Juneau is not only Alaska’s capital, but also the Gold Capital of America, the Bald Eagle Capital of the world and many call it the “rain capital of the world” too.
Juneau, with a winter population of over 32,000, stands proudly as the Capital of the last frontier. Fighting annually for its Capital City title with Fairbanks, the town welcomes thousands of visitors every summer. Although connected to the mainland, Juneau is only accessible by boat or plane. On average 8,000 people visit Juneau every day by cruise ship. Juneau’s international airport welcomes about 370,000 tourists each year and it is called “international” because it has one flight to Vancouver Canada per week!
Sitka was originally the capital of Russian Alaska, but the Russian Empire sold the land for $7,000,000 to the United States in 1867. What a bargain for the U.S.! Russia does not know what they lost and they will never get it back. Then, Canada began arguing that they wanted the South East part of Alaska, where Juneau is located, to be part of Canada as it is connected to their land, but the U.S. never gave up the panhandle.
Juneau was the Capital of the Territory of Alaska since 1906 and then the Capital of the State of Alaska, when it became the 49th State, in 1959. The downtown area is dotted with jewelers, gift shops, restaurants, art galleries and the State Capital Building (one of only ten in the nation without a dome), the Governor’s Mansion, tour companies and much more. Black Bears represent the majority of the local wildlife population and they are everywhere. If you visit Juneau, just remember that if you encounter a black bear, he or she always has the right away, so step back and let it pass.
In 1880, two prospectors, Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, got lost on the Gastineau Channel. What they found here was golden! Between 1880 and 1944, Juneau’s gold mines extracted over 10 million ounces of gold, equivalent in today’s money at over $10 billion! The mines had to close because of WWII, but there is still undiscovered gold on Douglas Island, Mt. Juneau and Mt. Roberts. So if you visit Juneau and want to try out your luck, just grab a bucket and shovel and start digging…you never know what you may find!
Juneau’s two most popular attractions are the Mendenhall Glacier, surrounding trails, Helicopter rides to dogsledding on the glacier, floatplane flights to the Taku Glacier( with salmon dinner included) and Whale Watching.
The Mendenhall Glacier is one of 140 large and small glaciers formed by the Juneau Ice Field, which is left “behind” from the last Glacial Ice Age. At the top of the glacier, where the Juneau Ice Field is (perfectly seen from a helicopter),— the snow cover rises every winter by 100 feet. Unfortunately, and regardless of the annual accumulation of snow, the Mendenhall Glacier is a receding glacier with about a 100ft horizontal loss every year. It is expected to completely disappear eventually due to global warming. The earth experiences a major Glacial Ice Age every 100,000 years and we are in the warming phase between Ice Ages, It is true that we humans have also affected the rate of global warming.
There are many hiking trails that welcome visitors, but the one leading to Nugget Falls is a must-do. The waterfall is a result of the melting glacier and tumbles powerfully into Mendenhall Lake. In the lake there are “baby” icebergs floating around. Once upon a time they were connected to the glacier. The lake offers a peaceful beach and calm waters for water sports like kayaking and paddle boarding.
There are 30+ Black Bears currently inhabiting the Glacier area and they love it there! They quietly sleep throughout the winter and impatiently wait for the July-September salmon runs when they spend their time ‘fishing’. The bears are quite urbanized and used to people, but here are few pointers if you encounter one face-to-face:
- Stand your ground and do not run!
- Step off the trail and leave plenty of room for the bear to continue on its way.
- Get your camera out and take lots of pictures quietly!
- Do not take any food on the trails, otherwise the bear will take it away from you and will not say “please” either!
- This is their land, not yours!
Bald Eagles are spotted all over Juneau. This area has the world’s largest population of Bald eagles, estimated to be over 20,000! They also enjoy salmon to supplement their usual diet of squirrels, rabbits and even small dogs . Their white heads can easily be spotted on treetops, or simply perched on top of street lights.
Juneau is situated in America’s largest rainforest, the Tongass Forest. The town gets about 150’’ of precipitation per year. Local vegetation, including the Sitka Spruce ( the Alaskan State Tree) and the Western Hemlock and wildlife like the Bears, Ptarmigan, Marmots, Martins and Porcupines, are typical for the Tongass Forest climate and makes Juneau a very attractive tourist destination.
Humpback whales and Orca (Killer Whales) can be seen near and far from Juneau’s coast. Boats take tourists out to sea a few times per day and the “local” whales put up a nice show. It is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience and highly recommended if you happen to visit Juneau.
Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, you can find it in Juneau! Locals are hospitable and the Native Tribe, the Tlingits, will gladly share their history and heritage with you, and perhaps even teach you a few words in their language, which is no longer spoken today except among the elderly Native population.
, Go to Alaska, go to Juneau…and return with life long memories and stories to tell!