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History of Juneau


Rugged shorelines and thick forests met prospectors arriving in Southeast Alaska just 100 years ago. The landscape is much the same today as it was a century ago: waterfalls cascade across nearly vertical faces of imposing mountains. The state capital, Juneau lies nestled between the steep, forested flanks of Mount Juneau and Mount Roberts.


Although the Gastineau Channel was a favorite fishing ground for local Tlingit Indians, the town was founded on gold nuggets. In 1880, Sitka mining engineer George Pilz offered a reward to any local chief who could lead him to gold-bearing ore. Chief Kowee arrived with such ore and vagabond prospectors were sent to investigate. The first time the prospectors arrived they found little that interested them in Gold Creek. However, at Chief Kowee’s insistence, Pilz sent the two men, Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, back to the Gastineau Channel. This time they hacked their way through the thick rainforest to Snow Slide Gulch, the head of Gold Creek, and found, from the words of Richard Harris, ‘little lumps as large as peas and beans.’ On October 18, 1880, the two men staked out a 160-acre town site. It seemed that almost overnight a mining camp appeared. It was not only the state’s first major gold strike, but within a year the camp became a small town. The first to be founded after Alaska’s purchase from Russians.

Initially the town was called Harrisburg (after Richard Harris) and then Rockwell. Finally in 1881 the miners met to officially renamed the town Juneau (after Joe Juneau). A post office was established and the name has stuck ever since. In 1906, after the decline of whaling and the fur trade, the Capitol of Alaska, Sitka, became less important and the Capitol was moved to Juneau.


If mining artifacts hold your interest, then a visit to our Juneau-Douglas City Museum will be on your list. This museum has local artwork, a large custom relief map of the area and audio-visual presentations. But the best exhibits are interpretive displays covering the gold mining history of Juneau and Douglas. Monday through Friday 10am to 5pm; Saturday and Sunday 10am to 5pm. Admission is Adults $6 - 12 yrs & under FREE(2017 rates).


While visiting around the city center, the Alaska State Museum may be on your list of place to visit. Their displays of Alaska’s past and artifacts included from all four indigenous groups: Athabascan, Aleut, Inuit, and Northwest coast people. Displays also include gold strikes in the state, artifacts relating to Russian period and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Monday through Sunday 8:30am to 5:30pm. Admission is $12 (2017 rates).

The Russian Orthodox Church is located on 5th Street and probably the most photographed structure in Juneau. The octagon-shaped building was built in 1894, making it the oldest church in the Southeast and has exhibits of Russian icons, original vestments and religious relics.The City and Borough of Juneau is over 3,100 square miles(!) making Juneau the second largest city in the nation (Sitka is the largest).


Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau’s most popular attraction and nicknamed “the drive-up glacier”, is located in Mendenhall Valley about 14 miles from city center, tour buses and M&M’s bright Blue Glacier Express bus drop you off near the base of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. Mendenhall Glacier flows 12 miles from its source, the Juneau Ice Field, and has a 1.5 mile face. On a sunny day it’s beautiful, with blue skies and snow-capped mountains in the background. On a cloudy afternoon it can be even more impressive, as the ice turns shades of deep blue. Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is maintained by the US Forest Service. Admission to the visitors’ center is $5.

Remember Southeast Alaska is a rainforest. With high annual rainfall and mild temperatures. Southeast Alaska’s rainforests are broken up by majestic mountain ranges, glaciers and fjords. Juneau’s annual rainfall is over 9 feet per year! We suggest dressing in layers, like an onion, to be able to enjoy all temperatures (45ºF to 75ºF).


You don’t need to bring a ton of gold when you visit Juneau, Alaska. The very best shore excursions and tours can be found with M&M Tours. Value-priced, and the best quality tours at substantially lower rates than what is available aboard the cruise ships.


Come visit our booth in Juneau along the cruise ship dock.

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