Northern Wanderers

Over the Alaska Marine Highway to Juneau

There's a lot to see in Juneau, Alaska

Bear standing behind a log on the shore of a beach.
A bear spotted on a boat trip to Tracy Arm near Juneau. — Photo by Duane Pilson

Having never been on an Alaska Marine Highway ferry before, we didn’t know what to expect. Arriving at the Haines Ferry Terminal early, as we had been advised, we checked in and were assigned a lane to queue up in. We waited for our ferry to Juneau with some trepidation, as our overall length is 17.67 metres (58 feet)—not easy to turn around. Once our ferry, the MV Malaspina, docked and discharged the vehicles for Haines, we started to load. After getting on to the vehicle deck, it took over 15 minutes of jockeying to get us into the proper place.

It was well worth the effort. The ride was wonderful, the ocean was calm and the scenery was beautiful. The amenities on board were more than enough and the staff was great.

Arriving in Juneau in the evening we headed for the RV park, only to miss the turn-off. We found that being close to the mountains meant our GPS didn't work, but after contacting the RV park by phone they talked us to the campground. When we arrived at the campground they took us to our site and helped us back into it. We didn’t even set up, but went to bed. We were really tired from the day.

Got up the next morning only to find that the Spruce Meadows RV Park was in a beautiful setting surrounded by woods, with full hookup sites and even the occasional visiting bruin. In fact we missed one of these four-legged visitors going down a path different than the one we were on. During the next couple of days we had a great time enjoying some local attractions.

The best of Juneau attractions

At Macaulay Salmon Hatchery we learned why there are salmon hatcheries and how they operate. It was a fascinating experience watching how the salmon are milked, how the eggs are harvested and fertilized, how the fingerlings are raised and when they are released. When you hear how many salmon are released into the wild each year, you will be amazed.

We then visited the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure for a colourful explosion of flowers and a guided trip in a covered vehicle up into and through the Tongas Rainforest to a breathtaking panoramic view of Juneau. One of the neatest things to see was the upside-down flowerpots and hearing the story of how they came about. It was well worth taking the time to visit and enjoy this unique place.

Afterwards we visited the interpretive center for the Mendenhall Glacier. Even though we had visited this place a number of times in the past, we still found the movie and displays fascinating. Even though the glacier is retreating, it is still impressive to see. If your inclination is to hike up to it you can do so. We did take a walk on the boardwalk to check out the Mendenhall Creek and watch the salmon fighting to go upstream, but we didn’t have the opportunity to see any black bears feeding on the salmon . 

We took a three-hour whale watching tour with Dolphin Tours, on their newest and fastest boat. In a very short time we began seeing the telltale clouds of vapour which happen every time a humpback whale blows water trapped in its blowhole. After spending approximately two hours observing and taking pictures of these incredible, huge, graceful sea mammals, we had to return to shore. We're already thinking of the next time we can observe them and hope to get a picture of them bubble netting, something we have been hoping for since the first time we saw them. If you haven’t seen the humpback whale in its environment, do it whenever you get the opportunity.

We took a ride on the Mt. Roberts Tram, which provides a fantastic view of Juneau from its observation deck. Having done this on a couple of previous visits to Juneau, we were looking forward to it, especially as it was a clear day with no rain. The only problem was there were four cruise ships in port and the wait for the down trip was approximately 30 to 45 minutes. We elected to check out the souvenir shop and line up for the trip down.

For our last day we did something we had wanted to do but never had the time on our previous trip to Juneau: a trip to Tracy Arm. After boarding our tour boat at 7:30 a.m., we set out for Tracy Arm and a memorable day of watching a very active glacier calf more times and more spectacularly than we had ever previously seen. We were approximately three-quarters of a mile from the face of the glacier. Once when it calved, the wave that reached our boat was approximately three metres high. Our adventure was capped off with the sight of hundreds of seals, including pups, basking on the ice floes from the glacier, safely out of reach of orcas, and last but not least seeing a black bear on shore during our return home.

We returned to our RV for a good night's sleep so we could be at the ferry terminal at 6:00 a.m. to check in for the next leg of our marine adventure, which would take us to Sitka.

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