Last week, I received a phone call from an uncle that I haven’t seen in many years. He told me that he was looking at tickets for this summer to put his car on the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry in Bellingham and come to Alaska.
He wanted to spend a few days in Juneau to see the family before driving up to Anchorage, then driving down through Canada to get to Washington.
I was all geared up to tell him about the Mendenhall Glacier, the Mt. Roberts Tram, and the usual tourist fare we take our relatives to during visits, but just before I opened my mouth to speak, he told me he had already seen most of this stuff as a child.
He said he came here a few times on vacation as a teenager and he’d already seen the usual stuff, so he wanted to focus on day trips to hidden gems. Specifically, places he could drive.
I told him that there are no roads out of Juneau and he’d be limited to the 40 miles or so of the road system that we do have. He said that would be fine because he’s in great shape and wouldn’t mind some outdoor activities.
I then said that I would think about it and send him an email in a few hours. Here is a list of driving day trips from downtown Juneau for visitors who want to take a break from the standard tourist fare.
Juneau’s Road System: A Brief Overview
Before I get into the actual locations, let me tell you a little bit about Juneau’s road system. There is only one road that goes north of town, often referred to by residents as “out the road“. A phrase that is so common here that it even has its own Wikipedia entry!
As you drive on Egan Drive (also known as Alaska Highway #7), you’ll eventually reach Auke Bay. You’ll see a boat harbor off to the left and a convenience store called DeHart’s (not a bad stop if you’d like a snack or a drink!).
Once you come to the roundabout, take the second exit (i.e., a left turn) towards the ferry terminal. You are now headed “out the road”!
This stretch of highway is known by several different names, so any references you see to “Old Glacier Highway”, “Veteran’s Memorial Highway”, or “out the road” all refer to the same roughly 30 miles of highway from Auke Bay to Cascade Point.
Just past mile marker number 39, off to the left, you’ll see a small turn and a sign that says “Echo Cove“. It’s mostly just a parking lot but it does have garbage cans and a chemical toilet. Until a few years ago, this was the end of the road.
The main attraction here is the boat launch, which is also used by kayakers. If you don’t own a kayak, you can rent one in Auke Bay. Remember the boat harbor I mentioned just before the roundabout?
Across the parking lot from that harbor, you can rent a single kayak for $60 or a two-seater for $80 all day. Half-day rates are also available. The equipment to tie it to the top of your car is included as part of the rental fee.
One of the most beautiful gardens in all of Alaska, the Jensen-Olson Arboretum is just past mile marker 23. It contains a large collection of flowers, particularly primroses, which were the favorite flower of the woman who originally started it, Caroline Jensen.
Upon Caroline’s passing in 2006, her gardens and the land were donated to the City and Borough of Juneau for the creation of the arboretum. It is open year-round, although, in the winter, it’s strictly Friday through Sunday.
Recent improvements include a better trail from the parking lot to the arboretum site, improved toilet facilities, and a large entry arch that was donated in 2018.
There is also an online gift shop that sells plants, accepts donations, and allows you to pay to engrave a brick that will be placed on site in honor or memory of a loved one. There are options for both local pickup and delivery.
Peterson Lake Cabin and Trail
Just past mile marker 23, you’ll find the Peterson Lake Trailhead, which leads to a small cabin next to a lake of the same name.
The trail is a little over four miles long and can be difficult to navigate in parts, particularly in winter when there can be several feet of snow on the ground. There are also a few muddy areas, particularly after it rains (which is often).
Visitors who choose to rent the cabin will also have access to a small boat to navigate the lake. The cabin can fit up to eight people per night, although the boat is probably closer to four, so you may need to take turns!
The Shrine of St. Therese
Located 22 miles from downtown Juneau, the National Shrine of Saint Therese (often abbreviated to “The Shrine of St. Therese” or simply “The Shrine”) is a popular retreat location for Catholics, Protestants, and others of different or no religious backgrounds.
There are several rental cabins here for visitors who wish to spend time in spiritual contemplation, enjoying nature, or both. The 46-acre campus also includes a chapel, a columbarium, several walking trails, and a gift shop.
It is also a popular wedding destination, both for locals and visitors from all around the country.
Cascade Point Trail
At the very end of the road a few miles past Echo Cove (roughly mile 42 or 43), you’ll find a small turnaround/parking area at Cascade Point.
There isn’t much here now, just a short hiking trail that leads into the forest but that may change soon, as the state government is working on a plan to either move or place a supplemental ferry trail here. The planned addition would take two hours off the route to Skagway.
Still, if you’d like a secluded walk on a less popular trail out the road, Cascade Point is an excellent choice. There are several side trails and unmarked paths through the woods here as well. Be sure to watch out for bears that frequent the area!
Eagle Beach State Recreation Area
Around mile marker 25, Eagle Beach offers a lot more than just a nice place to relax in the sun. There is also a campground, several trails for walking, hiking, or cross-country skiing, and three rental cabins.
It’s still relatively popular at times, although it does receive fewer visitors than Sandy Beach in Douglas (which is accessible by bus) or Auke Rec, which is just a few miles from the ferry terminal.
It is named for the many bald eagles that can be spotted here, particularly as salmon are on their spawning runs. Harbor seals, bears, and gulls are among the many other types of wildlife you might encounter as well.
Boy Scout Beach
If you’d like a sunny and secluded beach, Boy Scout Beach can’t be beaten. It is named for the nearby Boy Scout Camp out around mile marker 25.
From the parking lot, the main trail is a little over two miles to the beach on a trailhead that follows the beautiful Herbert River. There are several side trails that can extend your hike by a few miles if you prefer.
It is semi-popular, particularly around the summer solstice, but most locals tend to go to Eagle Beach since it’s a much shorter walk. You may want to download a map to your phone or print one out, as there is no cell phone service here.
Windfall Lake Cabin and Trail
Another semi-popular hiking trail just past mile marker 26 is the trail to Windfall Lake and Cabin. The trail itself is three miles but the hike to the trailhead on Herbert River Road will add another mile each way to your journey.
If you’d like a bit of a longer hike out to the cabin, you can take the seven-mile journey from the end of Montana Creek Road off of Mendenhall Loop Road (on the stretch of road often called “Back Loop”).
If you plan on renting the cabin, you’ll want to bring your own drinking water as there is none available on site. Like many cabins out the road, it is open to the public from 10 AM to 5 PM in the winter as a warming shelter for hikers.
P.s. if you’re looking for a cabin or similar places to stay, check out our list of the best lodging options in Juneau.
Even though Juneau is on the mainland, there are no roads going in or out of the city, so driving will be limited to places within Juneau’s roughly 40-mile road system.
That being said, there are still a lot of amazing views and places to visit out the road, especially if you’re going out on a weekday around noon when there will be significantly less traffic.
Just remember to bring some snacks and fill up on gas, as there are no services past Auke Bay. There’s also very little cell phone reception but if you’re looking to enjoy nature, that might be a benefit rather than a problem!
Whether you bring your own vehicle on the Alaska Marine Highway Service or rent a car from one of the terminals at Juneau International Airport, you’ll have an amazing time exploring all that Juneau’s remote places have to offer. We can’t wait to see you soon!