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Cruise ships docked at Juneau under a May sunset.

Juneau is Gonna Get You: Thrifty guide to Alaska’s Capital

Only accessible by air or sea, Juneau has a bit less of an obvious identity than other popular ports of call. But with a remote rainforest location and proximity to it’s own glacial icefield, there is adventure to be had on the cheap!

Why rent a car instead of excursion?

Visiting 7 port cities with 2 young humans who don’t have jobs, we just couldn’t stomach spending $500-1000 at every city. Juneau in particular, is drivable, so we rented a car on Turo. The downtown shuttle dropped us off a short walk from the parking garage so we started our adventure 30 minutes ahead of all the cruise ship busses:)

Welcome to Juneau sign greets cruise passengers at the port.

Alaska’s Glaciers never stop being amazing

Even though we’d already seen a dozen glaciers, we zoomed to our first free stop to marvel at Mendenhall Glacier. The Junior Ranger books provided great information about the behavior of glaciers and wildlife. And since it’s managed by the Forest Service, kids were surprised by a colorful patch. If planning on any of the longer hikes (map here), remember a National Park pass or have a $5 handy. Mid-July thru September is peak season to for salmon spawn and a potential peak at some bears noshing on them!

A short 20 minute drive from the Juneau port, Mendenhall Glacier is easily visible from the road.

Head north of Juneau for wildlife and history

Hearing that wildlife is more populous north of town, we headed out to a couple of free stops. A lovely trail through Ernest Gruening State Park led us to the rainforest summer homesite of Alaska’s statehood champion, territorial Governor and first Senator. And just down the road, whales greeted us as we wandered the beautifully landscaped National Shrine of St. Therese. We also spotted the fuzzy butt of a black bear on the side of the road as we drove the winding oceanside highway.

Catch some crabs at Tracy’s

By this time we were getting hungry, so we stopped by Tracy’s King Crab Shack #2. Home to the original shack, we munched most amazing seafood lunch without having to fight traffic and find parking in downtown. The crab legs were delish, but the seafood bisque and crab cakes top our Alaskan snacks list!

The most delicious lunch at Tracy’s King Crab Shack 2 in Juneau.

Head to the mountains for Juneau Gold

For our final adventure of the day, we drove to the site where a Tinglit guide showed Joe Juneau to gold in 1880. Mostly reclaimed by the rainforest, the Last Chance Mining Museum was a fun walk across a Gold Creek and steal at $5 for adults and free for the kids. The museum curator passionately explained how the entire area’s mining operation sprawled for miles over, through and under the mountains. For almost 75 years, the Juneau mines produced 6.8 million ounces of gold until closing operation in 1944.

Bridge across Gold Creek leads to the Last Chance Mining Museum just outside of Juneau.

She also encouraged us to stop by the Flume Trail on the way back to town. Originally built to power the mines, Juneau still produces damless hydroelectric power and protects their drinking water under these boards. This trail actually connects back to town as a fantastic hiking choice full of history.

Boardwalk of Flume Trail along Gold Creek in Juneau.

Missed Juneau Opportunities

With limited time and several more stops we opted out of these popular pricey spots:

  • Goldbelt Tram: $55 adult & $40 child
  • AJ Gastineau Mine: $75 adult & $55 child
  • Glacier Gardens: $30 adult & $20 child
  • Check out our Alaska’s Best post for recommendations on ziplining, whale watching, salmon spying, shopping, fishing, totem parks, dogsleding and more!

How’d we do?

Our total cost for car, lunch and admissions in Juneau was $250 – less than one person for most excursions!

Did we miss anything iconic in Juneau? Tell us about your favorite adventure in the comments.


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