Surrounded by the rich, green Tongass National Forest, and located on beautiful Gastineau Channel, Juneau is an important port and a popular tourist destination. Unique because it is the only state capital in the United States that is inaccessible by road, Juneau sits at sea level below the steep mountains that are home to the Juneau Icefield and the Mendenhall Glacier. Its temperate climate produces remarkable scenery with miles of hiking trails through woods and alpine meadows providing a glimpse of just how rugged the rainforest of Southeast Alaska is.
The Auke tribe of Tlingit Indians were the first settlers in the Juneau area. They lived there peacefully enjoying the abundance of food and natural resources until the gold rush began. First named Rockwell and then Harrisburg, Juneau was finally named after gold prospector Joseph Juneau. In 1880, he and his partner, Richard Harris, discovered gold nearby, and the city quickly developed into a gold rush town.
During the lucrative 60 years of gold mining in the area Juneau was home to three of the world's largest gold mines: The Alaska Juneau mine, the Alaska Gastineau mine, and the Treadwell mine. These three mines produced $158 million worth of gold making Juneau one of the world's major gold mining areas until the 1940s when costs outstripped the value of the gold. However, since 2005 the gold mining industry has been experiencing a resurgence.
Officially designated the capital of the Territory of Alaska in 1900, it did not function as the capital until the government offices were moved there from Sitka in 1906. In 1959 Juneau became the official state capital when Alaska was admitted to the United States. Today, its approximately 31,000 citizens live within a 3,255 square mile boundary, an amount of land that makes Juneau's city limits the largest state capital in the United States (and the only state capital that borders a foreign city.)
Along with its delightful small town ambiance, Juneau has a number of art galleries, boutiques, historical sites, and museums. In town you can visit the Alaska State Museum, the House of Wickersham, the Patsy Ann Statue, the 5-stories-tall totem pole outside the Capital Building, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, the Alaska-Juneau gold mine or the salmon hatchery.
One of the most popular attractions in the area is Mendenhall Glacier, located only 13 miles outside the city. Although it’s receding, it is an amazing work of nature. Other attractions include the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge (providing a look at Alaska’s salt marshes and the migratory waterfowl protected there); the Juneau Icefield; the Mt. Roberts Tram (rises 1,800 feet and presents sweeping views of downtown Juneau and Gastineau Channel.) There are more than 205 trails within and surrounding Juneau. They range from fairly flat hikes accessible to wheelchairs and stroller to medium hikes up and down forest trails to strenuous uphill paths for serious hikers.