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Ringo Boitano: Juneau

Juneau – “Alaska's Wilderness Capital City"
Story by Ringo Boitano
Photographs by Deb Roskamp

view of the port of Juneau, Alaska and the Gastineau Channel from the Mt. Roberts Tramway

et's face it, Alaska is a big place. With over 3,000 rivers and more than 100,000 glaciers, the state is one-fifth the size of the continental United States and two-and-one-half times the size of Texas. Vast expanses of wilderness encompass Alaska, with millions of acres of national parkland and wildlife refuges. When I took my first Alaska Inside Passage cruise, I could see that there were a number of ports of call that deserved more than a day tour -- and this was never truer than when I first set my eyes on Juneau.

A City Built on Gold

For thousands of years, the Tlingit tribe had dominated Juneau and Southeast Alaska, developing sophisticated art work and elaborate ceremonies as well as a complex cultural life. In 1880, Joseph Juneau and Richard Harris discovered gold. Fortune-seeking miners soon followed along with a plethora of trading posts, saloons, and missionaries. The Juneau settlement became a real town, the first to be established after Alaska's purchase from Russia. The Alaska-Juneau gold mine was one of the largest mining operations in the world. Juneau experienced rapid growth with the arrival of fishing, canneries, transportation services, and a sawmill through the early 1900s. In January 1959, Alaska was christened the U.S.’s 49th state with Juneau becoming the state capital.

cruise ship docked at Juneau port

Today, Juneau is a thriving city with a blend of urban amenities nestled in the heart of majestic mountains, rivers, glaciers, and forests. With a population of 31,000, the infrastructure is based on government workers, tourism, mining and fishing. It still has a friendly, small town ambiance with everyone seemingly fitting in, united in their love of the surrounding beauty.

view along one of the streets inside Juneau

My Own Private Juneau

What I enjoy in Juneau is getting out of the tourist area, and wandering around the city. One evening I strolled up a quiet main street. I couldn't help but notice there was a man on the other side of the street, carrying something that looked suspiciously like a sledgehammer. Suddenly, he took a full swing, smashing a store front window. I'd often wondered how I would react in such a situation. Would I be a “Dirty Harry” and demand the man to stop or confront him by force? But my 6th sense told me to do something else: run the other direction as fast as my legs would take me. As I did, locals poured out of bars, and soon the police arrived. The officer pointed a gun at the assailant and calmly said: "Okay, Larry, let's go.” Larry smiled, put his sledgehammer down, and amiably climbed into the back of the car. How I love small city life.

Sitting in an Internet cafe the next day, I told a local about the incident. “Unusual for Juneau,” the man smiled. “Plus he couldn’t get far for Juneau is inaccessible by road.” I asked if the invasion of cruise ship tourists bothered him. "They’re only coming here to see the reasons that make us live here. One of my favorite things to do is go to Mendenhall Glacier at night after the cruise ships have departed, and we have the whole place to ourselves.” That night I did just that; with the late summer sun glistening off the glacier, it was truly a spiritual experience.

Selected Highlights

Mendenhall Glacier and Visitor Center
Photo credit: Juneau CVB

Mendenhall Glacier and Visitor Center
The Mendenhall is one of the 38 major glaciers that flow from the Juneau Icefield, covering more than 1,500 square miles. You can drive to the visitor center on your own, but tour companies also offer trips. Flightseeing groups feature aerial tours and helicopter companies land you right on the glacier for a short hike.

view of Gastineau Channel and downtown Juneau from Mt. Roberts

Mt. Roberts Tramway and Alpine Hiking
From the cruise ship pier, take a six-minute tram ride to the 1,800-foot level of Mt. Roberts for sweeping views of Gastineau Channel and downtown Juneau. There’s wildlife viewing platforms, Nature Center, a live bald eagle display, restaurant, gift shop and a self-guided hiking trail marked by Native totem carvings.

Juneau Museums
The Alaska State Museum showcases exhibits on Alaska’s Native culture, history, art, and natural history including a Tlingit Clan House, while the Juneau-Douglas City Museum features exhibits and videos of Juneau’s history and gold mining heritage.

Boat Tours
Day boat tour companies offer tours of the twin Sawyer Glaciers in Tracy Arm Fjord. Glacier Bay National Park features a remarkable collection of tidewater glaciers and 3 million acres of wilderness.

Whale Watching and Wildlife Viewing
Juneau is the place to see humpbacks and orca killer whales, seals, black bears, and eagles. For brown bear viewings, visit Admiralty Island National Monument, based in the Kootznoowoo -- a Tlingit word meaning "Fortress of the Bears.”

An array of Coast Guard licensed charter fishing boats offer charters for Pacific halibut and all five species of Pacific salmon.

For further information, log-on to

Related Articles:
Return to Alaska; Alaska's Interior; Tongass National Forest, Alaska; Holland America Alaska Cruise; Denali National Park; Alaska Railway; Small Ship Cruise, Alaska; Sitka, Alaska; Skagway, Alaska

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Feedback for Ringo

I love Ringo's piece on historic hotels. I once stayed at the Laurentian in Montreal - is it still around, is it historic? And then there was the Heups in Bismark.

It is interesting that two of your entries are in CANADA.

Brent, Seattle, WA

It's no mystery that you are great at what you do.

Sandee, Seattle, WA

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The Mystery on the Oasis pics are very funny!

Ramon, Kansas City, MO

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Ha ha ha ha your "schtick" Ringo!!

Dolly, Las Vegas, NV

Hello the travelling Boitano's hope you enjoy. Best wishes.

Elsa Magdalena Berno-Boitano, Laussane, Switzerland

My Irish roots understand terrible beauty. So do my human roots. The concept has such a ring of truth to it, doesn't it? Great article, Ringo. I hope to get to Ireland eventually, and thanks for blazing the trail!

Sandeee Bleu, Seattle, WA

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No wonder I've been hearing all these wonderful stories about Ireland. I used to think that it was just for Irish Americans seeking their ancestral roots but your article seems to call out to the non-Irish like me. Fascinating and intriguing.

Peter Paul, Pasadena, CA

Thanks for this great post wow... it's very wonderful.

Key Logger, New York

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Lets not forget that the Marriot Harbor Beach is within walking distance to the world famous Elbo Room - Fort Lauderdale's oldest bar.

Jeff, Fort Lauderdale, FL

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Thanks for taking the time for the message and reminder. Indeed, I had a quick drink at the Elbo Room. My trip to Ft. Lauderdale would not have been complete without a visit to this historic institution.I have been reading about it for years, and was not disappointed. It felt like a real local's hangout.

- Ringo


I thoroughly enjoyed your article about Dick and Liz. I remember seeing that article back in the heyday of Life Magazine.

To remember the "behind-the-scenes" stories like that makes you genuine fan of the 60's. The famous couple's turbulent relationship was just a precursor of today's headline-grabbing media stars like Britney Spears and her colleagues. Life was simpler then. The paparazzis still had some sense of decency. You "coulda" been a good paparazzi. I say "coulda" because you kept this to yourself all these many years.

Looking forward to other media trivia you can remember.

Peter Paul, South Pasadena, CA

Hey, Ringo –

Enjoyed your article on Antarctica --- cool photos, too. One thing, you mentioned that Ushuaia in Argentina is considered the most southern city in the world. I read that Chile lays claim to that distinction, with Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in the world.

Mick, Greenbay, WI

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Mick –

Now that football season is over --- I’ve often wondered what you Packer fans did in the off season ---- it’s great that you took the time to visit TravelingBoy. Great question, unlike my older brother, I adore all lamb products, and Patagonian Lamb --- cooked in a restricted area at the restaurant in an opened wood-fueled fire pit --- is amazing. The chef actually uses an ax to carve it. Frankly, I found it superior to Norwegian fjord lamb, Irish Burren lamb and even those much esteemed creatures down in New Zealand. The crab in Ushuaia is the other thing to eat. Wait a sec, you asked about Punta Arenas vs. Ushuaia as the furthermost city in the world. Well, they both have little disclaimers re populations --- you know, what’s a city, which one is a town, ect – so better let Chile and Argentina brass it out. They seem to be able to argue about any subject.

- Ringo

Ed Boitano's travel blog/review
Three Musical Pilgrimages: Mozart, Grieg and Hendrix

Troldhaugen Villa in Bergen, Norway
Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) could read and compose music, plus play the violin and piano, when he was five years old. Born into a musical family in Salzburg, Austria (then the Holy Roman Empire), he had a unique ability for imitating music, which first became evident when he recited a musical piece by simply observing his father conducting a lesson to his older sister. This led to a childhood on the road, where the young prodigy performed before many of the royal courts of Europe.

Go There

Tom Weber's travel blog/review
Treasures of Ireland: The Irish Goodbye (Dispatch #20)

Irish sunset

The Palladian Traveler brings to a close his 20-part series on the Emerald Isle from an upscale restaurant in downtown Dublin where he files his final dispatch and then quietly slips away.

Go There

John Clayton's travel blog/review
Two "MUST SEE" Truly Spectacular Places in Europe. Here's Why.

Culzean Castle, Scotland
The Han Grotto and Culzean Castle. As the name of my Traveling Boy feature is "Travel With a Difference," it's important to me to always bring you offbeat and unusual tourist places around the world you may not know about. These two fit that category to a T, and they're absolutely worth a visit. One's in Scotland and one's in Belgium. Culzean (pronounced CULLANE) Castle is located near Maybole, Carrick, on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland.

go there

Ringo Boitano's travel blog/review
Highway 49 Revisited: Exploring California's Gold Country

aurora borealis lights up the night sky near Fairbanks
In the 1840s, the population of California was only 14,000, but by 1850 more than 100,000 settlers and adventurers had arrived from all over the world – and they came for one reason: gold. James Marshall had discovered the first gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill in El Dorado County, creating the largest gold rush in history.

go there

Eric Anderson's travel blog/review
Lake Charles’ Family-Size Low-Key Mardi Gras

dressed-up for the Mardi Gras
The Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras in Lake Charles, the second largest in Louisiana, does not need parents there to avert their children’s eyes. This is family entertainment and children are very much part of it. The main office of the Lake Charles CVB has costumes from last year’s Mardi Gras but it also has figures to fascinate little ones from country boys fishing for their dinner to alligators who have already fed and are rubbing their stomachs.

go there

Fyllis Hockman's travel blog/review
Puerto Vallarta: Magic and Mayhem on the Malecon

Cedar Hill, Washington DC
So I heard that you could spend from dawn to dusk on the Malecon in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and never get bored and I thought, "Okay, I'm up for that challenge." Well, maybe not the dawn part – I'm not a morning person – so I had no problem leaving those early hours to the joggers and those seeking an early start to catch their red snapper for dinner.

Go There

Greg Aragon's travel blog/review
Relaxing at The Inn at Laguna Beach

Greg at Huntington Beach

There is nothing like sleeping in an ocean-front room and awakening to the sounds of waves crashing against the sand. It is one of the finer things in life. And it is exactly what I experienced recently on a memorable getaway to The Inn at Laguna Beach. The adventure began when a friend I pulled off the 5 Freeway in Orange County and took SR 133 south nine miles through winding lush hills and wilderness areas to the ocean.

Go There

Bev Cohn's travel blog
Tim Robbins On His Road To Stardom

Tim Robbins

Award-winning Tim Robbins began his career on episodic television. Robbins' film work, however, is what catapulted him into becoming a major movie star including "Bull Durham" and "Mystic River" for which he won multiple awards. Equally at home behind the camera, he directed the riveting "Dead Man Walking." He is Founder and Artistic Director of The Actors' Gang, which he formed thirty-five years ago and has directed multiple provocative productions.

Go There

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