Start & Finish: Alaska State Capitol, 4th and Seward streets.
Time: 1 hour (1 mile) for standard tour; 2 1/2 hours (2 1/2 miles) for the extended tour, with minimal stops.
1. The Alaska State Capitol
This structure fills the block between 4th and 5th and Main and Seward streets. Except for the marble portico on the 4th Street side, it is a nondescript brick box, probably the least impressive state capitol in the most beautiful setting in the nation. Legislators hanker for a larger, grander building, but the still-simmering desire of some politicians to move the capital nearer the state's population center has defeated plans to build here. The federal government built the Capitol in 1931, when Alaska was still a territory. Inside, some of the old-fashioned woodwork and decorative details are interesting, and the public is free to walk through. During the summer, free tours are offered Monday through Friday 8am to 5:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm. Check at the desk in the lobby or call tel. 907/465-3853 for information. The legislature is in session from January to April.
Across 4th is the:
2. State Courthouse
The statue of a bear in front defines official Alaskan taste in art: It replaced a hated abstract steel sculpture called Nimbus that was removed by an act of the legislature and that finally came to rest in front of the state museum a few blocks away.
On the opposite, northwest corner is the:
3. Juneau-Douglas City Museum
Stop in here to buy the Evergreen Cemetery map if you plan to include that in your walk, or get the Historic Downtown Juneau Guide to learn more on the whole walk. (The museum is.) Even if you don't stop in, take a look at a rare American flag out front. This small plaza is where the 49-star U.S. flag was first raised in 1959 -- they didn't make many of those, as Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state within a year, but you'll still find one flying here.
On the southwest corner of Main and 4th is the:
4. State Office Building
This building is built into the edge of a cliff that forms a major barrier through the downtown area; if you're headed for the lower land, where the State Museum and Centennial Hall are located, you can avoid eight flights of steps in between by taking the building's elevator down. In any event, visit the towering atrium, with its great views and a 1928 movie theater pipe organ that's played on Fridays at noon. The totem pole is called "The Old Witch" and was taken from Sukkum Village around 1880. The historical collections of the Alaska State Library are housed here (www.library.state.ak.us/hist), and a stop to view historic photographs and artifacts on display is well worth the effort. Visitors are welcome to browse, too; or do it from home, as thousands of pieces have been digitized at http://vilda.alaska.edu. On sunny days, the patio off the atrium is a warm place for a picnic, with a fabulous view.
Leaving again through the door that you entered, turn left and follow Calhoun Street around the curve. An outdoor staircase here leads down to the flat area of town below (but you know about taking the elevator). Those lowlands originally were mostly underwater, and this embankment stood just above the shoreline, which continued along Front and South Franklin streets. The land you see below you is made of mine tailings that were dumped in the Channel. Continue on Calhoun; the governor uses the pedestrian overpass (which we walk under) to cross Calhoun to get to the Capitol from the white, neoclassical:
5. Governor's Mansion
Located on the left, the mansion was built by the federal government in 1912 for $40,000. It isn't normally open for public tours. Our most famous governor, Sarah Palin, didn't care for it and spent little time here, but most governors who've moved in lived here full time.
Shortcut: If you don't mind missing the next stop (Gold Creek), you can save yourself some hill-climbing by continuing on Calhoun, turning right on Goldbelt Street, climbing past some beautiful houses to 7th, then picking up the tour at the Wickersham House.
Continuing down Calhoun, you'll come to:
6. Gold Creek
Juneau's founders made their gold strike in this stream in 1880. Trace it upstream through peaceful Cope Park, past the playground and tennis courts to the unique ball field, which is bounded by the stream's forested canyon walls.
Go all the way to your right, across the baseball diamond, to find a lovely path and public stairway through the woods steeply up to 7th Street. Seventh runs along a narrow ridge between downtown Juneau and the creek. Across the street from the top of the stairway is:
7. The Wickersham House State Historic Site
This white 1898 frame house, at 213 7th St. (tel. 907/586-9001; www.alaskastateparks.org, click "Individual Parks"), was the retirement home of Judge James Wickersham, who was revered by Alaskans for bringing law to the gold rush in Eagle, Nome, and Fairbanks; for exploring the Denali area and helping to make it a national park; for helping convince the federal government to build the Alaska railroad and found the state university; and for winning Alaska's right to make its own laws when he represented the territory as a nonvoting delegate in Congress. The house was in the family from 1928 until the state bought it in 1984, so it still contains many of Wickersham's belongings, including an Edison cylinder gramophone he took to Fairbanks, and his written assignment to go to Alaska, which is signed by Theodore Roosevelt. The house badly needed repair before a recent renovation project funded in part by the National Park Service. The first floor is open May 15 to September 15 Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 4pm. Admission is free.
Continue on 7th to Gold Street, turn right, and follow it downhill to 5th, site of the:
8. St. Nicholas Orthodox Church
This small structure is a significant architectural and historic landmark. The octagonal building was built in 1893-94 by Serbian miners and Tlingits. Many Tlingits chose the Russian Orthodox faith in the late 19th century when government-sponsored Protestant missionaries arrived with authority to force Christianity on Alaska Natives. The Protestants' civilizing program entailed wiping out Native languages and culture, but the Orthodox allowed people to worship in Tlingits and to continue more of their own customs. Bishop Innocent Veniaminov had translated sacred texts into Tlingits 50 years earlier when the Russians were still in Sitka. Today Alaska Natives make up the bulk of Russian Orthodox congregations in Alaska, and St. Nicholas still has an active Tlingits parish. There is no admission, but a donation is requested. There is a small gift shop and museum. The church is normally open in summer daily 9am to 5pm.
The next part of this walk leads to Evergreen Cemetery and up to the top of the town and through the woods on the flume -- it's a 2 1/2-mile strenuous hike that includes some steep stairways and streets. If that sounds appealing, continue 1 block down and 2 blocks to the right. Cross the creek and stay on the same road (which goes by various names), bearing right as it becomes Martin Street. On the left is:
9. The Evergreen Cemetery
The cemetery slopes toward the ocean, opening a wonderful vista over the clear green lawn. One reason the view is so broad and open is that the markers are flush with the ground. The old Alaska Native graves are in the wooded portion on the far side. Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, the city's founders, are buried near the cross at the top end of the cemetery, close to where you arrive on the walk.
Across the road from the cross, Hermit Street reaches a little way into the mountainside. Follow the steep public stairs next to house no. 430 up to the bottom of Pine Street. This is the walk we described in the introduction. The views get better and better as you rise to the top of Pine Street, then go right on Evergreen Street, following the road to where it dissipates into a trail among shadowy spruce and western hemlock.
Continue on the peaceful forest trail among the ferns and evergreens up the valley, coming to the:
10. Abandoned Wooden Flume
Once the town's aqueduct, the flume now is maintained as a boardwalk into the forest. Since it carried water, it's nearly level, but watch your step in wet weather, as it crosses some high trestles over gullies.
At the end of the flume, cross over the valley to Basin Road and continue upstream. Stop to see:
11. The Last Chance Mining Museum
To the left is the Perseverance Trail, which continues up between the mountains; the Perseverance also leads to the trail head for a challenging hike up Mount Juneau.
To get back to town, follow Basin Road 1 mile back down the valley. Taking the first right will put you at the top of Gold Street. Descend a block to 7th and pick up the walking tour at stop 7 (the Wickersham House is a block down 7th), or continue down Gold to St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, stop 8 on the tour.