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Whether you think visiting Alaska in winter is crazy awesome or just plain crazy (spoiler: it’s not that much colder than the lower 48), there’s a huge misconception that it’s crazy far away. The state is huge – bigger than Texas, California, and Montana combined, and while there are far-reaching stretches, it may surprise you to learn that the capital of Juneau is a two-hour flight from Seattle. This means you can make it to Alaska from most west coast cities before lunchtime. If you think that’s mind-boggling, just wait until you see the views upon descent.
Juneau isn’t connected to a road system so the only way to get there is via boat or plane (although you could put your car on a ferry to bring it over). Believe me when I say you’ll want a window seat for this trip. The landing is one of the most incredible on the planet with pure raw nature that feels like it’s just you and the glaciers. You’ll glide above the clouds and icy blue water as the town seems to come out of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but snow-capped peaks and frozen waterways. While the small capital is isolated from most of the world, everyone who’s there is because they want to be and loves showing off their tiny town. It’s not called the Last Frontier for nothing.
Here are a Few of the Best Things to Do in Juneau:
Sample the Local Delicacies
Alaska is world-renowned for its seafood and Juneau is no exception. During the summer months, Tracy’s King Crab Shack “has the best legs in town,” but year-round you can head to the Hangar on the Wharf for freshly caught halibut, giant melt-in-your-mouth king crab, and wild salmon. Housed in a 1930s airport hanger, the casual venue is one of the most popular spots in town that was conceived on a napkin in Portland. There are over 100 brews on offer, but you may want to also try one of the local shots called eagle or duck farts, which are layered with Bailey’s, Vodka or Crown Royal, and Kahlua.
Pro Tip: Other goodies to seek out in Juneau include kelp salsa from Barnacle Foods and Chef Steph’s glacial ice cookies and spruce tip salted caramels.
Check Skiing in Alaska off Your Bucket List
Skiing in Alaska is not for the faint of heart, and while I one day dream of heli-skiing on the glaciers, Eaglecrest is far more my speed. Even the green runs here is no joke: a challenging mix of ice and powder with conditions that seem to change by the hour. The small, community-owned resort is located on Douglas Island, which is 100% surrounded by water, guaranteeing epic views as the blue water clashes with the snowy peaks.
Pro Tip: If you don’t love steep slopes, Nordic skiing is also very popular in Juneau. Ski runs are rated green, blue, and black just like alpine for those looking for a new challenge.
Toss Back a Cold One
One of the state’s biggest exports is the tasty beverages from Alaskan Brewing Company. Beyond the bold and vibrant packaging that showcases a dreamy Alaskan lifestyle, they use local resources like glacier water, spruce tips, and alder smoke to flavor their brews. Also unique is their patent pending process of beer-powered beer, which harnesses their own steam to power the brewery. They were the first craft brewery in the United States to operates this kind of innovative CO2 reclamation system in an effort to reduce fossil fuels.
Pro Tip: Try the Smoked Porter, which is the most awarded beer at the Great American Beer Festival.
Go on a Food Tour
Eating is the best way to stay warm in winter, right? That seems to be Midgi’s philosophy at Juneau Food Tours, which promises five glorious, gluttonous hours of stuffing your face. A variety of different bites and booze tours exist, but ours included clean blended gin cocktails from Amalga Distillery, Korean-Mexican fusion and shrub punch bowls from V’s Cellar Door (which come with an extra cup if you want to make a friend), wood-fired pizzas and airy pasta from In Bocca Al Lupo (a 2x James Beard nominee), and desserts from Salt. Some of our favorite dishes were the ahi tuna with kimchi aioli, sweet and spicy popcorn, Korean chicken tacos, and local spot prawns.
Pro Tip: Save room for dessert! There’s ridiculous funnel cake prepared using an aerated whipped cream can that’s bigger than the plate. To-go boxes are highly encouraged.
Hike on a Glacier
The mighty Mendenhall Glacier is just about a 15-minute drive from downtown Juneau and a breathtaking look at Mother Nature’s raw power. Sometimes, brilliant blue ice caves form that you can explore if you’re brave enough to trek across the frozen lake or kayak out in the summer to get to them. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife that includes black bears and bald eagles, and the frozen waterfalls. It’s everything you envision Alaska to be and more.
Pro Tip: Due to global warming (yes, it’s real), the glacier is always changing so be vigilant and conscientious of the conditions.
Looking for more things to do in Juneau? Check out this post.
Want to know what to pack for a trip to Alaska? We have recommendations.
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