power of this area. We took the Nugget Falls Trail to Mendenhall Glacier. It is a gentle twenty minute scenic walk. After getting to the falls and glacier, I strolled along the sand for at least an hour to marvel at the beauty of this area. But I could have stayed longer.
What is so wonderful about Mendenhall Glacier, is that it is quite a dramatic sight, and you can walk reasonably close to it. With the Glacier in front, the thunderous Nugget Falls to my right and massive icebergs in the lake to my left, there is so much to take in.
The white water of Nugget Falls comes pounding down so loudly, it is difficult to hear anything else. The size and pure power of these falls is immense. It was incredibly hard to actually drag myself away from this breathtaking scenery, but there was still so much more of Juneau to see.
The icebergs in the water were huge!
Best Lunch in Juneau – Red Dog Saloon
After getting the bus back to downtown Juneau, we hit the Red Dog Saloon for lunch – very reasonably priced – paid $12 for a delicious lunch. With sawdust on the floor, rocking unique entertainment and the kind of decor and atmosphere that had me scouring every inch of the place in fascination, the Red Dog Saloon was well worth the visit – the perfect place for lunch.
Hot Tip: Just be aware than when you order chips with your meal they are crisps in a bag – not hot chips. That one threw me for six.
Mount Roberts Tramway
After lunch we took the vertical aerial Mount Roberts Tramway to the top of Mount Roberts for incredible views over Alaska and the Gastineau Channel (around $31). 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 which was quite educational.
The views of the Gastineau Channel were a sight to behold. In good weather it would be great to hike around the top of the mountain, but in late May, the top was covered with snow and hiking wasn’t possible. It was still lovely, scenic, and relaxing to have a hot drink in the restaurant up top though.
There is a Wildlife Refuge at the top of Mount Roberts where an injured eagle was held. It is a small refuge located in a beautiful setting.
What is frustrating is that there are so many options for sightseeing in and around Juneau, but it is simply impossible to do them all in a day. So picking and choosing is best based upon your budget at the time. I know I have to come back one day and do everything else. I could have spent a week in Juneau. Although I wouldn’t change anything about my one day in Juneau, I am keen to return and see other sights and experience different activities on the ice.
Juneau – 1 Day Itinerary
If you only have 1 day in Juneau and don’t have a truckload of cash:
- Morning: Catch the bus to Mendenhall Glacier (advance booking not necessary)
- Nugget Falls walking trail
- Red Dog Saloon for lunch
- Afternoon: Explore the town
- Mount Roberts arial tramway for – for spectacular views, wildlife refuge and cultural center
- Afternoon drink with a view on top of Mount Roberts
What to do in Juneau
If you have multiple days in Juneau there is so much to do you will be spoilt for choice. Options include:
- Tracy Arm Fjord cruise
- Glacier Gardens Rainforest
- Alaska State Museum
- Whale watching
- Helicopter flights with glacier landings
- Helicopter flight with guided icefield walk
- Mendenhall Glacier
- Nugget Falls
- Hiking trails
- Mount Roberts Aerial Tramway
- Wandering the town
Hot Tip: If you do go to Mendenhall Glacier, I suggest taking the beach route there and the Nugget Falls trail back or vice versa. That way, you get to see two different types of beautiful scenery and views.
What is your ideal day in Juneau?