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In Alaska, consider Juneau as a base instead of Anchorage

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Large Anchorage is far from some of Alaska's best adventures

Anchorage, Alaska’s most populous city, is full of energy, especially in the warmer months. It makes sense: The sun barely sets, so locals and in-the-know visitors spend the long daylight hours summiting peaks in the Chugach Mountains, biking more than 100 miles of city trails, sipping craft beer, dining alfresco on freshly caught salmon and attending festivals that stretch into the wee hours of the morning. There, big-city life and nature live in tandem: You’re never more than 20 minutes from a trailhead (the third-largest state park in the nation is in the Anchorage metro), but you won’t struggle to find a locally owned restaurant open late or a big-box store if you forget to pack something. 

But although Anchorage is indeed wonderful, it requires a longer trip to hike on thousands-year-old glaciers and is at least a few hours’ drive from some of the best bucket-list adventures that Alaska can provide, including watching gravity-defying whales heave themselves out of the water and reeling in halibut so large that folks at home will think your claim is fishy. If you don’t want to spend a large portion of your vacation in a car (if you can even find one to rent, because there’s a massive shortage in Alaska this year), Anchorage might not be the best base.

Location: Anchorage is in south central Alaska, a little over three hours by plane from Seattle.

Compact Juneau offers adventure practically at your doorstep

Consider Juneau, Alaska’s capital city, where you can find operators offering many of these adventures within walking distance of your hotel. In fact, the community could be explored well in just a long weekend; although Juneau is the largest capital city in area in the United States, its downtown, ringed by water and mountains, is quite compact. Because the vast majority of cruise sailings were canceled this season, the town is gloriously peaceful, and most operators have rolled out dynamic new offerings that cater to independent travelers.

Opportunities include guided outings to the 13-mile-long, 4,500-foot-tall Mendenhall Glacier; after getting there by canoe ride or eight-mile round-trip hike (it’s possible to go alone, but it’s not recommended), you’ll don microspikes to explore the otherworldly blue moulins, crevasses and (perhaps) ice caves.

There are dozens of boat tours that allow you to see whales, sea lions, porpoises, seals and bald eagles, and fishing charters where you’ll probably see those same animals and bring in enough halibut, salmon and rockfish to stock your freezer for winter. Or you can take a floatplane to Admiralty Island, home to the highest concentration of brown bears in the world, for a day of snapping photographs.

The many trail offerings include the Mount Roberts Trail, whose payoff is a panoramic view of the long, skinny town. (There’s also a tram, for those who prefer that route.) For a more leisurely walk, try an outing with Juneau Food Tours, which takes visitors to various local haunts.

If it’s raining (not uncommon in Juneau), you can spend the day gaining a better understanding of Alaska’s Indigenous culture at the snazzy Alaska State Museum or the Sealaska Heritage Institute, both of which have well-curated exhibits that share the history of the state and its inhabitants through time.

When you’re ready to power down, there are myriad options in town, such as the historic (yet affordable) Alaskan Hotel or the Juneau Hotel, which offers suites with full kitchens, living rooms and even in-unit washers and dryers. And another advantage of staying in walkable Juneau: You’ll be able to enjoy its craft beer scene at Devil’s Club Brewing Co., Barnaby Brewing Co. or Amalga Distillery, and you probably won’t have to wait for a table.

Location: Juneau is in southeastern Alaska, a little over two hours by plane from Seattle.

Berg is a writer based in Colorado. Find her on Twitter (@baileybergs) and Instagram (@byebaileyberg).

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