After the US pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Trump Government voiced skepticism about climate change, the husband and I wanted to see the glaciers up close and see how fast they were receding.
We set our sights on Juneau, the capital of Alaska. And summer happens to be the best time to visit the State (unless you’re looking to spot the Northern Lights).
Juneau, inhabited by ~35,000 people, can ONLY be reached by air or by sea because of being hemmed in by the Juneau Ice Fields and mountains. ( The Juneau Ice Fields feed the glaciers!) What this translates to for the unsuspecting tourist, is expensive car rentals!
- Car rentals are about $80/day. And with barely any public transportation or ride sharing services, this is the most convenient way to get around. We booked the car with AMEX and availed of the Collision Damage Waiver offered.(Parking: You can park at the Downtown Transportation Centre Parking, which is next to the Four Points Sheraton. You pay 75 cents/ hour to park between 8AM – 6PM. The paying booth is antiquated – you roll up notes and drop those into the box corresponding to your parking lot number! This is a convenient spot and is 5 minutes away from where most tours start out from, the Cruise Ship area and Mount Roberts Tramway)
- Taxi service: Be wary! The taxi service isn’t very reliable. We had booked a taxi from Evergreen Taxi to pick us up from Mendenhall Glacier to the airport….and it never turned up! We finally had to call Juneau Taxi to pick us up in 10 minutes!
Where to Stay: The hotels in Juneau seemed overpriced and very uninspiring. Super 8 was charging $150/ day.
B&Bs are definitely the way out here!
We booked a studio apartment on Douglas Island via AirB&B . This was the best decision we made on the trip!
The views from the apartment were breathtaking – we could see the Mendenhall glacier, in all its glory, from our bed – crystal blue when the sun was on it and angry grey when overcast clouds hung around it. A bald eagle frequently flew past our window and we discovered that it had a nest with 2 eaglets in the area.
Where to Eat: We stocked up on groceries at Foodlands and cooked most of our meals ( since we had tours starting at 7AM in the morning!)
We also ate Russian dumplings at Pel’meni ( tasty!), bought street food from Bernadette’s truck (hot, economical and tasty!) and sampled some locally brewed beer and wood fired pizza at the Island Pub on Douglas Island. We loved the atmosphere at the Island Pub – this is one place that is frequented mostly by locals.
Guided Tours: Some of our favourite guided tours were:
- Mendenhall Canoe and Paddle Trek: This was a mind blowing experience and our favourite tour by far. The entire trip took about 7 hours.
We canoed from Mendenhall Lake to the glacier, trekked up,explored some beautiful, surreal ice caves and then traced our path back. Thankfully, on our return trip, we had the wind from the glacier at our backs, gently nudging our canoe forward.
We booked the tour via Juneau Shore Tours online.
We had dressed in a thermal base layer, fleece pants and an insulated jacket.The tour group provided us with rain coats and pants, boots, microspikes, harnesses, snack bag and a bottle of water.
At the end of the day, all we wanted to do was curl up in bed with some hot chai and watch the glacier and the tides change in the Gastineau Channel from our apartment.
- Tracy Arm Fjord: We booked this tour via Adventure Bound Alaska. This tour operator has a small vessel that can take you right up to the Sawyer Glacier. We set out at 7:30 Am in the morning and returned at 6PM. On the way, we spotted an eagle perched on an ice berg, harbor seals and sea lions.
Sawyer glacier was beautiful and there was a lot of calving during our visit. You first see the ice cracking and falling into the water before the sound (like a rifle shot) reaches you.
- Whale watching: There are multiple tour operators here. Most tours are 3 hour trips and nearly all boats congregate at the same spot to watch the same whales! We spotted a couple of humpback whales. The captain and the naturalist on board would spot these mammals by watching out for the ~20 foot spouts that gave their location away.
Places to Visit:
- Mendenhall Glacier – If you’re not part of a tour, you will need a $5 daily pass to visit the glacier. This can be purchased at the book shop in the visitor centre or through an automated ticket booth near the bus stand at the entrance.
If you plan to visit the glacier multiple times, take the season pass for $15, which gives 2 people unlimited entry into the area throughout the season.
At the visitor center, dont miss out on the ~15 minute documentary that shows how alarmingly fast the glaciers are receding because of climate change!
There are a couple of different trails. We loved the photo point trail and the Nugget Falls trail. Once the salmon run begins, the steep creek trail will be a beautiful spot to view bears feeding on the salmon.
- Shrine of St. Therese, Juneau – This is a beautiful catholic shrine dedicated to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the patron saint of Alaska.The shrine faces the Inside Passage and as we walked towards it, we saw a whale spout in the distance
- Rainforest trail on Douglas Island – The mile long trail passes through a forest of Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock and emerges onto the northern part of Douglas Island where Fritz cove and Auke Bay meet at Stephen’s Passage. We spotted a couple of bald eagles watching us from the rocks spotting the beach.
- Trails on Mount Robert (Definitely not worth the $33 tramway ticket. If you are intent on going, look into the Juneau tour saver app to get 2 tickets for the price of 1). Do watch the 15 minute film in the Chilkat Theatre which gives you a good overview of the Tlinglits and Alaskan History.
What to wear in Juneau: Things that you definitely need to pack:
- Thermal base layers
- Fleece jacket and fleece pants
- Insulating Jacket
- Rain coat and rain pants
- Gloves ( We bought fleece lined gloves)
- Cap ( We had baseball caps)
- Refillable water bottles ( for all those long treks, kayaking)
Budget Tips: Look at the Alaska Tour Saver Coupon and the Juneau Tour Saver App. We bought the Juneau Tour Saver App for $35.
This app lets you buy 2 tickets for the price of 1 for multiple tours in and around Juneau.
We paid $33 for 2 tickets on Mount Roberts Tramway instead of $66.
You can also use this to book whale watching, salmon fishing tours ( and save up on the price of 1 ticket!). All we needed to do was show the app at the time of booking the ticket.
All in all, we had a beautiful holiday exploring an ecosystem we had never been in before – Calving glaciers, a narrow Fjord, watching the wildlife, hiking up the trails and capturing some beautiful photographs …..Juneau has set the bar very high. It’s going to be difficult for another holiday to live up to this one!