Welcome to the ninth installment of our “Trail Town” series. Every month we will feature an article about a trail running city that you should put on your bucket list of places to visit! This month we feature the city of Juneau, Alaska. This article was written by Josh Musson. Photos by Josh Musson & the Gnome Gnats.
Located at 58.3019° N, 134.4197° W along a rugged stretch of the Inside Passage is Juneau, Alaska. This beautiful city sits at the foot of the Coast Range who’s mountains rise steeply from the deep glacial carved channels making for a dramatic scene. Juneau is Alaska’s Capital City, it is also the second largest city in the U.S. encompassing 3248 square miles. (Fun Facts, 2008.) To put this in perspective both the Rhode Island and Delaware could fit within the city limits. Juneau is an attractive tourist destination hosting over 1 million visitors each year, but it is more than a tourist trap as the city is home to a permanent population of 32,756 people, making it the second most populous city in Alaska. ( United States Census Bureau, 2016.)
Alaska is often times referred to as the “Last Frontier,” while true for the U.S.’s westward expansion it might be more accurate to call the state the “First Frontier,” as there is evidence that the peopling of North America got started here. (Kamrani, Kambiz, 2008) While the areas surrounding Juneau were home to indigenous Awk Kwann and Taku Kwann people the city wasn’t established till the 1880’s. In response to a mining Engineer, by the name of George Pilz, looking to identify sources of Gold and Silver in Southeast Alaska Chief Kowee of the Awk Kwann people responded, provided Pliz with a sample of gold containing ore. Miners Joe Juneau and Richard Harris were then dispatched in the summer of 1880, to follow up on the discovery. With further help from Chief Kowee the miners were able to locate gold rich ore in Silverbow Basin, along a creek that would later become known as Gold Creek. (Ferrell, Nacy. 1995.) The subsequent mining operations would fuel the early growth of a city that would come to be known as Juneau.
When one visits Juneau today they will find that the historic mines which fueled the city’s early growth are no longer in operation, one flooded and the other played out, but mining is still an important economic engine none the less. In addition to mining, tourism, fishing and government have become increasingly significant contributors to the city’s economic prosperity. The resulting high standard of living ensures that Juneau will continue to be a desirable place to live, play, and visit for the foreseeable future.
Juneau’s back yard is massive thanks to the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest. Cutting through the forest is an extensive trail network just waiting to be explored. From Alpine ridges to swampy fore-lands the network of trails traverse it all. Maintaining those trails in the face of Southeast Alaska’s climate and thriving rainforest ecosystems is no small feat. It is thanks to the hard work of the forest service in conjunction with the organization Trail Mix that the vast network of trails remain open for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike.
There are five hubs of trail access across the city, allowing users the opportunity to explore the incredible diversity of landscapes with ease.
- Basin Road – Located Downtown and popular with the locals this hub provides access to Mt. Roberts, Mt. Juneau, the Juneau Ridge, and Perseverance Trails.
- Blueberry Hills – Located on Douglas this local’s hotspot is popular provides access to the Treadwell ditch trail one of the few thru-trails in Juneau. From the Treadwell Ditch users can access the Mt. Jumbo Trail, Gastineau Meadows, Dan Moller Trail, and the Eagle Crest Ski area.
- Eagle Crest Ski Area – Located on Douglas the Eagle Crest Ski area has numerous nordic ski trails, a ridge trail, lift service roads, and access to the Treadwell Ditch Trail.
- Mendenhall National Recreation Area – Often referred to as “The Glacier,” this hub provides access to many trails on the East side of the Mendenhall Glacier, Lake, and River.
- Mendenhall Campground – Home of the West Glacier Trial, Mt. McGinuss, The Ice Caves, and the Montana Creek Trail.
For the more adventurous looking to get off the beaten path hire a guide service to lead or plan your trail running adventure. Guides can also be a useful resource for those with limited time to explore as their intimate knowledge of the area’s trails will ensure a run of spectacular proportions regardless of time constraints or ability level. Reputable guides can be booked from Inside Passage Running and Juneau Trail Running Tours.
Parking and Transit:
Juneau is not connected to the Road System to bring ones personal vehicles mean making use of the ferry service from Fairhaven, Washington; Haines, Alaska; or Skagway. Alaska. Once in town there are many additional options for local transportation:
- Capital Transit has four bus routes that allow for easy access to Juneau’s Urban Centers. Bus fairs are two dollars for each ride although monthly passes are available for $40.00 USD. For more information please visit http://www.juneau.org
- Taxi Services abound offering a convenient transportation option.
- Car Rentals are available from the Airport and the Cruise ship terminal.
Parking at trail heads is usually limited, with the exception of Eagle Crest Ski Area, Basin Road, the Mendenhall National Recreation Area, and Mendenhall Campground. Many of the city’s trails heads are “hidden,” and start off as poorly marked paths leading into the woods. Although Capital Transit does not stop at any of the previously listed Trail hubs, it is a great way to inexpensively move between the different urban centers.
Juneau’s relative Isolation has helped to foster the growth of a close knit running community. Organizations such as Southeast Road Runners and Inside Passage Running work to lubricate the social sphere, creating the infrastructure for runners to easily connect with one another, additionally Facebook Groups like Juneau Trail Running can be a valuable resource when planning.
Culture abounds in Juneau. The city is located in the heart of Tlingit Country, the people indigenous to northern Southeast Alaska. According to their oral traditions they have called northern southeast Alaska their home since time immemorial and may have been the some of the first inhabitants of North America. Their distinctive form-line art is recognized around the world and the opportunity to see, hear, feel, and taste the place from which this incredible culture has grown is an experience that all people should have.
The Tlingit are not the only ethnic group to this cosmopolitan city home. Juneau’s community is made up of many diverse ethnic groups some of which include: Filipino, Pacific Islanders, Scandinavians, Germans, Irish, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. Such diversity creates a vibrant tapestry of festivals, cultural celebrations, and community events, many of which are open to the public.
An overview of Juneau’s culture wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the role of its epic natural setting. There is little that separates Wild and rugged Temperate Rainforest from the city scape, its influences on the culture is undeniable. The wildlife here are treated more like non-human people and are generally accepted as residence of the city. Bears feel just as at home fishing in the pristine Eagle River as they do foraging through a dumpster downtown. The climate shapes the people too hardened by the frequently less than ideal weather, it is rare that a Juneauite will allow “bad weather” to interrupt their daily activities. Sometimes the most magical and otherworldly experiences can be had while running through the most horrific weather conditions.
Juneauites LOVE their coffee, the cool damp climate and workaholic attitudes create the ideal environment for a strong coffee culture. With several local coffee roasters, visitors will have to work hard to seek out the one Starbucks in Town. Locals prefer to shop locally, supporting Heritage, Ravensbrew, Sentinel, and a number of other boutique roasters and coffee shops.
There are a number of hip places to sit down for a bite to eat and a cup of coffee. Our favorites are: Gonzo’s in Auke Bay, where one can enjoy the gastronomic frontier of waffle making along with delicious espresso; the Rookery downtown, is a great place to enjoy a pastry and some of Stump Towns finest; and Heritage’s flagship cafe also downtown, is popular among the professionals and tourists seeking a more Starbucks like experience.
If coffee is the second love of Juneauites then beer is their first love. Juneau has the honor of being home to the renown Alaskan Brewery. As such it should be of no surprise that most restaurants, bars, and liquor stores carry their full lineup including experimental releases. Midnight Sun, Barrinoff Island Brewery, and Denali round out the other popular Alaskan craft breweries.
Complimenting Juneau’s passion of fermented beverages is its a lively bar scene. The best way to experience the nightlife is by pub crawl. A walk down Franklin and front streets any night of the week will satisfy even the most thirsty among us.
- The Alaskan – A great place to have a beer and enjoy some old time folk music
- Imperial Saloon – Downtown Juneau’s closest thing to a nightclub.
- Rendezvous – Live Music, big bar, interesting crowd.
- Rockwell –The place to go if your beer requires the company of a tasty burger and live blues performances.
- Triangle Club – Juneau’s most friendly bar.
- Viking Bar – A little bit of everything, sports bar, nightclub, and billiards.
Juneau plays host to over a million visitors and tourist each year, as a result the community has developed an impressive tourism infrastructure. There are a number of helpful organizations that will happily point you in the right direction when planning your running adventure.
Travel Juneau – The hardworking people at Travel Juneau bill themselves as the authoritative source on all thing Juneau. With helpful information on topics that include where to stay, what to pack, weather, things to do, stuff to see, and community events they are an essential resource for anyone planning an Adventure to Juneau.
Inside Passage Running – The folks behind Inside Passage Running have done the hard work for you. Checkout their detailed trail write ups before you head out on that interesting looking trail by the DOT offices at 7 mile on Glacier highway, you’ll be glad you did.
Juneau Trail Runners – The first of the two Facebook groups, comprised of local trail running enthusiasts. This is a closed group so one must ask permission from the admins before they may join. The members regularly plan runs and share information on trail conditions and other potential hazards that users might face.
Juneau Trail Running – The second of the two Facebook groups comprised of local trail running enthusiasts. This is a closed group so one must ask permission from the admins before they may join. The members regularly plan runs and share information on trail conditions and other potential hazards that users might face.
Southeast Road Runners – This non-profit running club is an integral part of the Juneau running scene. They organize races, host seminars, operate a youth running camp, and much more.
Trail Sharing and Cooperation:
Juneau’s trails can be a busy place regardless of the weather, season, or time of day it is important to use good trail etiquette for your safety and the safety of others. Users should expect to encounter hikers, mountain biker, xc skiers, snowmobilers, and hunters. Wear bright or reflective clothing, pass on left, stay to the right side of the trail when not passing, and call out to the person before overtaking, “on your left,” works well.
In addition to human traffic there is sometimes non-human traffic using the trails too. While it is rare to encounter bears and wolves on the trail it is always wise to yield to predators, it is also best to spot them before they spot you. On overgrown trails porcupines can be an unexpected hazard, they are slow, low to the ground, and covered in quills keep an eye out for these guys to avoid the unfortunate experience of stepping on one.
Juneau loves to race! Most weekends there is at least one race, sometimes two. Southeast Road Runners maintains an easy to read events calendar and posts 99.9% of events on their website. The summer months are particularly active with Juneau hosting a number of well organized and competitive races some of which include:
- Spring Tide Scramble.
- Seacoast Relay.
- Only Fool Run at Midnight.
- Eagle Crest Road and Mountain Race.
- Forth of July Mile.
- Mt. Roberts Tram Run.
- The Governors Cup 5k.
- Ben Blackgoat Memorial Run.
- Frank Myaer Marathon.
- Nifty 50k.
- The Klondike Road Relay.
Closer than you Think:
Just a quick 2.5 hour flight from Seattle, Juneau’s World Class mountain running and cultural attractions are readily accessible. Alaska Airlines offers several flights to and from the Emerald City each day, with that kind of convenience we are certain that after the first trip you’ll be back again and again and again.
Ferrel, Nancy. “The Founding of Juneau, Alaska.” Copyright 1995.
Kamrani, Kambiz. “Peopling of the Americas: Three Step Model for Colonizing the Americas.” 2008.
Juneau Empire “Fun Facts,” 2008.
United State Census Bureau, “Juneau City and Borough”.