Alaska’s capital city, Juneau has a rich history and magnificent landscape—so it’s no wonder it attracts boatloads of visitors each year. Nestled in the Alaska panhandle, between the Gulf of Alaska and British Columbia, the Juneau area is almost as large as the states of Rhode Island and Delaware put together. Whether you’re just visiting with friends or working as a professional tour guide in town, a few handy facts about the area will make you sound like the local expert. Here are ten interesting tidbits that will make you sound like you grew up in Juneau—even if you just got off the boat, too.
Juneau is a hiker’s dream: It’s 45 miles from end to end, but in that space has over 130 miles of hiking trails.
You can’t drive to Juneau. The famous ALCAN—or Alaska-Canadian Highway can only take you so far. You’ll have to board a ferry to reach your final destination.
The Juneau area experiences an extreme weather phenomenon, usually three or four times a year, called Taku winds. Usually between October and March, these winds—which can gust up to 100 miles per hour—form when the temperature is super cold. Air is flowing perpendicular to the mountains with a stable layer of air in the mountains keeping cold air from rising any higher. At a certain “critical level,” the cold air piles up so high it reverses, causing the famous Taku winds.
Juneau is truly a city of both mountains and ocean. It’s sandwiched right in between 3,800-foot peaks and the sea.
Less than 15 miles from Juneau lies a glacier that covers almost 37 square miles. The Mendenhall Glacier is a 13-mile long river of ice ending in Mendenhall Lake. The glacier is a small piece of the Juneau ice field, which covers 1,500 miles. Recently, tree stumps and logs with roots and bark still attached have been appearing from under the glacier as it’s retreating. Preserved by a protective gravel casing, they’re in their original growth position from their pre-glacial life, perfect for scientists to study.
A gold discovery in the Juneau area was the first such discovery that resulted in the founding of a town in Alaska—and that town became Alaska’s capital in 1906 when the government transferred from Sitka.
Today, the number-one employer by far in Juneau is the government, followed by tourism.
Juneau is home to Alaska’s oldest operating hotel, The Alaskan, which was built the year Alaska became a territory. Originally referred to as “a pocket version of the finest hostelry on the West Coast,” the hotel has been restored to reflect its historic Queen Anne style glory.
One of the most vertical tramways in the world—the Mount Roberts Tramway—whisks visitors up almost 2,000 feet from Juneau’s cruise ship docks in just six minutes. The tram’s two 60-passenger cabins are capable of moving 1,050 people uphill per hour, giving visitors a stunning birds’ eye view of area and access to hiking trails from the top.
Juneau might be one of the best places in the world to see a bald eagle. In fact, some estimates say there are between 15,000 and 30,000 of them within the Juneau area. That’s a lot when you consider there are only about 32,000 human residents.
Whether you’re just in town for a weekend or working as a guide for the season, a little background knowledge about Juneau will make your stay more enjoyable. And it will give you cred with any visitors you’re guiding around town. It’s a worthy place to visit, both culturally and environmentally—and a few fun facts makes it even more fun. If working a season in Juneau sounds like fun to you, check out Alaska Tour Jobs for more information.