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(Last Updated On: February 1, 2022)

I am so excited to share some of the best memories I had while living in Juneau, Alaska! After a brief story, I share my itinerary of the Best Things to do in Juneau Alaska in 5 days. This blog will cover hiking, scenic views, whale watching, northern light viewing, backcountry cabins and more!

A guide to the best things to do in Juneau Alaska in 5 days. From whale watching, northern lights, cabin stays, and glacier views.

Silence. That’s what I remember as the Northern Lights began to dance across the skies of Juneau Alaska. The five of us staring, trying to process reality, mouths slightly agape. We grab our cameras and hoist up on my car, using my cargo box as a tripod for our long exposure shots. “Over there!”, Brenna yelled, and we all whip our heads to the right to see a new set of glowing lights unfold.

Juneau Northern Lights

We were all getting ready for bed when a coworker texted me “Northern Lights are out tonight!!”. Exhausted, we pulled our comfy clothes on and piled into my small car to head down the road. A few of us snoozed on the 20-minute drive to the North Douglas boat launch. In a moment, where the slight green haze turned into what I only know from movies of the Northern Lights, we were all suddenly incredibly awake.

The five of us were scrunched up together lying on the ground in our sleeping bags, looking up at the sky. We laughed as Laura recounted thinking she was hallucinating when the lights first began to play out, and Brenna added that she thought it was just car headlights creating the flickering in the sky. It was a special moment that I will never forget; all of us experiencing something so unworldly for the first time together.

This incredible moment set the tone for the whole weekend. It seemed like we had all pooled our luck together for this one weekend. We sure had to thank the universe for whatever undeserving good karma was sent our way.

Here is how I showed my friends the best of Juneau Alaska in less than a week in early September.

Juneau Alaska Itinerary

Day 1

We started off with lunch downtown at the Hangar at the Warf. This semi-touristy spot sits on the water overlooking cruise ships and sea planes coming and going. If it’s nice out, I recommend sitting outside!

We then drove to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center where we learned about the receding glacier and were able to see if from two vantage points: up high in the visitor center, and closer by hiking to Nugget falls (1.5 miles of flat terrain).

Mendenhall Glacier Juneau Alaska
View of Mendenhall Glacier from Nugget Falls

After putting everyone in a somber mood from the devastating facts of global warming, we decided to taste a few beers at Alaska Brewing Co. They have beers in their taproom that you’ll never see in the lower 48 and it is a fun experience to try them out! The strawberry blonde and wildberry sour are a few of my favorites.

We then managed to pack 2 bundles of firewood, a cooler full of hot dogs and wine and drove down to the Douglas boat launch. We made a fire, sipped wine and skipped rocks by the water. The sunset seemed to last for hours as we roasted hot dogs and cozied up closer to the fire as the temperature began to drop.

North Douglas Boat Launch
North Douglas

Day 2

Mid-afternoon, we packed up our backpacks and set out for the John Muir Cabin. Stats: 6.7 miles round trip. 1545 ft elevation gain. Views galore.

Juneau has 11 backcountry cabins that I highly recommend checking out on your visit. To stay at this cabin, you can book HERE for $75 a night. It is open to the public for day use from 10 am until 5 pm if you are not able to book a night. Staying the night allowed us to wander around for wild blueberries, sunset, enjoy the log of journal entries from previous visitors, cozy up to a campfire and watch a brilliant star show.

A guide to the best things to do in Juneau Alaska in 5 days. From whale watching, northern lights, cabin stays, and glacier views.
John Muir Backcountry Cabin in Juneau Alaska

If the John Muir Cabin is booked be sure to check out some of the other 11 cabins available in Juneau. List available HERE

blueberry picking Juneau Alaska

Day 3

After trekking back home, we wandered down to Douglas for lunch at the Douglas Cafe, a small spot with lots of character and burger options. Our food coma led us to lay around at Sandy Beach down the road. When the breeze picked up we decided it was time to head downtown.

Devil's Club Brewing
Downtown Juneau

Here are some of my favorite night life places in Juneau Alaska!

  • Barnaby Brewing Co. – Modern vibe with many options for flights of beer.
  • Devil’s Club Brewing Co. – beer and snack options
  • Narrows – cozy cocktail spot
  • Alaska Bar/Hotel – local hangout for live music
  • Pel’Meni – late night Russian Dumplings (cash only, SO delicious)
  • Red Dog Saloon – Western style pub with a lot of history. Definitely pop in here, as this is a major tourist attraction!
Downtown Juneau

This is when I got the text from a coworker that the northern lights were popping! We saw them around 1:00 am and stayed out watching them until around 2:00 am at the North Douglas Boat Launch.

Day 4

After a night out for a few drinks combined with staying out late for the Northern Lights – we were pretty dead. We took a slow morning and eventually mustered up the energy to hike one of the big 5 mountains in Juneau:

Best Hikes Juneau
Thunder Mountain in Juneau Alaska. Picture by Brenna Buckwalter

Thunder Mountain – 6.8 miles round-trip, 3116 ft elevation gain. This hike offers views of the glacier and surrounding channels of Juneau. You get a little bit of everything (including a possible literal run-in with a black bear like we did)

We showered and pulled ourselves together and packed into my car for the “long” 40 min drive to the end of the road. One of the last bends opens up to this dramatic mountain view and it takes my breath away every time.

End of the road Juneau
End of the road

After gawking at the views, we pulled off at Sunshine Cove to camp for the night. This spot is a drive up camping area that sits right on the water with views of a mountain range and an island.

Come night time, we saw the northern lights peaking out again, cottage-cheese-sized bio-luminescent plankton in the water, and heard whales in the channel. It was one of the most unbelievable nights. Like I said, we pooled our luck somehow.

Day 5

We had an early morning because we booked something very exciting!


Whale Watching Juneau

I had contacted Terry White from Juneau Adventures, and it was probably the best thing that happened to us. Find Terry HERE. We met at the dock at 8 am and got back at 11 am.

Terry was born and raised in Juneau and has over 30 years of experience. We boarded his comfortable boat that offered 360 degree views. Since it was just the 5 of us for the tour, we did not have to fight tourists for the views. He knew exactly where to take us, because within 10 minutes we were seeing spouts of water from the Humpback whales!

Juneau Adventures

Not only did Terry allow us to experience many VERY close encounters with the humpback whales, but we also got to see porpoises and sea lions! Captain Terry also offered such a wealth of knowledge that we walked away having learned so much. I cannot recommend him enough.

Book a tour with Terry HERE (This is not sponsored in any way)

Sea Lions Juneau

Later that afternoon we took the Mount Roberts Tram up to the view point (that sits at 1800 feet) and nature center. We watched an informative 20 minute video about the local tribe and learned some of the history of Juneau. $35 per person.

Restaurants are available at the top. There is also the option to hike from the Tram to the Summit of Gastineau and Mount Roberts. See more information HERE

View Mount Roberts Tramway
View from the Mount Roberts Tram

After getting back to downtown, we decided to head over to Amalga Distillery for a crisp Gin and Tonic with their seasonal gin (that is quite delicious).

Day 6 – Departure Day

We had a few hours to kill before Brenna, Laura and Ben had to get to the small local airport. To finish off their trip, we spent a few minutes at the Humpback whale sculpture downtown, and then did a little shopping.

Taku Store offers smoked salmon samples and smoked salmon for purchase (as well as many other things). After provoking our appetite, we stopped into Alaska Fish & Chips for one last seafood meal. It did not disappoint.

Looking for More Alaska Adventures?

If you liked this, you should check out my Sitka Itinerary and other Juneau adventures

I am so thankful for friends that made it a point to come and visit me in my short time here in Juneau! These memories I made with them will stick with me forever.

For the simplified Itinerary, download this free itinerary below!

Juneau Alaska Itinerary

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