Juneau was a WHALE of a day-quite literally. A day that began with heartache when my dogsledding adventure was cancelled, followed by several hours of trying to reschedule and book additional tours ended with what had to be one of the best days of my trip! But it wasn’t from any lack of effort…
Alaska’s capital, and first truly American city, is nestled deep within the reaches of the infamous Inside Passage. Founded just 13 years after the purchase of Alaska, it was Juneau that helped establish purpose for what most Americans, at the time, believed to have been a worthless purchase. It was the discovery of gold that brought popularity to Juneau, but today it counts its riches in abundant wildlife and pristine scenery. Juneau sits at the base of Mt. Juneau where the Mendenhall Glacier presses the city to the sea and creates some magnificent fjords.
If you are visiting Alaska you must go dogsledding, its only here you can experience a traditional ride with Alaskan Huskies, and Juneau has some of the best camps! As I mentioned, I had booked an 8 AM excursion to do this and when I exited the boat to board the bus I was informed it had been cancelled due to weather. Devastated, they offered me an afternoon departure in hopes that it would change but with no guarantee. I immediately started bartering with all the tour providers that lined the dock but had little luck, no one was flying on top of the glaciers to the dog camps. Not wanting to miss out on the biggest cruise stop either, I found, who I would later realize would become the savior of my day, James Gunn with Juneau Tours and Whale Watch. He convinced me that Juneau was the best place to see whales and guaranteed a spotting; even though I had a whale watch tour booked later in the trip I thought what the heck, I needed to hedge my bets. He booked me a tour at noon and was able to contact ERA Helicopters for another chance at the dogsledding later in the afternoon.
I can’t say enough good things about Juneau Tours and Whale Watch. From the time we left the pier we started spotting Whale Tails! I was lucky enough to be on a full boat, so by chance, I scored a seat with the best captain in the Auke Bay-Jason! Now the best seat in the house didn’t come without its responsibilities, it was my job to help our expert captain spot the Whales. They are several tour boats out at the same time, but we took our chances and steered our own course, and it more than paid off! We were so lucky to have spotted the sought-after matriarch of the bays humpback whales, Flame. Being the only boat viewing her she gave us quite the show, diving all around our boat. We were literally 100 feet from her at times! Jason and his crew were phenomenal, very knowledgeable and entertaining!
But it was only by good fortune, or James hard work, that when we returned downtown we had a helicopter waiting to take us up on the glaciers and high enough to reach the dog camps. Lifting off from Douglas Island and across the channel from Juneau you will get a bird’s eye view of downtown before approaching the mountains. Interestingly enough, there are no roads connecting Juneau to the rest of Alaska, the surrounding terrain is extremely rugged so all goods have to come in either by plane or ship. However, it’s this unbearable terrain that make the helicopter ride so spectacular, as soon as you cap the peaks the glaciers are seemingly within arm’s reach. You see glacier-carved mountains and the glaciers themselves which can be as deep as 4,500 feet and even see their awe-inspiring blue crevasses.
The helicopter lands at a camp on the scenic middle branch of Norris Glacier, where veterans of the legendary Iditarod Trail and Yukon Quest dog sled races are ready to lend their expertise to the next leg of your trip. Our group of 6 were split into smaller groups and my husband and I ended up with a private ride with a musher and most of his own huskies! You feel the excitement as the team of 10-12 dogs are hooked up and you are off on your first mushing adventure. We stopped several times throughout our ride to take turns to command the team as we stood on the runners, take a few photos and of course just enjoy the ride in our secluded sled as you scamper across the ancient snowfields nestled among the peaks of the vast Juneau Icefield. As your tour concludes you have plenty of time to meet the team as you give each dog a quick cuddle the mushers are on hand to take pictures and answer any questions you may have about their dogs, the camp or the races they compete in each year. The lure of the surroundings and the thrill of driving a team of Alaskan Huskies is truly a once in a lifetime experience!