Glaciers. Hiking. Kayaking. Bears. Whales. Sled dogs. Fresh fish. Gorgeous views. These are the things I experienced in Alaska without a cruise – and you can, too!
People generally tell you that a cruise is the best way to visit Alaska. Naturally, when I was planning my own trip, that’s where I started. But none of the cruises felt right for me, so I explored how to experience Alaska without taking a cruise. I focused on Juneau because it offers a wide variety of activities.
Here’s how we spent 5 summer days there.
Day 1 – Travel Day
This was an all-day affair for us. We left Houston at 2:30 p.m. and arrived in Juneau at 9:15 p.m., which included a stop in Seattle + time change.
Day 2 – Whale watching + hiking
If you’ve been following my posts, you know I love wildlife. Whale watching was a must, and we ended up seeing several humpback whales. We chose Harv and Marv’s because the boat was small with ~10 passengers, so we weren’t competing for prime boat space.
Afterwards, we took to the trails for a hike at Salmon Creek — just one of many hiking options in Juneau. Do your research so you don’t end up going 7 miles instead of 3 miles, not that I know anything about that. Luckily sunset isn’t until 9:30 p.m.
Day 3 – Glacier kayaking + Nugget falls
What better way to check out a glacier than to kayak near it? We were able to get relatively close to Mendenhall Glacier, but not too close in case the glacier calves – meaning a part of it breaks off. Don’t make my mistake – bundle up! It’s much colder on the water.
There are many other things to do on Mendenhall Glacier – such as hiking on the glacier or exploring ice caves, if you’re up for it.
We also stopped at Nugget Falls, a 377 foot waterfall adjacent to the glacier.
Day 4 – Bear watching + salmon hatchery
Outfitted in rubber boots and binoculars, and accompanied by a guide, we took a 45-minute sea plane ride to Admiralty Island, which has one of the highest densities of brown bears in the world. The sea plane ride showed breathtaking views of Juneau and the Tongass National Forest, which covers most of Southeast Alaska. It wasn’t at all scary.
Once we arrived to Admiralty, we immediately hunkered down, as a momma bear and her two cubs were blocking the trailhead. They ended up staying there for several hours, which was incredible to watch. We saw other bears, whales, eagles, deer and a mink. You need and want a guide for this – I recommend Pack Creek Bear Tours.
Before the bear tour, we had about an hour to kill, so we stopped at the salmon hatchery. I wasn’t expecting much, but ended up loving it! The life cycle of salmon is fascinating, and the hatchery raises and releases them as part of a sustainable fishery program.
Day 5 – Summer dog sledding + exploring
Surprise, surprise – another animal activity! We spent a few hours cozying up to sled dogs, learning about their training and enjoying a short ride in a make-shift summer sled, since there was no snow. The dogs seem to love sledding, and this was a great, low-key way to wrap up our time in Juneau.
Juneau is technically an island, since it’s not accessible from any other part of Alaska by road. There is a bridge across a channel to Douglas Island, and the whole area is drivable in a couple hours. On our last day, we drove end-to-end in Juneau and Douglas Island. A highlight was the National Shrine of Saint Therese, 20 miles north of downtown. There are no words to describe the serenity and beauty of the property, and we even saw whales from the coast.
These activities are just the beginning — there’s so much to do in Juneau! We could have easily spent another couple days there. It’s a great city to begin your Alaskan adventure. I definitely plan to explore other parts of Alaska someday.
My next post will focus on how to ensure you have a great time in Juneau – what to pack, how to avoid crowds, where to eat, etc. Stay tuned!
Question: If you’ve been to Juneau, what did you most enjoy? What other parts of Alaska do you recommend, and why?