August 21, 2013

In the Know About Juneau (Our Alaska Adventure Part 2)

After Glacier Bay, we headed to Juneau for a 2 night stay.  Our destination was the Westmark Baranof, a full service hotel at the edge of the historic downtown.  It was close enough to walk easily to everything, but with fewer crowds around.  They had a room perfect for our family with a teen boy and girl: it had a queen bed, a single bed, and single sofa sleeper.   Historic hotels have their shortfalls (like no A/C, which is really not an issue in Juneau), but also unique features which I actually found useful: a walk-in closet (it held a couple suitcases which kept our floor clear), built-in shelves in the small but modern bath (room for 4 toiletry kits!), and a full length shelf along one wall which was useful for stashing small items like books, backpacks, wine, etc.  Parking and wifi were free, and breakfast in the café was very good.  There is also a fine dining restaurant, bar, and meeting facilities.

Westmark Baranof hotel, Juneau, Alaska
"Standard Double" room

I like staying overnight in Juneau because you get to see how the vibe in the Inside Passage towns change when the cruise ships leave.  On our first evening, we had dinner at the Red Dog Saloon.  Most passengers had to be back onboard the ships by 7 pm, so the place was packed when we walked in at 6, but completely empty by 6:30.  The second night ships were in port until 10 pm, so restaurants were full later in the evening.

Juneau, Alaska
Juneau with and without cruise ships

Alaska cruise ships
Ship getting ready to leave

Juneau is the most touristy town along the Inside Passage, with lots of stores selling jewelry, t-shirts, ulu knives, you name it.   If you head out of town, you won't necessarily escape the crowds, but you will find fun things to do besides shopping.
Almost everyone visits Mendenhall Glacier, and it really is worth a stop even though it can be crowded.  Because we were there when the salmon was running, we had a once in a lifetime treat: watching bears catch salmon in the stream right by the parking lot!

Yes, these are wild bears, and one even had 2 cubs with her.  Normally it would be unsafe to be this close.  But these bears are habituated to humans, so as long as observers are quite and keep food put away, they can continue to watch from a boardwalk right above the stream.    

Black bear catching salmon

A short walk leads to the visitor center, where you can get your first glimpse of this famous glacier.  Then a 1 mile trail leads out to the edge of the lake for a closer view.   To get right up close to the glacier, you can hike about 7 miles round trip on West Glacier trail located across the lake, or book a kayak tour for an easy paddle on the calm lake.

Mendenhall Glacier
Best view from visitor center trails

Mendenhall Glacier ice
Getting to touch some glacial ice

One of our favorite places to visit is the Macauley salmon hatchery which is especially interesting July through September, with tens of thousands of salmon swimming in from the ocean.  The hatchery has an artificial ladder, so we spent a good 20-30 minutes watching salmon fight their way up with acrobatic moves.  There is a short presentation outdoors by the staff at regular intervals, and then you can pay extra for a behind the scenes tour.  Inside are salt water aquariums, a live video feed of the workers in back, a nursery for the babies, and a gift shop offering samples of salmon jerky.  

Salmon ladder
Thousands of salmon are entering the ladder

Salmon jumping up a ladder
He (she?) made it!
And no trip to Juneau is complete without a stop at the Alaskan Brewery Company.  They have a storefront downtown, where you can catch a shuttle out to the brewery for a tour.  But if you have a car it's much better to go on your own and avoid the crowds.
Another popular attraction is the Mount Roberts Tramway located right at the cruise port.  The ticket cost includes unlimited all day rides, a film, and entrance to a bald eagle display and nature center.  There are also bear viewing platforms, hiking trails for all abilities (including a trek to the top of Mt. Roberts) and a bar and grill.  Hardy travelers can also hike up from downtown and ride the gondola back for a much lower fee.

Mt. Roberts tram

Two nights was just the right amount of time, and we headed back to the airport for the next leg of our trip: Anchorage.
If you'd like to plan your own adventure in Alaska, be it by cruise ship or on your own like we did, contact me at suzette@family-treks.com.

1 comment:

BON VOYAGE said...

I want to go to Alaska tomorrow because of these images you have shared with us! I LOVE the cable cars photos. I dying to do everything you have suggested, even stay in the same hotel you guys have found. Thanks for sharing!!!