Cruising Alaska’s Inside Passage – Part 5: Juneau

Blog Post created by bejacob on Jul 29, 2019

Juneau. The capital city of Alaska. Despite being part of the North American mainland, Juneau is inaccessible except by plane or boat. There are no roads connecting the city/borough to the rest of the state or to Canada due to rugged mountains and numerous glaciers. We arrived after breakfast and once ashore, there was time to explore the city. Our dog-sledding excursion was scheduled for 12:30, so we decided to take the tramway to the top of Mt. Roberts for a great view of the city. We had a moderately long wait before boarding the tram to the top leaving us less time to look around than we hoped. Fortunately the ticket is good for all day rides, so we planned to come back up after the crowds thinned out. More on that later.


The main attraction for us was the dog sledding on the Mendenhall Glacier. Every summer, mushers from all over the state send their dogs to what amounts to a doggie summer camp. The dogs need to keep in shape and rather than have them pull wheeled sleds, the glacier provides a perfect place to work the dogs. After donning our glacier boots, we boarded a Eurocopter (Airbus) AStar 350B3 helicopter (N149AE in case iahflyr wants to look it up) for our 15-minute flight to the glacier. We got some great views of Mendenhall Glacier and Mendenhall Lake.

Here’s our nifty little transport from the Juneau airport. 

After arriving at the dog camp, the summer home of 280 dogs and the folks who feed and clean up after the, the helicopter departed to pick up another group. Because the glacier is part of the Tongass National Forest, there can be no trace of the camp when everyone goes home at the end of summer. Imagine cleaning up after 280 dogs every day all summer long.

Here’s a view of just half the camp.

Our sled team consisted of 11 Alaskan huskies. Unlike the more familiar Siberian husky, these dogs are essentially mutts bred for a combination of strength, speed, stamina, and a desire to work. It was clearly evident in the dogs pulling our sled. While we took our places, several of the dogs jumped up and down in place eager to get to work. The mushers set up two sleds, one trailing the other. The first had room for two people to sit, with the musher standing behind working the team. The trailing sled had one seat and a place for another person to stand. Here’s a picture of the second sled. Note the proper way to stand, feet on the sled runners, hands gripping the handle bar. 

As the saying goes, “if you’re not the lead dog, the view never changes.”  The dogs didn’t seem to mind.

During the 1-mile circuit, we stopped a few times so that the four of us on the sled could each have a turn in front, as well as stand on the trailing sled.

These stops also gave us the opportunity to interact with the dogs. They love attention and are very friendly.

All too soon our time at the dog camp was done and we boarded our helicopter back to Juneau. After a brief stop back on the ship to drop off our winter coats and hats, we decided to take the Mt. Roberts Tramway back to the top of the mountain. The two trams (eagle and raven) are painted with native Tlingit art depicting both birds. It’s easy to tell them apart as the eagle has a hooked beak while the raven’s is straight. Unlike our packed morning visit, we rode to the top with just a couple other visitors.

The view is impressive. There is also a gift shop, nature center, and restaurant, as well as numerous hiking trails. That’s our cruise ship at anchor in the middle of the Gastineau Channel. Like in Ketchikan, we were cruise ship number five in a port that has four docks. 

Juneau was the last borough (county) seat on this trip. We still had one stop to make in Icy Strait Point near the village of Hoonah. From there it would be on to Seward and the end of the cruise. I’ll wrap up those details in the next entry.


Until then…


Happy Travels