Did you know Juneau used to be called Harrisburg? Two gold prospectors named Harris and Juneau founded the town back in the late 1800s, but Harris “fell out of favor” with the locals and they changed the name.
As is the case with almost every single town in Southeast Alaska, Juneau has no roads leading into it. And it’s the state capital. It took almost eight hours to sail on the M/V Matanuska from Petersburg to Juneau. Finally, finally, finally the seas were calm and the skies were clear. In fact, it was so calm, we had glassy waters for several hours. With snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and icebergs all around, it almost felt as if we were gliding over ice.
The occasional humpback whale, orca, or porpoise would briefly break the surface and cause all kinds of commotion on the ship. I found the best way to get one to come up for air was to turn my back and head inside. I couldn’t believe the several times I missed seeing one. Eventually I saw a couple of whale tails in the air, even if none of them completely breached their entire body. We passed Admiralty Island, home to some 1,600 brown bears, but I didn’t see a single one. I am slowly learning it takes special (i.e. pricey) tours to get some of those “NatGeo-worthy” photos. Nevertheless, it was an incredible sailing through an amazing part of the U.S., and to a pretty scenic capital city.
Juneau sits right on the Gastineau Channel, surrounded by massive mountains and glaciers. I stayed at a campground just a few minutes from the famous Mendenhall Glacier, about 15 minutes from downtown. Downtown can be a little touristy, especially when the cruise ships are in town, but it has a charm about it. I did some whale watching at the Shrine of St. Therese (actually I should say “I watched for whales, but didn’t see any”), rode the Mount Roberts Tramway, did some hiking overlooking the city, ate at the Red Dog Saloon, and saw the Alaska Governor’s Mansion. If you ever find yourself in Southeast Alaska, be sure to make it to Juneau. But–and this is a big one–there isn’t a single 18-hole regulation golf course around! So, golfing in Alaska waits for yet another day.