Juneau is a beautiful, hillside city nestled at the base of Mount Juneau, looking across the bay to Douglas Island. It is the capital of Alaska and I am fairly sure it is the only US capital that does not have any roads that lead into town. To get here you must arrive by boat or plane. Juneau’s downtown also is right next to the cruise ship docks, where we saw many enormous boats docked.
Cruise ships seem to be the life blood of Alaskan towns during their season. While the tourism dollars are helping sustain the towns, they also seem to be sucking the soul out just a little. At every port city, right around where the cruise ships dock, there seems to be the same stores. They all are selling furs, knives, Alaskan native crafts, popcorn and lots and lots of “fine” jewelry. Tanzanite seems to be very popular for some reason, I wonder if after much market research the shops have found the exact price point tourists are willing to spend during a shore excursion.
We asked locals about these shops and they said that many were actually owned by the cruise ships! I am not sure why, but this just depressed me. I felt like the people on the cruises were being set up, thinking they had a shore excursion, when they were really just shopping in an extension of the cruise ship’s shops. And the locals had to deal with all the people coming into their town and they were not even making money off it……Capitalism….. I don’t want to sound like I think cruises are all horrible, my parents took an Alaskan cruise and loved it and I know it is a great trip for many families. I just wish there was a way for it to have less of an impact on port cities.
Anyway, Juneau’s main attraction is the Mendenhall glacier. And seeing the glacier from two different perspectives made me think a lot about how you can experience a place by how you travel. Our first view of the glacier was from the area you can drive to, there were about twelve large buses there from the cruise ships, it felt very crowded. The view was ok but I felt underwhelmed.
After we visited this area we decided we wanted to do the West Glacier Trail, which basically gives you view points of the glacier by hiking the mountain on the west side of the glacier. The trail took about 5 hours and we did not summit the peak ( I think that takes about 2 more hours), but we got to see the Mendenhall Glacier from so many different perspectives and it really made me appreciate the scale and beauty of this glacier. The hike was hard, and I know not everyone can do do these types of hikes, but for us, this is the cheapest way to see sites and our favorite way to get away from the crowds and find out own little travel treasures.
While we were up here we would see the helicopters from the cruise ships fly over us and land people on the glacier to walk around (they looked tiny from where we were). For $500 a person you can even take a ride with sled dogs. I liked our “budget” excursion, and I burned enough calories to enjoy the endless free tastings at the Alaskan Brewing Company guilt free!