With a rich history and stunning natural beauty, Juneau is a great place to visit on any budget.Here are some great ways to experience Alaska’s capital city for free–many of which are near the Westmark Juneau Hotel.
1. See Bald Eagles in Their Natural Habitat
Bald eagle sightings are common near saltwater shorelines, building nests high in old growth trees and dramatically swooping down over the water to snatch a bite now and then. Half of all the bald eagles in the world live in Alaska. So your chances of a sighting are pretty darn good.
2. Fish for Dolly Vardons
Grab a pole and try your luck with the local Dolly Vardons who migrate to different waterways throughout the year. These colorful char are plentiful in Juneau’s streams from April to June. In the summer months, Dolly Vardons can be found in salt water, and in the fall they head for the lakes. Of course, you don’t have to stick to just Dollies, Juneau is a fisherman’s paradise with a wide variety of species filling its many varied bodies of water.
3. The Macaulay Salmon Hatchery Visitor Center
As you might notice, salmon are a big deal in Alaska. In fact, the state fish is King Salmon. At the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery Visitor Center, you’ll have the opportunity to observe salmon in many different cycles of life. The center also has salt water aquariums where you can view over 100 different types of fish and sea animals. Technically, it’s not free, but at $5 for admission, we couldn’t resist including the hatchery on this list.
Scenic Natural Areas
4. Mendenhall Glacier
Stretching out for 12 miles, and over a half mile wide, the Mendenhall Glacier is one of the largest glaciers that make up the Juneau Icefield. Visit the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center to see exhibits exploring the history of this unique and slowly changing natural area. Rangers are on hand during visitor center hours to answer questions about area wildlife, and the center occasionally hosts children’s nature programs
5. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
One of the world’s largest protected areas, Glacier Bay is about a 30-minute trip from Juneau, and once you get there admission is free. Glacier Bay’s expansive area includes rainforest, glaciers, coastline, fjords, and mountains, so the possibilities for adventure are nearly endless. Marine and land mammals, thousands of seabirds, and even killer whales can be spotted from the park’s gorgeous shoreline.
6. The Beaches of Juneau
On a nice day, pack up a picnic and take the whole family to one of Juneau’s many beaches. Toss a Frisbee around, go for a dip, or just relax in the sun. Watch the sunset from Eagle Beach, or explore the tide pools at False Outer Point Beach.
Arts & Entertainment
7. Concerts in the Park
On Friday nights during the summer, head downtown to Marine Park for the free concert series. Every week local acts perform for the public from 7 to 8:30 pm. Past performances have included choir groups, jazz bands, singer-songwriters, and belly dance troupes. On rainy days the show is moved inside the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council building.
8. First Friday
On the first Friday of every month from 4:30 to 7 pm, the Juneau Arts and Culture Center gallery invites the public out for the opening of a new exhibit. Here, you can check out new work by local artists, hang out with the locals, and get a first hand look into Juneau’s contemporary arts scene. Make it an evening out by booking an overnight stay at the Westmark Baranof, located just minutes from the gallery.
9. Campus Events
The University of Alaska Southeast at Juneau hosts a full schedule of cultural and recreational events from poetry slams to chili nights and polar plunges. Many of the school’s events, like “Wildlife Wednesdays,” are open to the public. Check out the University of Alaska Southeast Event Calendar to see what’s going on.
10. A Day in Gustavus
Located right at the mouth of Glacier Bay, Gustavus is a charming community with a few fun options for visitors. Browse local art and pottery at the gift shops. Hike trails that lead to river beds, or take a walk down the seashore during low tide.
11. Project Playground
Created by volunteers, and designed in part by Juneau children, Project Playground is a fun family destination with a lot of local flavor. The play structures and paintings at Project Playground were constructed to not only entertain kids, but also tell the story of the unique history and ecology of the city.
Local Culture and History
12. Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church
This beautiful church was built over a hundred years ago and features a gift shop which is open to visitors daily during the summer months. Stopping by to see the church’s golden dome and Russian Colonial style architecture should definitely make your to-do list while in Juneau.
13. Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Juneau
Be your own tour guide and explore historic Juneau at your own pace. Taking a walking tour of city’s downtown is a great way to familiarize yourself with the Juneau of today while learning a bit about it’s past. You can pick up a tour map at the visitor center, and at some downtown businesses.
14. Fireside Lectures
Learn about Juneau’s fascinating wildlife at this free lecture series. Fireside Lectures have been a popular local tradition for over 50 years. Every week at Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, you can drop in to hear experts discuss topics including Native history, Giant octopi, or glacial movement.
15. Shrine of St. Therese
Enjoy the peaceful environment and beautiful natural surroundings of the garden and walking paths at Shrine of St. Therese. Make sure to visit the Merciful Love prayer labyrinth. Though some might imagine a puzzle or maze, the Shrine conceived its labyrinth as a peaceful journey meant to inspire a sacred spiritual experience in people of any or no faith. What better way to unwind during your visit?
Do you have any great tips for free and fun things to do in Juneau? Tell us in the comments.