The capital of Alaska, Juneau has seen gold propectors of the past replaced by a flood of annual tourists, many of them cruise-ship passengers arriving during the summer.
Originally fishing grounds for local Tlingit Indians, the Gastineau Channel area became a focus of attention in the late 1800s when a Tlingit named Kowee of the Auk Tlingit Tribe provided gold ore samples in response to a reward offered by George Pilz, a Sitka engineer.
Pilz grubstaked prospectors Richard Harris and Joseph Juneau in August 1880. They found plenty of color in Gold Creek, but did not follow the gold to its source. At Kowee’s urging, Pilz sent the pair back again. Harris and Juneau climbed Snow Slide Gulch at the head of Gold Creek and looked down into the mother lode of Quartz Gulch and Silver Bow Basin.
On October 18, they staked a 160-acre town site on the beach where, the following month, they were joined by the first boatloads of prospectors bound for the new strike on Gastineau Channel. The stampede was on. The discovery was the first that resulted in the founding of an Alaskan town. Juneau was named after gold prospector Joe Juneau, though the place was for a time called Rockwell and then Harrisburg, after prospector Richard Harris.
Juneau grew from a boomtown to a centre for large-scale hard-rock mining when the loose gold in the stream beds ran out. On the mainland side of the Channel, two great mills were created: the Alaska-Juneau at the south end of Juneau, and the Alaska-Gastineau at Thane, farther south. On Douglas Island, the ground reverberated with 960 stamps of the world-renowned Treadwell Gold Mining Company.
Treadwell production peaked in 1915. Two years later, a cave-in flooded three of the four mines, effectively ending the Treadwell era. In Juneau, the Alaska-Gastineau folded from high costs in 1921. Alaska-Juneau was halted by the war in 1944.
Juneau was established as Alaska’s capital in 1906 when the government was transferred from Sitka. Today, federal, state and local government employs one out of every two Juneau workers. Tourism is the largest private employer and continues to grow. Commercial fishing and mining continue to play a role in Juneau’s economy.
Location: Juneau is located in the Inside passage on the Gastineau Channel, on the Alexander Archipelago of Alaska, nestled at the base of Mount Juneau and below steep mountains that soar to between 3,500 and 4,000 feet high. Juneau is situated within the Tongass National Forest – the largest in the US – and shares its eastern border with the province of British Columbia, Canada.
Juneau is only accessible by air – Alaska Airlines to Juneau International Airport – or by sea. Cars and trucks are transported by barge or by ferry on the state-owned Alaska Marine Highway System. Local transportation is limited to about 40 miles of paved road.
Atop the mountains above Juneau is the Juneau Ice Cap, a large ice mass from which about 30 glaciers flow. One of these glaciers, the Mendenhall Glacier, has been retreating for about 200 years, with its front face declining both in width and height. Icefield flightseeing and glacier-trekking tours are available in Juneau.
Cruise Ships: Nearly one million passengers arrive each summer on cruise ships serving the Alaska route. Shore excursions are operated to local sights and adventures. The popular months to visit are May to September.
The Mount Roberts Tramway is an aerial tramway constructed with its base terminal on the cruise ship docks, and its upper terminal on the southwestern ridge of Mount Roberts, providing great scenic views of Juneau’s cruise ship dock and Gastineau Channel.
Statue: A large fountain featuring a bronze statue of pelicans stands in front of the Federal Building in Juneau. Pelicans are not indigenous to the State of Alaska: the proper artwork (an eagle) was delivered to Florida by mistake.
The Alaska State Museum on Whittier Street exhibits a wealth of ethnographic and historical material, from an Aleut thimble basket to the life-sized eagle tree. Permanent galleries include exhibitions on Alaska’s Native peoples, including galleries on Aleuts, Athabaskans, Eskimos and Northwest Coast Indians, Natural History, the American Period of Alaska’s history, Russian America, and the Children’s Room. Open daily in summer from mid May 15 through late September, and on Tuesdays to Saturdays in winter (late September to mid May).
Red Dog Saloon: No visit to Juneau would be complete without a visit to the world-famous Red Dog Saloon. Behind the swinging doors, the nostalgic flavor of the legendary Red Dog Saloon prevails, from the sawdust floors to the flag-draped ceiling. Cherished memorabilia of Alaskans displayed include Wyatt Earp’s gun, a walrus oosik, trophy wildlife mounts, historical posters and photographs, and currency signed by miners.
Downtown Juneau boasts dozens of art galleries, which participate in the monthly First Friday Gallery Walk. Bend Art Galleries stay open late (5pm to 9pm) for special receptions and presentations, staging evenings with featured artists and live music.
Juneau Public Market offers local arts, crafts, photography, wearable art, gifts, and other items of interest to locals and visitors alike.
Events: Juneau hosts the annual Alaska Folk Festival in April and the annual Juneau Jazz & Classics music festival in May, one of Alaska’s most anticipated music events. On Friday evenings in summer there are open-air music and dance performances at Marine Park, and the Juneau Symphony performs regularly. Seasonal salmon derbies include the Spring King Salmon Derby and the Golden North Salmon Derby in late summer. The Gold Rush Days festival in June offers a weekend of events celebrating more than a century of mining history in Juneau. People from around Southeast Alaska compete in a variety of mining and logging competitions – including log rolling, axe throwing, and wood chopping – and carnival games and rides are provided for children.
Outdoor recreation in Juneau includes whale watching, sportfishing, hiking, kayaking, camping, and dogsledding.
Sightseeing Tours offered include gold mine tours, day cruises to Tracy Arm Fjord, rainforest tours, and bear viewing.