Juneau may be the capital of Alaska, but it is definitely not Alaska’s largest nor most accessible city. Let me clarify this, Juneau is actually the second largest city by area in the USA. That includes both land and water area, but definitely don’t expect a large developed downtown area, nor large metropolis. Inaccessible by land, Juneau sits on the Gastineau Canal with Mt. Roberts and Mt. Juneau in the background.
There are several different docks in Juneau. The closest to town make exploration easy. The Norwegian Jewel docked at the farthest dock, the AJ Dock, but that proved to be perfect. Having discovered that the usual bus to Mendenhall Glacier had jumped in price from $20 per person to $30 per person. It was a no-brainer to rent a car from Juneau Car Rentals, which is just a few hundred feet from AJ Dock. The freedom of having a car and seeing the sites on my schedule made it worth it.
First stop for the day was this amazing glacier that shows a different and smaller face every time that I visit. There are options there for short hikes and longer hikes, including one to Nugget Falls. Another advantage of renting a car was that we beat the tour buses to the glacier.
Remember this was a late-season cruise, so there were not many ships in port, so that did make a different, but it was nice to have the site to ourselves until the buses arrived an hour or so after we did.
On the way into the park, I told my companions that a certain area was a place that I had always seen bears. I swear that I did not push a button, but just a few seconds after I said this, a bear appeared on the road! After trying to shoot some photos, we headed to the Visitor Center and explored the area admiring the lake, glacier and falls. Due to our limited time until darkness and physical challenges of some of the group, we did not hike all the way to the falls, something that I highly recommend. One real drawback of arriving at 1 PM is that light is limited and even more so when it is raining and cloudy as happened shortly after our arrival.
Shrine of Saint Thérèse
We really had hoped to make it to the End of the Road at Auke Bay, but the weather made for poor views and darkness approached. We did want to make it up to Mt. Roberts as well, so we opted to drive only to The Shrine of Saint Thérèse. It’s setting in the forest and overlooking the Lynn Canal makes this a special place. Of course, since it’s my name as well, I just had to visit again.
It’s always exciting to get to the top of Mt. Roberts and enjoy the view below. At the top is an eagle rescue display and of course, a short film about the Tlingit who reside in the area and who have for centuries. The movie tells the story of these indigenous people and life in Southeast Alaska. A restaurant serves both food and Alaskan beer – that was a real bonus when we hiked to the top one time – just for fun! As darkness had approached, the view from the top was a different one for me. I had worried that we might not make it to the top as it was both windy and foggy. The attendant told us that as long as the light at the top of the tram was visible that we could still get to the top. There were few people there, but it was nice to have a private movie viewing and speak with the local Tlingit woman who told us a bit about her life and taught us a few Tlingit words. After a short visit, we headed back down to the Norwegian Jewel.
I admit that I do not like arriving so late into Juneau. Of course, that isn’t as important in the summer when daylight hours extend late into the evening. On this late September visit, darkness came by much earlier and the rainy weather didn’t help with the lighting, so the lack of light really cut into our plans. Keep this in mind if you are planning a cruise either early or late in the season and opt for a cruise that arrives earlier. This itinerary was so spectacular and really the only option this late in the season that it was still worth it. Just plan accordingly. Just for fun, here is a video I made several years ago about Juneau. Enjoy!