Juneau with kids? A visit to Mendenhall Glacier is a must!

The 411 on Juneau with Kids

Are you dreaming of an Alaska cruise? There’s a reason that an Inside Passage cruise in Southeast Alaska is on so many bucket lists. The wildlife and wilderness inspire wonder in all ages, and Juneau is a popular stop on the summer cruise ship route. The only landlocked U.S. capital sits at the end of glacier-carved Gastineau Channel surrounded by mountains and ice fields.

While I usually don’t recommend a fully packed day of activities with kids, Juneau is an exception, especially if you are only in port for one day. After three days exploring the city before my family’s off-the-grid Alaska cruise with Un-Cruise Adventures last summer, I’ve chosen a few highlights for a first time visitor to Juneau, Alaska with kids.

Activity 1: Visit Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier with kids
Visiting Juneau with kids–or without? A visit to Mendenhall Glacier is a must!

There are an estimated 100,000 glaciers in Alaska and the Juneau Icefield is home to 38 of them, including the drive-up Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau’s number one tourist attraction. The Mendenhall Visitor Center is staffed with rangers that are eager to show kids how to look for mountain goats or where to touch a 200-year-old piece of melting glacial ice. Try the Nugget Falls walk with younger children or the more challenging East Glacier Trail with older kids. We saw a mama black bear and her cubs and a porcupine on the latter trail. You can easily do this excursion on your own by catching a Blue Glacier Express bus from Marine Park near the main cruise dock.

Activity 2: Go Whale Watching

Humpback whales engaged in a bubblenet feeding.
Humpback whales engaged in a bubblenet feeding.

The waterways of Southeast Alaska are the summer feeding grounds for humpback whales who feast on large schools of bait fish and krill. The humpbacks in Alaska have developed a highly skilled group feeding system called bubble net feeding and it’s an unforgettable sight if you’re lucky enough to see it. One humpback blows a “net” of bubbles around a school of fish and while whale watchers look for the telltale bubbles forming on the surface of the water the humpbacks surge up to the surface with open mouths to scoop up the disoriented fish. It’s Alaska’s version of a dinner show.

 Activity 3: Visit Temsco Dog Sled Summer Camp

Taking a ride with Temsco Sled Dog summer camp in Juneau, Alaska.
Taking a ride with Temsco Sled Dog summer camp in Juneau, Alaska.

If you’ve ever been curious about dog sledding, Temsco Dog Sled Summer Camp offers half-day experiences surrounded by snow capped mountains minus the helicopter landing on a glacier part, though they offer that as well. The guides are actual sled dog owners and you’ll meet their dogs, learn what it takes to compete in the Iditarod and go on a short, wheeled sled ride through the woods pulled by 12 barking dogs who can’t wait to run. The kids will get to hold puppies at the end but this is much more of an education than a petting tour.

Activity 4: Experience Mount Roberts Tramway

Mount Roberts Tramway in Juneau, Alaska.
Mount Roberts Tramway in Juneau, Alaska.

The Mount Roberts Tramway is a perfect activity for all ages because you can spend an hour or a half-day. After a quick, 5-minute ride to the top, you’ll find panoramic views, a movie about the Tlingit culture, a bald eagle and a replica nest and lots of hiking trails – my kids loved walking to the snowline and having a mini-snowball fight. This is another excursion that you can walk to and do on your own. There are restaurants near the bottom of the tramway and at the top of the mountain.

1 Great Place to Stay: Prospector Hotel

View from the Prospector Hotel, ideally situated for a visit to Juneau, Alaska with kids.
View from the Prospector Hotel, ideally situated for a visit to Juneau, Alaska with kids.

Our lodging priority in Juneau was finding a hotel within walking distance to the downtown area. We found this and a spacious and newly renovated two-bedroom family suite at the Prospector Hotel. The bonus? It had an amazing view of the Gastineau Channel and a restaurant frequented by locals. When we stayed in 2013, it was waiting for its outside face lift.

1 Great Place to Eat: Tracy’s King Crab Shack

A bucket of fresh-caught crab at Tracy's King Crab Shack.
A bucket of fresh-caught crab at Tracy’s King Crab Shack.

When you’re on a cruise with all meals included it’s hard to spend money on outside restaurants but Tracy’s King Crab Shack is an exception. Located at the cruise docks, this casual shack with picnic table style dining is the place to eat everything crab. Unfortunately, king crab is not less expensive in Alaska but it is amazingly tasty. Deadliest Catch fans can ask at the counter if they know which boat brought in that day’s catch. Tracy thought we were eating crab from the Northwestern but Sig was nowhere to be found.

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Kristi Marcelle

Originally from Wisconsin, Kristi Marcelle found her passion for travel after studying and volunteering in Quito, Ecuador for two years.She now calls the San Francisco Bay Area home and, with her husband and school-aged kids in tow, seeks out adventure and cultural experiences around the world. Find Kristi on Twitter: @kristimarcelle and Google+: Kristi Marcelle.
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