Juneau is a port for most Alaskan cruises, including the one my family took in the summer of 2019. It is the only capital city inaccessible from a highway. Juneau is busy by Alaska standards and compared to the other ports you will encounter. It seems more like a real city than the others we experienced. If you want a significant bucket list experience, like dog-sledding on a glacier, and have the money for it, this is the port for you. If you don’t, you still can do some pretty cool experiences, as there are free or cheap activities from Juneau, including the Mendenhall Glacier.
Juneau may be the easiest port day to plan for yourself without booking a tour. Many of the other cruise ports are mainly cities full of shopping. You can take short walks around, but most fun activities require getting far out of town. This is less true in Juneau as the glacier is only 12 miles away.
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Explore Mendenhall Glacier Without a Tour
When you get off your cruise ship, you will be in downtown Juneau. Most port days in Juneau are long days, so you should have a lot of time to explore.
How to Get to Mendenhall Glacier from Juneau
Catch the Glacier Shuttle
Right in front of the cruise ships are shuttle stands. You can book a shuttle or taxi right there for around $45. The ride will take under half an hour and is narrated.
How to Take the Bus from Anchorage Cruise Port to Mendenhall Glacier
If you would like to save even more money, you can walk to the Downtown Bus Station (700 w 6th Ave.). The bus will take you to Mendenhall for about 8 dollars round trip.
Take the #3 bus from the Downtown Bus Station to the Mendenhall Loop Road stop. The bus will let you off at the corner. You will cross the street and take the 1 1/2 mile walk on the road up to the Mendenhall Visitor Station. The whole trip will take you 1 1/2 hours each way, including the walk. The road is paved but will be alongside the forest. On this walk, we saw a mama black bear and two young cubs fishing in a stream on the side of the road.
Mendenhall Visitor’s Center
When you get to Mendenhall, go to the visitor’s center where you can pay the day fee and become educated about glaciers. There is a movie that is worth watching in the center. There are bathrooms at the glacier, but no food or drinks.
Take a Hike to the Glacier
To get closest to the foot of the glacier, you will need to walk along the one-mile flat Nugget Falls dirt trail. You will also pass by the foot of Nugget Falls. If you are not able to take this hike, there are shorter walks that will give you views of the glacier.
Before You Leave Mendenhall, Stop by the Steep Creek Trail
Right across the parking lot from Mendenhall Visitor Center are the raised wooden trails over Steep Creek. These trails provide the possibility of safely viewing bears fishing. For more on how to see wildlife in Alaska, visit my Alaska Wildlife Guide.
Head on Back into Juneau
Stop for Lunch at the Base of the Juneau Water Airstrip
Grab a crab lunch on the patio at the Flight Deck. It is touristy and expensive, but when can you eat crab while enjoying the quintessential Alaskan sight of seaplanes taking off and landing alongside cruise ships? If you don’t want to spring for lunch, you can grab ice cream next door and stand by the railing. This is not the best crab I had in Alaska, though- that was in Hoonah (Icy Point Strait).
Get to the Top of Mount Roberts
Mount Roberts is an almost 4,000 ft mountain on the west side of town. The summit provides sweeping views of the town, cruise ships, Douglas Island, and the harbor. At the top, there are informational markers, hiking trails, and a nature center, as well as a movie.
There are two ways to get up and down Mount Roberts:
- Take the tramway for $35. There is usually a wait. You can find the tram station along the water on the western side of the port.
- Hike the 2-mile (each way) switchback trail.
These three things will provide a full, exciting port day in Juneau, Alaska.
If you have the funds and want to fulfill items off your bucket list, explore taking a helicopter to walk on a glacier or canoe at the foot of Mendenhall Glacier. These are affiliate links, read my disclosure below for more details.
Read on for more of my Alaska posts.
What is your favorite thing to do in Juneau? Are you heading there soon?