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If there’s a single word that describes Juneau’s geography, it might be “diversity.” The Gastineau Channel, which separates mainland Alaska from its just-offshore islands, meets the Alaskan Panhandle in riotous fashion in Juneau. Mountains rise directly from the sea to elevations over 4,000 feet, glaciers calve with freight-train roars into ocean waters, marine life abounds and high-on-the-food-chain creatures amble the landscape.
Diversity doesn’t end where civilization starts, either. Somewhere in the middle of all this, the Alaskan state capital thrives in unusual fashion. In the winter, town is a quiet haven for locals with not too much daylight, thanks to its high latitude. In summer, the city’s character changes drastically as it swells with cruise-ship-based tourism and fishing operations.
“Treeline is between 1,500 and 2,000 feet, so you can run just a couple miles up dozens of different trails that lead to hundreds of miles of open ridgelines,” says local trail-running icon Geoff Roes. “And there are many trails that stay lower in the forests—great on rainy days.”
Perseverance National Recreation Trail / A good warm-up for Juneau’s mountainous terrain, this trail is also a spectacular primer on the area’s gold-mining history. Along the three-mile trail, which climbs about 1,000 feet one way, are educational signs and mining ruins. A number of trails branch off from the Perseverance Trail, allowing you to expand your outing.
West Mendenhall Glacier Trail and Mount McGinnis Trail / A run here offers you the spectacular Mendenhall Glacier, a 13-mile-long, deeply crevassed river of blue ice—minus the sometimes-insane tourist crowds of the glacier’s main visitor-center area. Access this 6.8-mile out-and-back trail from the west side of Mendenhall Lake and climb about 1,300 vertical feet. The sparsely marked and unmaintained Mount McGinnis Trail begins at the end and continues two miles and 2,700 vertical feet up. Going all the way to McGinnis’s summit is an advanced-level outing and will take hours, even though it’s only 10.8 miles round trip.
Mount Roberts Trail / Starting in downtown Juneau, climb to the mountain’s burly 3,819-foot summit. Begin with 1.5 miles and 1,800 vertical feet to the Mount Roberts Tramway upper tower. From there it’s two miles and another 1,800-ish vertical feet to the top of Gastineau Peak, then over another mile to the Mount Roberts summit. Reverse course for a nine-ish-mile round trip with about 4,600 feet of climbing, or take the tramway in one or both directions.
Mount Roberts Tram Run / A short but rugged 3.5-mile race in July with 1,800 feet of climb up the shoulder of Mount Roberts.
Ben Blackgoat Memorial Race / Includes two-, four- and seven-mile options on Juneau’s Perseverance National Recreation Trail. Proceeds go to the Ben Blackgoat Memorial Scholarship, named in memory of a local high-school student who passed away while running in 1996.
Nifty Fifty / 10K, 25K and 50K distances in super-low-key fashion. We’re talking $20 for a 50K! The races travel some of Juneau’s quintessential trails and start just beyond the edge of downtown.
Get There / There are two ways into Juneau, by air or by sea! Fly into Juneau International Airport or arrive via the Alaska Marine Highway, over-water public transport for Alaska locals and travelers. All the trails mentioned here can be accessed via Juneau’s public bus system, Capital Transit, if you’re willing to jog some extra pavement. If you rent a car, you’ll have more access to trailheads; the Glacier Highway winds north about 40 miles from Juneau with incredible scenery and exploration opportunities.
Play Tourist / Tourism operations are well developed in Juneau thanks to the inundation of cruise-ship visitors in summer months. Take an all-day small-boat tour to Tracy Arm, a fjord southeast of Juneau replete with calving glaciers, seals, whales, diverse bird life and more.
Take Note / Rain is prevalent and clouds and fog can obscure sightlines on high-elevation outings. Snow is common into early July up high and returns again around September. Black and grizzly bears range around Juneau, so carry bear spray and know how to behave in bear country.
This article originally appeared in our September 2016 issue.