With an official population of just over 31,000, Juneau, Alaska is one of the least-populated capital cities in the United States. However, this town has a rich history and plenty of natural beauty to entertain all who visit.
History of Juneau
The first settlers of the land that would become Juneau were the Tlingit Indians’ Auke tribe. These original settlers enjoyed a creative and productive lifestyle thanks to the abundance of natural resources and food supplied by the sea and the land. To this day, Juneau takes pride in its cultural heritage rooted in the Northwest Coastal Indian tribes.
Before Juneau got its present-day name, it was known as Harrisburg. Harrisburg was first settled by gold miners. Richard Harris and Joe Juneau were looking for gold when they founded the town in 1880. However, Juneau and Harris did not find gold until they received assistance from Tlingit Chief Kowee.
Juneau was home to the three largest gold mines in the world during the 60 years of the gold mining heyday in the area. Back when gold was priced at just $20 to $35 per ounce, the three mines produced about $158 million-worth of the metal. The Treadwell mine closed in 1922 after extensive flooding, and the cost of production made operating the Alaska Juneau mine prohibitive around World War II.
In 1897, Joe Juneau headed to the Klondike to continue his search for gold. In 1903, he died in Dawson, and his body was returned to Juneau’s Evergreen Cemetery. After losing most of his holdings, Richard Harris went to work for several mining companies around town. In 1907, he died in an Oregon sanitarium. And, his body was lied to rest near Joe Juneau.
What’s the Weather Like?
Juneau gets much more precipitation than the United States average. Whereas the rest of the country averages 39 inches of rain per year, Juneau registers about 77 inches. Snowfall is also heavier with the town getting 78 inches versus 26 inches as the norm for the US. Overall, there are 160 days of measurable precipitation in the area.
Snowfall generally occurs between November and March, while the months with the most rain are September and October. The driest month is June when the average rainfall is about three and a quarter inches for the month.
Juneau sits in a transition zone between an oceanic climate and a continental climate. You might envision Juneau as a frigid wasteland within the Arctic Circle. However, it is one of the southernmost cities in Alaska, and due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean, the Juneau, Alaska weather is much milder than one might expect for its latitude.
Compared to Alaskan standards, the winters are mild. Yet, they are still long and moist. The highs are usually above freezing in January, and the average low is 23 degrees Fahrenheit. As with most places in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is cooler than fall, summer, and spring. In July, the highs peak at 65 degrees.
What to Do in Juneau
We could create an entire website devoted to all of the must-see attractions and things to do in Juneau, Alaska. Until that day, here are some of the highlights of what you must do in Juneau, Alaska:
Take a Walking Tour of Downtown
A self-guided walking tour is a perfect way to enjoy the city’s downtown area. Visitor information centers, cruise ship terminals, the airport, and several other spots provide free maps. Some of the historic attractions include a Liberty Bell reproduction and a gold brown bear statue. Also, check out Evergreen Cemetery and the governor’s house.
Experience Tracy Arm Fjord
A Nordic term describing a narrow waterway with sharp cliffs surrounding it, fjords are always breathtaking natural wonders. Most of the tourist traffic heads to Mendenhall Glacier, but the Tracy Arm Fjord is 27 miles of more dramatic, better, and bigger beauty. Cliffs rise over 3,000 feet above the inlet that is no more than half a mile wide. And, waterfalls punctuate the journey.
Glacier Gardens provides a look into the frequently forgotten rainforest of Alaska. It’s situated between Juneau’s airport and downtown area. Aboard a golf cart, you will experience 50 acres of vibrant vegetation. Thunder Mountain is located within the botanical garden and offers a view of the Chilkat Mountains, Douglas Island, Gastineau Channel, Mendenhall Wetlands, and Mendenhall Valley.
What Are the Best Bars?
For a city of its size, Juneau has a surprising selection of top-notch bars. Here are a few of our favorite bars in Juneau, Alaska:
Red Dog Saloon
Typically a target for visiting tourists looking for a good time, Red Dog Saloon is one of the oldest bars in Juneau. This popular spot has a floor completely covered with sawdust, antlers lining the walls, bear heads, and other traditional Alaskan décor. They often feature live entertainment and music and offer an array of cocktails, craft beer, and the famous “duck fart shot,” which consists of Kahlua, Bailey’s, and Crown Royal.
Alaskan Brewing Company
If the usual port-of-call tourist spots are not your thing, consider heading to Alaskan Brewing Company. The 47,000-square-foot brewery is located about six miles north of the cruise ship terminal. You can see every step of the brewing process from brewing to bottling to selling beer. And, of course, there is a tasting room.
The Imperial Saloon
Established in 1891, The Imperial Saloon claims that it’s the most historic and oldest bar in Juneau. And, throughout its 100+-year history, it hasn’t lost any momentum. This spot is one of the best bars for enjoying a fun night out and grabbing a strong drink. If you are not feeling like dancing to the DJ’s beats, you can have a blast playing ping pong, billiards, or darts.
Where to Stay in Juneau
Juneau may seem remote, but it’s not that remote. There are plenty of bed and breakfasts, hotels, campgrounds, and other accommodations in the city. Here is where to stay in Juneau, Alaska:
Situated in the heart of downtown Juneau, the historic Westmark Baranof was built in 1939 to rival the most lavish hotels of its day. The hotel provides fine dining in the Gold Room Restaurant, a café, lounge, elegant public areas, and comfortable accommodations.
Another downtown option is the charming boutique hotel, Silverbow Inn. On the guest roof deck, there is BBQ, sauna, and a Jacuzzi. Their gourmet bakery supplies guests with a full breakfast.
Alaska’s Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge
This lodge is located on beachfront property on the rugged Kenai coast. They can host up to twelve guests at a time, and if your party has eight or more, you get the entire lodge to yourself. Their rates include private hiking trails, log cabin sauna and plunge pool, private cabins, fishing gear, kayaks, and more.
Pearson’s Pond Luxury Inn & Adventure Spa
One of the top-rated lodging experiences in Juneau, Pearson’s Pond Luxury Inn provides wedding and trip planning services, boats on the pond, tour bikes, cozy fireplace rooms, and several other complimentary amenities designed to enhance your vacation.
Blue Heron Bed and Breakfast
In addition to being located conveniently near Glacier Bay and offering comfortable rooms, Blue Heron Bed and Breakfast is also close to fine art galleries, a fisheries supply store, cafes, shopping, golf, the Salmon River, the dock, and a pristine beach.
Some Fun Facts about the City
Want to know a little more about Alaska’s capital city? Check out these fun facts:
- Juneau is home to around 20,000 bald eagles.
- There are over 130 miles of hiking trails throughout the city.
- Between August and April, you can occasionally see the Northern Lights, also known as Aurora Borealis, on clear evenings.
- Get access to hiking trails and experience stunning views on the Mount Roberts Tramway, which takes visitors from the waterfront to the mountaintop, a 2,000-foot elevation change, in six minutes.
- In addition to fishing and government, tourism is a major part of the economy in Juneau. Through cruise ship traffic, almost one million visitors experience the city.
- The only U.S. state capital to border another country, Juneau’s eastern border bumps up against Canada’s British Columbia.
- Rumor has it that Joe Juneau bought several drinks for the miners meeting to rename the city after him in 1881.
- Locals call the State Office Building “S.O.B.” If you visit there, be sure to check out the totem pole, restored pipe organ, and the observation deck’s views of Gastineau Channel.
- Just south of the city is the Taku River, which is named after the cold winds that come down from the mountains. Between October and March, the wind gusts can reach up to 100 miles per hour.
- In 1912, the Alaska Governor’s Mansion was completed. This 14,400-square-foot building serves as the governor’s home when they are in town for official business.
Whether you are looking to escape the summer heat or just want an out-of-the-ordinary vacation experience, Juneau, Alaska has much to offer people of all backgrounds and interests. See for yourself why Juneau is considered one of America’s best-kept secrets.