Gearing Up for Juneau's Outdoors -- You can rent the gear you need for outings on the water or to equip Forest Service cabin visits from Alaska Boat and Kayak Center, at the Auke Bay Harbor (tel. 907/789-6886; www.juneaukayak.com). Besides camping and fishing gear, they rent sea kayaks ($50 a day for a single, $70 double, with multiday discounts) and will deliver the boat anywhere on Juneau's road system, to outlying areas, or to Admiralty Island. They also offer a variety of guided outings; check the website. Rent skiffs with outboard motors that you can use for fishing or exploring from Panhandle Powerboats (tel. 907/789-5767; www.panhandlepowerboats.com). Prices range from $195 to $400 a day.
Bird-WatchingBald eagles are everywhere in Juneau and most common on the shoreline, especially where fish are plentiful, such as at the hatchery. For more variety, visit the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge, which encompasses 3,800 acres of tidal estuaries, fresh and salt marshes, ponds, sedge meadows, sandy islands, and beaches spanning the Gastineau Channel, much of it near the airport. More than 100 species of birds use the refuge, mainly during the April and May migration. Access points are on either side of the channel, including a viewing platform on the downtown-bound side of Egan Drive, at mile 6. Hike out into the refuge near the Mendenhall River to see feeding birds in the summer: Take Old Glacier Highway just beyond the airport to Berner's Avenue, turn left on Radcliffe Road, and follow it to the end. Go near low tide.
Freshwater & Shoreline Fishing
Juneau isn't particularly known for its stream fishing. But there are a few places on the road system where you can find good fishing in freshwater or even in the ocean. The advice you need is in the free Juneau Sportfishing Guide, available in print or online from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 1255 W. 8th St. (P.O. Box 115526), Juneau, AK 99811-5526 (tel. 907/465-4270; www.alaska.gov/adfg, click on "Sport Fish," then on the Southeast region on the map).
For a remote fly-in experience with fly or spinning gear, contact Alaska Fly 'N' Fish Charters, 9604 Kelly Court (tel. 907/790-2120; www.alaskabyair.com). A guided 5-hour trip is $550 per person, with a two-person minimum. The same reputable guy (Butch Laughlin) also provides flightseeing and bear-viewing air tours. Bear Creek Outfitters (tel. 907/723-3914; www.juneauflyfishing.com) specializes in catch-and-release fly-fishing only, with all gear and hand-tied flies provided. The aircraft drops off a guide with no more than five anglers for an 8-hour day for $615 per person, or 5 1/2 hours for $400 with a minimum of three passengers.
We've mentioned several good hikes at Mendenhall Glacier and out the road, above. More than two dozen are described in a nicely made book with detailed topographic maps of each, Juneau Trails (Alaska Geographic), which you can find at visitor centers. In the Miner's Footsteps, a guide to the history behind 14 Juneau trails, is available from the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. The Juneau city and borough Department of Parks and Recreation (tel. 907/586-5226; www.juneau.org/parksrec) leads hikes (and other activities) through the year; check the website or call the 24-hour hike line at tel. 907/586-0428.
The Perseverance Trail climbs up the valley behind Juneau and into the mining history of the area it accesses. It can be busy in summer. The trail head is about 1 1/2 miles from town on Basin Road. The trail is 4 miles of easy walking on the mountainside above Gold Creek to the Perseverance Mine, at the Silverbow Basin, a mining community from 1885 to 1921. Use caution on icy patches, as there are steep drop-offs. A well-documented historic pamphlet is for sale at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.
Two trails start from points along the Perseverance Trail. The challenging Mount Juneau Trail rises more than 3,500 feet over about 2 miles from a point 1 mile along from the Perseverance trail head. Go only in dry weather, to avoid disastrous falls. The Granite Creek Trail, starting 2 miles in on the Perseverance Trail, climbs 1,200 feet over 1.5 miles to an alpine basin. Both are quieter than the Perseverance Trail.
Another hike right from downtown climbs Mount Roberts -- just follow the stairway from the top of 6th Street in a neighborhood called Star Hill. The summit is 4.5 miles and 3,819 vertical feet away, but you don't have to go all the way to the top for incredible views and alpine terrain. At the 1,760-foot level, you come to the restaurant at the top of the Mount Roberts tram. Of course, it's easier to take the tram up and hike down. A third choice: Start from the tram and hike to the summit.
The Treadwell Mine Historic Trail, on Douglas Island, is a fascinating hour's stroll through the ruins of a massive hard-rock mine complex that once employed and housed 2,000 men. A well-written guide to numbered posts on the trail is available from the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. This is a great hike for kids. To find the trail head, take 3rd Street in Douglas, bearing left at the Y onto Savikko Street, which leads to Savikko Park, also known as Sandy Beach Park. The trail starts at the far end of the park.
Another great family outing is to the Outer Point Trail, 1.3 miles on a forest boardwalk to a beach with good tide pooling, lots of eagles, and possible whale sightings. The trail's only drawback is crowding, especially when tour groups tromp through; avoid them by going early or late. To get there, drive over the bridge to Douglas, then right on North Douglas Highway 12 miles to the trail head.
Remote Cabins on Foot -- Five U.S. Forest Service cabins and three Alaska State Parks cabins are accessible by hikes of less than a day on trails connected to Juneau's road system. That means that you can get to these cabins without an expensive plane or boat charter, and that's a rarity. The three Alaska State Parks cabins are at Point Bridget State Park. The Forest Service cabins include Peterson Lake, with lake and stream fishing for Dolly Varden char and cutthroat trout; John Muir, on a 1,500-foot ridge top above Auke Bay, up the Auk Nu Trail; Dan Moller, on Douglas Island right across from town; Eagle Glacier Memorial, overlooking the glacier upriver from Eagle Beach and reached by the Amalga Trail; and beautiful Windfall Lake, with fishing. Each cabin rents for $35 a night, and generally there's a 2-night maximum stay. All are popular and must be reserved well in advance (it's wise to book as soon as your dates become available 6 months earlier). If you can afford a charter, or if you are an expert sea kayaker, there are many more choices farther afield, especially on Admiralty Island . You'll need camping gear to stay at any of these primitive cabins. Get information on Forest Service cabins from the Ranger District, then reserve through the national system
For downhill skiing, the city-owned Eaglecrest Ski Area (tel. 907/790-2000; www.skijuneau.com) is the large, steep home hill of Olympic silver medalist Hillary Lindh, Juneau's favorite daughter (her father helped choose the site in the 1970s). A chair goes almost to the top of Douglas Island, with expansive views and 640 acres of skiing terrain. The four lifts serve 34 runs with a total vertical drop of 1,400 feet, rated 40% expert, 40% intermediate, and 20% novice. It's only 12 miles from downtown on North Douglas Highway, up Fish Creek Road. An all-day lift ticket is $37 weekends and $42 weekdays for adults. Even among Alaskans, Eaglecrest is little known, despite being second in size and ski lift development only to Alyeska Resort, near Anchorage.
Eaglecrest has 8km of cross-country-skiing trail, offering the most reliable track skiing in town.
Often Juneau's warm, damp winters don't provide enough snow for good cross-country skiing at lower elevations. Many of the hiking trails into the mountains become winter backcountry routes, however, and snow does stick up there. Before going out, always check with the Forest Service for advice on your route and on avalanche conditions. Several of the Forest Service cabins also serve as winter warm-up houses during the day and make good skiing destinations. If conditions permit, a network of trails is set around the Mendenhall Glacier, with parking and access from the Skaters' Cabin off Montana Creek Road.
A zip line is a cable strung between two high points from which a passenger hangs on a wheeled runner, zipping from one end to the other. Once thought the province of Special Forces training and the like, riding a zip line (with a safety harness) is now considered a cruise activity and is billed as a way of seeing the rainforest. We're aware of seven tours, in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and at the Icy Strait cruise-ship stop, but this one, on Juneau's Douglas Island, caters primarily to independent travelers, with less stratospheric prices: Alaska Zipline Adventures (tel. 907/321-0947; www.alaskazip.com), with a tour of seven rides and a suspension bridge near the Eaglecrest Ski Area. The 3 1/2-hour tour costs $149 adults, $99 children 12 and under, including a snack and transfer to the site. Clients must be 10 and older, fit, not pregnant, and between 70 and 250 pounds. Wear pants and shoes with closed heels and toes.
On the Water
Saltwater Fishing -- Many charter boats are available for fishing excursions from Juneau. Some will also include whale-watching on a trip. Juneau Sportfishing and Sightseeing, 2 Marine Way, Ste. 200 (tel. 907/586-1887; www.juneausportfishing.com), is one of the largest operators. They charge $395 per person for a full day of fishing for salmon, $449 for halibut and salmon; or $205 for 4 hours of fishing salmon. They charge $125 for a 2 1/2-hour whale-watching trip and also offer booking of other local tours. See other whale-watching choices below.
Sea Kayaking -- The calm waters around Juneau appeal to sea kayakers, and the city is a popular hub for trips on the water farther afield. Besides the sublime scenery, you'll likely see eagles and sea birds, and may encounter porpoises, seals, and possibly humpback whales. Alaska Travel Adventures (tel. 800/323-5757 or 907/789-0052; www.bestofalaskatravel.com) offers 3 1/2-hour kayak trips (half that time on the water) in Auke Bay for $89 adults, $59 children 6 to 12. The tour includes orientation for beginners, a snack, and transportation from downtown.
Whale-Watching -- Whale-watching is reliable near Juneau, and many small boats are available for trips, offering a chance to experience the whales closely. You've got good chances of encountering humpback and killer whales, Steller's sea lions, harbor seals, and, perhaps most exciting, Dall's porpoises, which shoot through and over the water in packs. The Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau maintains a list of businesses, and their website has links to each. Harv & Marv's Outback Alaska (tel. 866/909-7288 or 907/209-7288; www.harvandmarvs.com) is run with 6- and 12-passenger boats by a couple of lifelong Juneau residents with decades of experience, each of whom go by their high school nicknames (really they're Jay and Pete), and who are known as characters offering fun, personal whale-watching trips. They charge $149 per person for a half-day, but prices vary by group size. Orca Enterprises (tel. 800/SEE-ORCA [733-6722] or 907/789-6801; www.alaskawhalewatching.com) is a larger whale-watching firm, with four good-size vessels, offering 3 1/2-hour tours and free transfers from your hotel. The cost is $119 adults, $89 ages 5 to 12, and $59 ages 4 and under.
On the Ice
More than 36 major glaciers around Juneau flow from a single ocean of ice behind the mountains, the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield. You can land on it in a helicopter just to touch the ice or to take a nature hike or dog-sled ride. It's expensive, but there are few other places to see, let alone explore, the kind of ice sheet that carved North America in the last Ice Age. From the air, glaciers look unreal, like creations by a graphic artist, their sinuous lines of blue and white ice striped with darker gray gravel debris. Only standing on the ice, which on closer inspection resembles the crusty compressed snow of springtime snow berms, do you get a clear sense of this entirely unfamiliar kind of terrain.
It's worth noting that these tours have had some major mishaps. While the accidents represent a tiny fraction of all the safe flights, they're a reminder that flying a helicopter to a glacier is not like flying an airliner.
Era Helicopters (tel. 800/843-1947; www.eraflightseeing.com) is a respected operator. Their 1-hour glacier overflight with a 20-minute landing on Norris Glacier costs $279 per person. They also offer a program of dog-sled rides on the ice, a chance to try a winter sport in the summer. That excursion includes the four-glacier overflight and adds about an hour at a sled-dog camp on a glacier with a ride behind the dogs. It costs $489 per person. One caveat: Poor or even overcast weather makes it difficult to see the ice clearly, but if you wait for a sunny morning, all seats will likely be booked. They have a 48-hour cancellation policy, so you have to gamble to some extent on good viewing conditions. Of course, they don't fly in unsafe conditions.
NorthStar Trekking (tel. 866/590-4530 or 907/790-4530; www.northstartrekking.com), another company with its own helicopters, specializes in hiking and teaching about glaciers. Their small groups (a maximum of 12, with two guides) go on ice-hiking excursions of up to a few miles, with the speed determined by the group. Various tour lengths are offered, with 1 to 3 hours spent on the ice. The 4 1/4-hour trip, which includes 2 hours on the ice and half an hour in the air (the balance is getting to the helicopter and gearing up), costs $399 per person.
Wings Airways (tel. 907/586-6275; wingsairways.com) offers glacier overflights by floatplane and flightseeing tours to the remote Taku Lodge, where they land for king salmon for brunch, lunch, or dinner. It's a great opportunity to see bears, which snoop around the lodge. The cost is $280 adults, $225 ages 12 and under.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.