What can you do in Juneau, Alaska that doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars? Enjoy the natural beauty of this city with these 5 low cost activities.
You go to Alaska to bask in the natural beauty of land largely unfettered by people and industrial development.
Yes, there are seaplanes to see glaciers, whales to watch, and dogs that drive sleds. However, those activities cost over $100, per person.
These are once in a lifetime activities but even my dentist, who makes serious bank with her own practice in Silicon Valley, didn’t want to cough up Ben Franklins for her family of 4 to go dog sledding.
What can you do in Juneau that doesn’t cost 3 digits? Check out these 5 activities that highlight the best of Juneau, Alaska that fit most every budget.
Before You Go
Before you go, know that Juneau is a port city that is an integral stop for every Alaskan cruise known to mankind. Therefore, many of the tourist attractions revolve around the schedule of when the cruise ships arrive and depart.
#1 Look at Mendenhall Glacier
The crown jewel of any visit to Juneau is the Mendenhall Glacier. Juneau is surrounded by ice fields, but this particular glacier is the closest to downtown.
You can take a tour bus there, but it will cost $35. While that is not an obscene amount, the main issue is that it carries all the cruise ship participants with it.
Get to the Glacier Early
To really enjoy the glacier, you need to get there before anyone else, and that is primarily before the people on the cruise ships get there. Every hotel/store/tour knows the schedule of what ships are docking and when, so you can easily find out.
If you are on the cruise ship, then take the first tour bus you can to get there. The tour bus to the Glacier will depart according to when the cruise ships arrive.
Best time to go to the Glacier
The best time to go is before 9am. The first public bus from the downtown transit center leaves around 7am. You can take the #3 or #4 bus for $2 (exact change required).
Even if the cruise ships don’t arrive until 11am, regular other people start trickling in at 9am.
The bus does take an hour to get there, and you have to walk an additional 1.5 miles to get to the visitor’s center at the glacier. This is the CHEAP way.
Otherwise, you can pay for a taxi/Uber/Lyft that may cost $25-$35 each way. They are not allowed to take you completely to the visitor’s center at the glacier unless you pay the additional fee for park entrance.
#2 Eat on the Cheap
You have to eat something, even if it is cheaply.
Check out these top 5 eats in Juneau. And they’re not fancy sit down restaurants either.
Instead, they capture local ingredients and the essence of an Alaskan adventure.
#3 Get an Aerial View with the Roberts Tram
To be honest, the tram is only worth taking if it is a clear day. If it is overcast, you really don’t get much of a view.
Still, the tram is extremely close to the cruise ship docking station, there is a restaurant that serves a wide selection of seafood at the top, and there is a theatre that shows an award winning documentary about the Tlingit natives that is about 15 minutes.
Furthermore, there are hiking trails that can take you even higher.
A tram ticket costs $35 (as of 2019) and will last all day, as many times as you want to go up and down. Some hotels will sell discounted tickets for $33.
Hike instead of paying $35
If you don’t care to pay $35, you can do a strenuous 2.5 mile hike up, and then buy a $10 ticket to ride the tram down.
However, proceed at your own risk.
As the sign states, it is “steep, muddy, slippery trail with unmarked hazards” and “should not be attempted without hiking boots, water, and plenty of time.”
#4 Visit the Salmon Hatchery
Alaska is also known as the salmon state. Farming of finfish is not allowed, as they relyon and support populations of wild fish such as salmon.
One of the ways they do this is through hatcheries. Since naturally born salmon babies in the wild are extremely susceptible to death, the hatcheries assist with procreation and subsequently nurturing babies back into the wild.
You learn all this at the Macauley Salmon Hatchery.
This is not walkable from downtown but is a short taxi ride of a couple miles down the waterfront.
Entrance to the hatchery is just $5 and includes free, all you can drink coffee! For a guided tour, the cost is $15.
#5 Hike Perseverance Trail
The cheapest way to explore any city is to hike.
Luckily, Alaska has some of the most renowned hiking trails in the world, and one of them is situated within walking distance of downtown Juneau.
Perseverance Trail can make you feel like you’re a world away from any cars or city traffic. Since it doesn’t get dark until 10pm, you’ll have plenty of time to hike this 3 mile trail.
Beware of Bears
Alaska is known to have plenty of bear sightings. Juneau is home to black bears, which are apparently more friendly than the territorial brown bears.
On any hike, you may want to carry a bear bell, so the bears can hear you approaching and will likely stay away because of that.
(Or if you don’t want to buy a bear bell, blast the Beyoncé from your phone.)
If you do see a bear, try not to look it in the eye and back away slowly. (Such was the advice given to me by the visitors center at Mendenhall Glacier.)
Default Option: Just Walk Around Town
Downtown Juneau is walkable from end to end within about 15 minutes. The cruise ships too drop off right in downtown.
If you don’t feel like spending money, just have a walk around town and soak up the local culture. Travel Juneau lists a number of walkable sites to be enjoyed for free.
- If you’re staying overnight, check to make sure your hotel has blackout curtains, otherwise, the sun will wake you up at 3:30am.
- Monday and Tuesday are supposedly the heaviest days for cruise ship traffic and when most tourists will be milling about town.
- In the summer months, it doesn’t get dark until 10pm, however many restaurants and shops close at 8pm so plan accordingly.
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