It took a while to see the appeal of Juneau, and I’m pretty sure the weather as to blame. It is cold here. And rainy. But otherwise it’s really pretty. The huge mountains that lock the town against the coast are covered with trees and waterfalls and glaciers. Along the open spaces are tons of wildflowers like lupine and fireweed and flox.
We stayed for three nights at the Mendenhall glacier campground, breaking it up with a fourth night up the road. We got spot number 21 which was big enough for our camper AND had a view of the glacier! This whole campground must be reserved via the recreation.gov website or phone, no simple showing up unless you can deal with sporadic cell reception. It was quite empty during this second week of June. The sites along the lake in the “car camping” and “backpacking loop” have glacier views. Many of the car camping sites (12, 13, 19, 20, 21 being the best) can fit a small RV like ours and the website is clear about those lengths.
During one super rainy day we drove to downtown Juneau. It was about 20 minutes down the road (literally THE road). Ferries actually dock in Auke Bay a smaller village just north of Juneau, and we stayed nearby at Mendenhall – which seemed a bit like it’s own little incorporated area as well. Between those two places and Juneau proper is a wide grassy flood plain full of bald eagles! It was tough to park in Juneau; we ended up along a gravel side street by the coast guard station. When we walked into town, we saw the 6 giant cruise boats, and wandered around with the cruisers. The town is pleasantly strollable and quite cute with colorful shop fronts and lots of greenery.
I’ve been super impressed, too, at the bike lanes everywhere – mostly a separate paved path throughout the vicinity is available linking the downtown to the ‘suburban’ homes and shopping centers, and also to the hiking trail heads. You could truly have a house in the deep dark woods and yet be along a bike path with access to shopping and life and hiking or fishing. Very cool.
In town we got pizza, and shopped, and then went to the library. It is right along the waterfront and the top floor of a parking garage, which sounds funny, but it’s full of windows and light and views across the town. Zoe read an entire Dork Diaries book while I got a few things back home situated using the wifi. Avi played with another kid and the giant stuffed animals and read a few books,too. It was a pleasant way to the spend the time and get some work done.
For a change of pace, one evening we stayed at Eagle Beach campground about 25 miles north along THE road. Up there the clouds weren’t as socked in and we were treated to a dryish evening with an incredible view across the waterway to the Chilkat mountain range. This park had tons of wildflowers and Zoe got covered in dandelion fluff. Avi spent a long time skipping stones and even switched into his water shoes on the second day for some wading along the sandy beach. It was freezing! His toes were bright red.
Nearby is the Trailhead for the Herbert Glacier – a nine mile out and back through some dark dense forest which helped umbrella a good bit of rain. It ends along a wide river with a huge glacier. We biked it as the trail was even and smooth – super packed stone like a rail trail. The final bit along the river got rocky, so we parked the bikes and walked the final few hundred feet to a flat sand bank for lunch. Every now and then a 4 pack of helicopters would fly over; I’m assuming these were cruise boat tours.
Our last day was nearly a total wash out. The kids didn’t mind so much anymore and still played out at their own little glacier-view beach in the Mendenhall campground. I putzed and cleaned the camper. We did some school work. Ar around 4pm there was a break in the clouds and the sun came out! We hustled back up to the Mendendhall Glacier Visitor center to get our parks passport book stamped and hike out to big waterfall as Avi wanted to do. It was so pleasant! Only a couple miles and the sun felt so good, but by the time we returned, the clouds had come back and it was raining.
We drove across the bridge from Juneau to the island town of Douglas for a special drag queen story time. Another nice library! The sun peaked out again when we left and Zoe commented on how she really liked this town better – it was liveable. We tried to figure out why it felt so different and we realized there weren’t hoards of cruise passengers and the sun was out. It didn’t feel so amazing by the time we drove away as the rain came back.
I know rain is necessary for such a green place to thrive, but I’d have a hard time with the constant change and drizzle. Give me a good soaking thunderstorm with sun and blue skies in between. Too bad Florida is so flat or I might turn this camper around and head south.
No need, tomorrow we board a ferry out of the temperate rainforest and head for the Yukon Gold territory.