Few cities in the U.S. are as beautiful as Juneau. Not only is Juneau the capital of Alaska, residents claim it is the most scenic capital in the country and it is often referred to as a 'little San Francisco.' The city center, which hugs the side of Mt. Juneau and Mt. Roberts, has many narrow streets running past a mixture of new structures, old storefronts and slanted houses, all held together by a network of staircases. The bustling waterfront features cruise ships, tankers, fishing boats, a few kayakers and floatplanes buzzing in and out. Overhead are the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Roberts and Mt. Juneau, which provide just a small part of the superb hiking in the area.
Founded during the gold rush in the late 1800s and named after prospector Joe Juneau, the city has grown into a beautiful city offering a variety of accommodations, good restaurants and transport services. It also serves as the departure point for several wilderness attractions, including Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and Admiralty Island National Monument.
Downtown Juneau provides many sightseeing opportunities that will be time well spent. The Marine Park, a delightful waterfront park across from the Sealaska Building has an information kiosk and provides a walking-tour map. South Franklin Street is a historical district that underwent major renovation in the mid 80s.
Many of the buildings date back to the early 1900s and today house gift shops, restaurants and pubs. Davis Log Cabin, a replica of the first public school in Juneau, serves as an information center and houses a small collection of local historical relics and objects.
The State Capitol, built in 1929-31 as the territorial Federal Building, houses the legislative chamber and the governor's office, as well as offices for the hundreds of staff members who arrive in Juneau each session. Free 30-minute tours of the building are offered every half hour daily during summer.
St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, possibly the most photographed structure in Juneau, was built in 1894 and has the distinction of being the oldest church built in the Inside Passage. The octagon-shaped building has exhibits of Russian icons, original vestments and religious relics. Services are held on Sunday and visitors are welcome to attend. The congregation stands throughout the service, which can last 2 hours or longer.
The Juneau-Douglas City Museum is housed in the old Memorial Library building and features local artwork, a large custom relief map of the area and audio-visual presentations. It provides the best exhibits and interpretive displays covering the gold mining history of Juneau and Douglas. Douglas lies within the Borough of Juneau and is located across Gastineau Channel on Douglas Island. The Juneau-Douglas Bridge connects the two.
Across from the museum is the State Office Building. On the 8th floor is the grand court, which features a century-old totem pole and a restored 1928 Kimball organ that is played each Friday at noon. The Alaska State Library is off the grand court. The panoramic view of Juneau's waterfront and Douglas Island from the adjoining outdoor balcony is most impressive and an excellent place to have lunch.
West of the State Office Building is the six-pillar Governor's Manson. Built and furnished in 1912 at a cost of $44,000, the structure has a New England appearance but is accented by a totem pole, carved in 1940 by Tlingit Indians and presented to the governor as a gift. The outstanding Alaska State Museum resides in an impressive white building and offers a showcase of the past, including artifacts from Athabascan, Aleut, Inuit and north-west coast people including the Inside Passage Tlingit. There are also displays relating to the Russian period, major gold strikes in the state and the trans-Alaska pipeline. A full-sized eagle's nest, which sits on top of a tree that reaches to the 2nd floor of the museum, is an impressive sight. A circular staircase allows you to view the nest from all angles.
Other notable experiences include the Naa Kahidi Theater at the Sealaska Cultural Park, a tram ride to the tree line of Mount Roberts for spectacular scenery and a visit to the Wickersham State Historical Site, the historical home of Judge James Wickersham, the pioneer judge and statesman of Alaska.
Gold fever and gold mines built Juneau and a trip to the capital city would not be complete without visiting at least one of the 32 gold mines in the area. The Last Chance Mining Museum, housed in the remains of the compressor house for the Alaska-Juneau Mine, hosts an impressive complex of railroad lines, ore cars and repair sheds. Glory Hole is a caved-in mineshaft that was connected to the Alaska-Juneau Mine, along with the remains of the Silver Bowl Basin Mine. The Treadwell Mine ruins features the shells of boarding houses and the mineshaft. You can even do a little gold panning yourself at public creeks or with a gold panning tour.
Juneau is known as the 'Gateway to the Glaciers.' Among 42 glaciers within a 1,500-square-mile radius, Mendenhall Glacier is perhaps Alaska's most famous drive-in glacier. The ice floe is 13 miles from the city center at the end of Glacier Spur Road. The glacier flows 12 miles from its source, the Juneau Icefield and has a 1.5-mile face. On a sunny day it is beautiful with blue skies and snow-capped mountains in the background. On a cloudy day it can be as impressive as the ice turns shades of deep blue. You can visit on your own or take an organized tour. There is an interesting visitor center at the glacier and several hiking trails in the area.
If you want to see more of the glaciers in the area, flightseeing is the way to go and gives one a spectacular overview of the icefield. Some helicopter tours offer glacier landings, glacier treks and even dog sled rides on top of a glacier.
Juneau boasts a great diversity of hiking trails ranging from easy strolls to hardy treks to overnight excursions into the mountains and the Tongass National Forest that surrounds the city. For information about hiking trails as well as public use cabins, Glacier Bay National Park, Admiralty Island or any outdoor activity in the Tongass National Forest, visit the U.S. Forest Service and National Park information center in Centennial Hall. Juneau is ideal for kayaking, offering both the opportunity for day trips and extended 3-5 day paddles. Both rentals and guided tours are available. Auke Bay, Taku Inlet, Berners Bay and Oliver Inlet are local favorites.
Eaglecrest Ski Resort, located on Douglas Island, offers snow at high elevations for excellent downhill and cross-country skiing. Views of Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau Icefield, Lynn Canal and Stephens Passage are incredible and make a trip to Juneau December to April a spectacular winter getaway.
Location: Located on the mainland of Southeast Alaska, opposite Douglas Island, Juneau was built at the heart of the Inside Passage along the Gastineau Channel. It lies 900 air miles northwest of Seattle and 577 air miles southeast of Anchorage.
Access: Daily jet service from Seattle, Anchorage and Fairbanks; scheduled air taxi service from all Inside Passage communities. Year round Alaska state ferry service from Bellingham, WA, and Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada, connecting to all Inside Passage communities and Southcentral Alaska. All classes of cruise vessels. Water taxi or fast ferry service between Juneau, Sitka, Skagway and Gustavus. No Road access.
Accommodations: 12 hotels/motels, 50 bed and breakfasts (over 900 rooms); 64 restaurants (seating for 5,300+); two large enclosed shopping malls, many other shopping centers in downtown and outlying areas. All services and conveniences.
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