12 Things To Do With Family in Juneau, Alaska

Last Updated on March 6, 2024 by Emily Johnson


Juneau, Alaska is a beautiful yet isolated state capital surrounded by towering mountains, coastal inlets, lush forests, and enchanting wildlife. While it may seem like an unlikely vacation spot for families, Juneau has no shortage of exciting things to see and do.

Activity NumberDescriptionType of Experience
1Visiting Mendenhall GlacierNatural wonder, glacier exploration
2Enjoying whale watching toursWildlife observation, marine adventure
3Exploring historic downtown JuneauCultural exploration, history
4Taking a Mount Roberts Tramway rideScenic views, hiking
5Participating in gold panning activitiesInteractive history, family fun
6Hiking in the Tongass National ForestNature trails, wildlife
7Discovering the Alaska State MuseumEducational, cultural heritage
8Experiencing a dog sled tourAdventure, local tradition
9Engaging in local fishing activitiesRecreational fishing, nature
10Attending a salmon bakeCulinary experience, local cuisine
11Visiting the Juneau-Douglas City MuseumLocal history, educational
12Exploring the Macaulay Salmon HatcheryWildlife education, family-oriented

From world-class glacier tours and whale watching to hiking alpine trails and panning for gold, here are 12 can’t miss experiences to share with your family in Juneau.

Explore the Majestic Mendenhall Glacier

Name and Location: Explore the Majestic Mendenhall Glacier, located just 12 miles from downtown Juneau in the Tongass National Forest.

History and Significance: The Mendenhall Glacier is a remnant of the last ice age, stretching over 12 miles from the Juneau Icefield to Mendenhall Lake. It is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska and has been a popular tourist destination for over a century.

What to Expect: Visitors can take a short hike from the visitor center to stunning viewpoints of the glacier and its surrounding landscape. Longer trails lead to hidden waterfalls and the shores of Mendenhall Lake, where icebergs calved from the glacier float in the turquoise water. Guided tours and kayak rentals are also available for a closer look at the glacier.

Visitor Information: The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is open daily from May to September, with reduced hours in the off-season. Admission is $5 for adults, with discounts for children and seniors. The visitor center offers exhibits on the glacier’s history and ecology, as well as a short film and ranger-led programs. Parking can be limited during peak hours, so visitors are encouraged to take a shuttle or taxi from downtown Juneau.

The star natural attraction in Juneau is unquestionably the immense Mendenhall Glacier just a short drive from downtown. Watching this frozen, slowly moving river of ice seamlessly flowing from the Juneau Icefield into Mendenhall Lake is an awesome sight. You and the kids can spend hours wandering around the park surrounding the glacier, taking in different vantage points and learning all about how glaciers are formed.

The Nugget Falls trail leads you right up to be able to stand just feet away from the deep blue ice! Be sure not to miss the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center to check out exhibits and naturalist talks illuminating more about the formation and behavior of this cherished landmark.

Go Flightseeing Over Glaciers and Mountains

Name and Location: Go Flightseeing Over Glaciers and Mountains with one of Juneau’s many flightseeing operators, departing from the Juneau International Airport.

History and Significance: Flightseeing has been a popular way to experience Alaska’s vast wilderness since the 1930s, when bush pilots began offering scenic flights to remote areas. Today, Juneau’s flightseeing operators use modern aircraft equipped with large windows and high-wing designs for optimal viewing of the glaciers and mountains surrounding the city.

What to Expect: Flightseeing tours typically last 30 minutes to an hour and take passengers over the Juneau Icefield, home to over 40 glaciers, as well as the rugged peaks of the Coast Mountains. Passengers can expect stunning views of the glaciers, mountains, and the Tongass National Forest, as well as opportunities to spot wildlife such as mountain goats and bears.

Visitor Information: Flightseeing tours operate daily during the summer months, with reduced schedules in the off-season. Prices vary depending on the length of the flight and the operator, but visitors can expect to pay several hundred dollars per person. Advance reservations are strongly recommended, and all passengers must weigh in before boarding for balance and safety reasons.

To get an even more breathtaking bird’s eye perspective on the Mendenhall Glacier and the expansive Juneau Icefield it stems from, book a thrilling helicopter flightseeing tour. Soaring over this sculpted world of ice flowing through rugged alpine peaks offers a memory your family will cherish forever.

These exhilarating flights often continue along the rugged Taku Inlet showcasing immense glaciers like Norris, Hole-in-the-Wall, East and West Twin before circling past quintessential peak-rimmed Juneau itself. Kids will marvel at the sensational glacier land and seascapes from aloft while everyone can snap priceless pictures.

Watch Massive Humpback Whales Lunge Feed

Name and Location: Watch Massive Humpback Whales Lunge Feed in the waters of the Inside Passage, with tours departing from Auke Bay Harbor.

History and Significance: Humpback whales migrate to the waters of Southeast Alaska each summer to feed on the region’s abundant krill and small fish. The whales use a unique hunting technique called lunge feeding, in which they swallow large volumes of water and filter out their prey using their baleen plates. Watching these massive animals feed is a breathtaking and unforgettable experience.

What to Expect: Whale watching tours typically last 2-4 hours and take passengers to the feeding grounds of the humpback whales in the Inside Passage. In addition to humpbacks, passengers may also spot orcas, porpoises, sea lions, and a variety of seabirds. Tours are led by experienced naturalists who provide commentary on the whales’ behavior and biology.

Visitor Information: Whale watching tours operate daily during the summer months, with peak season running from June to August. Prices vary depending on the length of the tour and the operator, but visitors can expect to pay around $150 per person. Advance reservations are recommended, and passengers should dress in warm, waterproof layers as the weather can be unpredictable on the water.

Juneau makes the perfect base to embark on an unforgettable whale watching adventure spotting humpback whales feasting on lush summer krill and fish populations. Most tours head toward Stephens Passage where massive 30-50 foot humpbacks wow with acrobatic moves like stunning full breeches and tail lobs.

Your family may witness cooperative bubble net feeds as well – where whales swim circles underwater blowing bubbles to herd fish into a tight ball to devour. The up close sight of a giant humpback rocketing up with an open mouth grabbing hundreds of pounds of food and filter capacity will leave your kids speechless with delight! Stand ready for kids to erupt with joy when whales splash the Zodiac!

Pan for Gold

Name and Location: Pan for Gold at Gold Creek, located just a short drive from downtown Juneau.

History and Significance: The Juneau area was the site of a major gold rush in the late 1800s, with thousands of prospectors flocking to the region in search of their fortune. Today, visitors can try their luck at panning for gold in the same streams and rivers that drew the early miners.

What to Expect: Gold panning tours typically last 1-2 hours and include instruction on the techniques used by the early prospectors. Visitors will learn how to use a gold pan to sift through sediment from the creek bed in search of flakes or nuggets of gold. While striking it rich is unlikely, the experience offers a unique glimpse into the history and culture of the Alaskan gold rush.

Visitor Information: Gold panning tours operate daily during the summer months, with reduced schedules in the off-season. Tours are suitable for all ages and skill levels, but participants should be prepared to get wet and dirty. All necessary equipment is provided, and visitors are welcome to keep any gold they find. Advance reservations are recommended.

Juneau springs from colorful gold rush roots and you can catch the fever panning for riches with the whole family at the historic Last Chance Mining Museum downtown. Expert demonstrations will teach even the youngest kids proper panning techniques sluicing gravel from Snow Slide Creek in search of real gold flakes.

The authentic wooden sluice boxes, costumed guides, and trio of exhibits at the museum detailing Juneau’s hardscrabble mining heyday further bring this chapter of town history to life. Let imaginations soar while poring over impressive gold specimens as kids call out “Eureka!” with their own lucky strike!

Ride Aerial Trams for Lofty Views

Name and Location: Ride Aerial Trams for Lofty Views at the Mount Roberts Tramway, located just steps from the cruise ship docks in downtown Juneau.

History and Significance: The Mount Roberts Tramway was built in 1996 to provide easy access to the alpine terrain and stunning views of Mount Roberts, which rises over 3,800 feet above sea level. The tram has become a popular attraction for cruise ship passengers and other visitors to Juneau.

What to Expect: The tram ride takes passengers from the base station to the Mountain House, a visitor center located 1,800 feet up the mountain. The ride offers panoramic views of Juneau, the Gastineau Channel, and the surrounding mountains. At the top, visitors can explore hiking trails, watch a short film about the history and ecology of the area, or enjoy a meal at the Timberline Bar & Grill.

Visitor Information: The Mount Roberts Tramway operates daily from May to September, with reduced hours in the off-season. Tickets can be purchased at the base station or in advance online. The tram is accessible to visitors with limited mobility, and the Mountain House offers a gift shop and restroom facilities. Visitors should allow at least an hour to fully experience the tram and the Mountain House.

Soaring high above town without even having to hike, riding Juneau’s network of tramways promises a smooth ride and big reward payoffs taking in sweeping views over land and sea. The Mt Roberts Tram whisks you 1,800 feet up the peak’s steep flanks to reach a scenic alpine sanctuary with miles of trails, wildlife exhibits, nature presentations, totem carvings, the charming Timberline Grill, and a zip line course as well! Or hop aboard the simpler one-car Mount Jumbo Tram lifting you up to 900 feet for panoramas of downtown and idyllic snow-dusted peaks and inlets further afield.

Embark on Epic Flightseeing & Glacier Trek Combo

Name and Location: Embark on Epic Flightseeing & Glacier Trek Combo with one of Juneau’s many tour operators, departing from the Juneau International Airport.

History and Significance: Combining a flightseeing tour with a glacier trek offers a unique and immersive way to experience Alaska’s glacial wilderness. The tour allows visitors to see the glaciers from above and then explore them on foot, gaining a deeper appreciation for the scale and power of these ancient ice formations.

What to Expect: The tour begins with a flightseeing trip over the Juneau Icefield, offering stunning views of the glaciers and mountains. The plane then lands on a remote glacier, where guides will lead visitors on a trek across the ice. Visitors will learn about the formation and ecology of glaciers, as well as techniques for walking safely on the ice. The tour concludes with a return flight to Juneau.

Visitor Information: Flightseeing and glacier trek combos are offered by several tour operators in Juneau, with trips ranging from a half-day to a full-day. Prices vary depending on the length of the tour and the operator, but visitors can expect to pay several hundred dollars per person. All necessary equipment, including crampons and hiking poles, is provided. Participants should be in good physical condition and prepared for cold, wet conditions on the ice.

For the ultimate Juneau family thrills combining the best of air and glacial ground tours, look into flightseeing & glacier trek combos. Typically pairing helicopter lift deep onto the majestic Juneau Icefield with a guided hike on the sprawling frozen expanse, no other excursion better showcases Alaska’s overpowering glacial landscapes. The helicopter ride alone peering intimately down on this sculpted high-altitude ice world transporting old snow into carving gravity-fed rivers of ice proves unforgettable.

Your group will then touch down to prepare for a 3+ hour fully outfitted blue ice trek taking in the alien beauty up close and marveling at patterns of crystallized bubbles, icy crevasses and glassy sapphire melt ponds. Learning to traverse using crampons and ice axes makes for great family fun while guided interpretation reveals the science of glaciers in motion. Expect kids to have loads of fascinated questions seeing such raw geologic forces reshaping the very land before their eyes! These Juneau Icefield excursions create lifelong memories.

Spot Dall Sheep and Mountain Goats Along Trails

Name and Location: Spot Dall Sheep and Mountain Goats Along Trails in the mountains surrounding Juneau, including the popular Mount Roberts and Perseverance trails.

History and Significance: The mountains around Juneau are home to a variety of wildlife, including Dall sheep and mountain goats. These sure-footed animals are well adapted to the rugged terrain and can often be spotted grazing on the steep slopes above the treeline. Seeing these animals in their natural habitat is a memorable experience for many visitors to Juneau.

What to Expect: Hiking trails in the Juneau area range from easy nature walks to strenuous backcountry treks. The Mount Roberts and Perseverance trails are popular options for wildlife viewing, as they offer access to alpine meadows and rocky outcroppings where Dall sheep and mountain goats are often seen. Visitors should bring binoculars and a camera, as well as sturdy hiking shoes and warm, waterproof layers.

Visitor Information: Hiking trails in Juneau are typically open from May to September, depending on snow conditions. Trail maps and information are available at the Juneau Ranger District office or online. Visitors should be prepared for variable weather conditions and bring plenty of water and snacks. It is important to keep a safe distance from wildlife and to never feed or approach animals.

Hiking any of Juneau’s lush alpine valley routes or mountain-framing favorites like Perseverance, Mt Roberts or Mt Jumbo serves up generous opportunities to spot wild Dall sheep and frisky mountain goats in their natural habitat. Kids will love trying to spot white wooly Dall sheep on precipitous ledges only their specialized hooves can handle.

Equally at home on vertical rock faces, the shaggy white mountain goats exhibit a playful demeanor, especially the younger “kids” clamoring up ridiculously sheer walls. Pack some binoculars and good camera zoom lenses to get frame-worthy wildlife photos! The Mt Roberts area specifically contains a managed population of black bears, so attentive families may even catch sight of these bushy opportunists ambling along the forest floor.

Visit Mendenhall Glacier’s Famed Floatplane

Name and Location: Visit Mendenhall Glacier’s Famed Floatplane, a K-17 “Taku Glacier Liner” on display at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, located 12 miles from downtown Juneau.

History and Significance: The K-17 floatplane was one of three aircraft operated by Alaska Coastal Airlines in the 1940s and 50s to provide transportation and sightseeing flights to the Taku Glacier and other remote areas of Southeast Alaska. The plane was known for its distinctive blue and white color scheme and its ability to land on the glacial lakes and rivers of the region.

What to Expect: The K-17 floatplane is on display outside the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, along with interpretive signs explaining its history and significance. Visitors can view the plane up close and imagine what it would have been like to take a sightseeing flight over the glaciers in the mid-20th century. The visitor center also offers exhibits on the history and ecology of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Visitor Information: The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is open daily from May to September, with reduced hours in the off-season. Admission is $5 for adults, with discounts for children and seniors. Parking can be limited during peak hours, so visitors are encouraged to take a shuttle or taxi from downtown Juneau. The K-17 floatplane exhibit is located outside the visitor center and can be viewed at any time.

The crashed wreck of a WWII-era Cessna airplane half-buried in glacial ice at Mendenhall Glacier provides one of the area’s most iconic photo ops along the Glacier’s West Glacier Trail. The red and yellow single-engine tail-dragger plane sits lodged nose down, having made an emergency belly landing here in the 1960s that fortunately left the pilot uninjured.

Only later did ice flows slowly start enveloping the elevated fuselage and wing up in a forever frozen embrace. Stop by the plane’s now famous crash site with your kids to capture fun images playing off the uniquely lodged aircraft against the jaw dropping glacial backdrop while letting imaginations run wild speculating just how it crashed here.

Fly Fish for Wild Alaska Salmon

Name and Location: Fly Fish for Wild Alaska Salmon on the pristine rivers and streams of the Tongass National Forest, with guided trips departing from Juneau.

History and Significance: Alaska’s salmon runs are legendary, with five species of wild salmon returning to the state’s rivers and streams each summer to spawn. Fly fishing for salmon in Alaska is a bucket-list experience for many anglers, offering the chance to catch large, powerful fish in stunning natural settings.

What to Expect: Guided fly fishing trips typically last a full day and include transportation to and from the fishing grounds, as well as all necessary equipment and instruction. Anglers can expect to target king, silver, sockeye, and pink salmon, depending on the season and the specific river or stream. Guides are experienced in the local conditions and can provide tips and techniques for success.

Visitor Information: Fly fishing trips are offered by several outfitters in Juneau, with trips available from May to September. Prices vary depending on the length of the trip and the services included, but visitors can expect to pay several hundred dollars per person. All anglers must have a valid Alaska fishing license, which can be purchased online or at local sporting goods stores. Anglers should also be prepared for variable weather conditions and bring appropriate clothing and gear.

Few family trips present the golden opportunity to catch your own gorgeous wild Alaskan salmon straight from their marine feeding grounds as Juneau does each summer. From protected island shorelines like Shelter Island or beaches in Auke Bay right near Juneau, you can book guided fishing charters to reel in spectacular thrashing Salmon just a couple hours at sea!

Your family will learn the tricks of the trade to hook feisty King, Sockeye and/or Silver Salmon programmed to fight while wrangling in the tasty bright fish destined for your dinner plate that night. Your guide fillets or vacuum packs your bounty catch to enjoy later fully legally within Alaska limits to take home too.

Explore Juneau’s Wild Food Scene

Name and Location: Explore Juneau’s Wild Food Scene at local restaurants and markets featuring fresh, locally sourced ingredients from the land and sea.

History and Significance: Juneau’s culinary scene is deeply rooted in the natural bounty of the surrounding wilderness, with chefs and food producers showcasing the flavors of wild Alaska in innovative and delicious ways. From fresh-caught seafood to foraged berries and mushrooms, Juneau’s wild food scene offers a taste of the region’s unique terroir.

What to Expect: Visitors to Juneau can explore the wild food scene at a variety of local restaurants and markets. Popular options include the Alaska State Museum Café, which features dishes made with locally sourced ingredients, and the Juneau Farmers Market, which offers a wide selection of fresh produce, artisanal products, and prepared foods. Many local restaurants also feature seasonal menus highlighting the best of Alaska’s wild bounty.

Visitor Information: Juneau’s restaurants and markets are open year-round, with hours varying by location. Visitors can find information on local food options at the Juneau Visitors Center or online. It is always a good idea to make reservations for popular restaurants, especially during peak tourist season. Visitors should also be prepared to pay a premium for fresh, locally sourced ingredients, as the cost of food in Alaska can be higher than in other parts of the country.

While best known for seafood galore, Juneau also boasts a thriving farm-to-table food scene sourcing wild berries, mushrooms and greens from Tongass National Forest and enveloping wetlands paired with creative preparations. Those funky-looking fiddlehead ferns or fireweed sprouts on the menu at hotspots like Salt, The Rookery Cafe and Twisted Fish prove utterly delicious!

And kids will appreciate kid-friendly mainstays like flaming cheese pizza at the iconic Hangar on the Wharf’s Great Alaska Pizza Co and inventive mac & cheese variations the whole family savors. Those sweet teeth cannot leave without grabbing ice cream made with ultra-fresh high butterfat cream from Port Chilkoot Distillery’s barnyard cows just across the channel!

Discover Native Culture at the Sealaska Heritage Center

Name and Location: Discover Native Culture at the Sealaska Heritage Center, located in the heart of downtown Juneau.

History and Significance: The Sealaska Heritage Center is a cultural center and museum dedicated to preserving and promoting the art, culture, and history of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people of Southeast Alaska. The center was founded in 1980 by Sealaska Corporation, an Alaska Native corporation representing over 23,000 shareholders.

What to Expect: Visitors to the Sealaska Heritage Center can explore exhibits on Native art, history, and culture, including a large collection of traditional and contemporary Alaska Native art. The center also offers workshops, lectures, and performances throughout the year, as well as a gift shop featuring authentic Alaska Native crafts and products.

Visitor Information: The Sealaska Heritage Center is open year-round, with hours varying by season. Admission is $5 for adults, with discounts for children, seniors, and military. Guided tours are available for an additional fee. The center is fully accessible and offers a variety of educational resources for visitors of all ages. Visitors can find more information on the center’s website or by contacting the visitor services desk.

Understanding the vibrant living culture of Alaska Native clans – from elaborate dancing and carving arts to intricately woven Chilkat blankets and carved tribal house poles – makes a powerful impression on kids and adults alike. The Smithsonian-affiliate Sealaska Heritage Center serves as the perfect indoor/outdoor Juneau venue to insightfully showcase the traditions and skills of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples in authentic context.

Fascinating guided group tours really bring the longhouse and outdoor structures to life while rotating exhibits highlight rare artifacts and cultural arts alive today. The gift shop overflows with genuine native artisan wares including prints, drums, baskets and clothing kids will adore.

Go Flightseeing to a Dogsled Camp on a Glacier

Name and Location: Go Flightseeing to a Dogsled Camp on a Glacier with one of Juneau’s many flightseeing and dogsledding tour operators, departing from the Juneau International Airport.

History and Significance: Dogsledding has been an important mode of transportation and recreation in Alaska for centuries, with sled dogs playing a crucial role in the state’s history and culture. Today, visitors to Juneau can experience the thrill of dogsledding on a glacier, combining the excitement of flightseeing with the adventure of mushing a team of huskies across the snow.

Few family adventures can compete with the memories made mushing lively sled dog teams across Juneau Icefield expanses after being delivered by helicopter to remote glacier basecamps! Combination dogsled and flightseeing tours allow essentially everyone from young kids on up to actively participate learning commands and steering zippy teams on an icy rollicking ride they will never forget.

Spending time getting to know the friendly well-cared for sled dogs before and after rides personalizes the experience even more. And even the journey out and back, soaring in helicopters over sculpted icy peaks and deep blue crevasse fields framing the dogs’ frosty domain, proves to be a highlight scenic thrill in itself for all ages.

Conclusion

This roundup reveals just a handful of the myriad exciting attractions and activities bound to wow every member of the family in picturesque capital Juneau. Whether it’s flying high over glacier fields, spying breaching whales or frolicking baby goats along a mountain trail, boarding sled dogs or just enjoying farm-fresh cuisine together, no shortage of diverse adventures await built around Juneau’s magnificent natural backdrop.

Take a week or even longer with relaxing potential to return to port, and Juneau serves up phenomenal potential to bond and collect enduring happy memories amid breathtaking landscapes and wildlife your crew will fondly relish reminiscing over for years to come!

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