Every town we stopped in while cruising Alaska had some sort of "see the sights" bus tour—a "value" excursion where for $30 or so, you could get a narrated tour of a few sights the town has to offer. We chose to take the tour in Juneau because the town was more accessible by bus (strung out between the coast and the mountains, the awkwardly shaped town was thin and long). The tour also included one of the stops we most-intended to see in Alaska, the Mendenhall Glacier. Unfortunately, the weather in Juneau wasn't particularly pleasant and our visit to the town was restricted exclusively to the bus tour. Still, we rather enjoyed our relaxing day in Juneau.
It wasn't long after arriving in Juneau that we disembarked from the ship to catch our bus-tour. The driver was exceedingly friendly and welcoming and we were happy to get out of a brief rain. When we took off, he winded his way through town and meandered through a spiel, cracking several jokes along the way. The most intriguing fact to me?—That there are only 3 fast food restaurants in town. Mind blown. Proof I couldn't live in Juneau. Anyway, soon we were at the first stop: the Mendenhall Glacier.
The Mendenhall Glacier is Juneau's primary and most accessible glacier. It is fed from the Juneau ice fields and melts into the Mendenhall Lake, the relatively young body of water just before it. The glacier is 15-20 minutes from the docks and has its own Visitor's Center and a series of trails maintained by the National Forrest Service. With only an hour to explore, we decided to skip the Visitor's Center and take the 3/4 of a mile long Nugget Falls trail, as it allowed the closest possible vantage point from our side of the lake.
Treading carefully over wet rocks where the end of the trail was washed-out, we soon made it to the trail's end, a beach directly next to the bottom of Nugget Falls and nearby to the Mendenhall Glacier. While we were ultimately there to see the glacier, the size and roar of the waterfall was tremendously powerful and just as exciting to us as the ice across the lake. Our hike was timed perfectly and for some time, we seemed to have this beach entirely to ourselves. This allowed for some fantastic pictures!
After a bunch of fabulous photos, it was time for one more family-shot.
Done with our photos, we realized we would have a few minutes to explore the visitor center before our return to the bus. On the way back, I took another Hyperlapse of the Nugget Falls trail, visible to the right. You can see how lush and green the forrest is, even in such a heavily treaded area.
The Visitor's Center was well done, with plenty of informative exhibits and a stunning (climate-controlled) view of the glacier. It's definitely the way-to-go if walking on outdoor trails isn't your style. Our favorite exhibit was one where you were able to touch "200 Year Old Ice" from the glacier. Although for some reason, the ice brought out my inner-Klingon and I turned into an ice-warrior.
Once I was able to shed my warrior-instincts, it was back to the bus and onwards to our next stop: The DIPAC Macaulay Salmon Hatchery. Now, I can't say that I was particularly interested in seeing a salmon hatchery (none of us were), especially when the stop was a thinly-veiled advertisement for Alaskan salmon products. That being said, it was rather interesting to see how humans have created the conditions for a naturally occurring process to exist within a man-made environment. Besides, there was free coffee and a few photo ops!
After the short stop at the hatchery, it was back to the bus for the final stop of the tour: the Juneau Downtown Historic District. Like Skagway, the J.D.H.D. was full of old, western-looking structures from 100 or so years ago. Also like Skagway, most of them were occupied by the same jewelry places found all around Alaskan tourist traps. I am not one for shopping so none of this appealed to me (although I did stop at the Alaskan Brewing Co.'s store to grab a beer glass, a suitable souvenir). Still, the J.D.H.D. made for a quaint and relaxing stroll back to the ship.
And that was our visit to Juneau! Put off by more unfavorable weather, we returned to the ship to play some shuffleboard and have a few drinks before we were on to the last port of call on the trip, Ketchikan. I wouldn't mind seeing more of Juneau on a future expedition to Alaska, although I do have a suspicion that I've seen the gist of it.
And that should do it for Juneau! For more photos from our tour around Juneau, please check out the photo gallery below!: