Juneau, Alaska is located at the end of what Alaskans call the Panhandle, the southern most part of Alaska that stretches down from the main Northern area of Alaska. It boarders the Canadian and Yukon border.
Alaska’s Capital City holds some of the most beautiful scenery both above and below the water. Founded and named after prospector Joe Juneau, the Tlingit and Haida people have called this home for thousands of years. One of the main Tlingit villages was located at Auke Bay, now the location of the Underwater Park, the first Artificial Reef in Alaska.
Juneau has a mild, maritime climate. Average summer temperatures range from 44 – 65 degrees and from 25 – 35 degrees in winter. It is in the mildest climate zone in Alaska. Snowfall averages 101 inches.
In 1880 the Gold Rush began in Juneau, bringing boat loads of prospectors to Juneau by Steamships, now many of those ships are historical wrecks that are great dive destinations.
The most popular attraction in Juneau is the massive Mendenhall Glacier. It is the first thing most see when landing at the Juneau International Airport.
It’s face 100 feet tall, 1.5 miles wide and 6 miles long. It appears to be still, but it is constantly flowing, braking house size pieces of ice off the front of the glacier reveling an incredible bright blue ice. Glacial ice appears blue because it absorbs all colors of the visible light spectrum except blue, which it transmits. The transmission of this blue wavelength gives glacial ice its blue appearance.
There is a beautiful glacier lake in front of it but the glacier is not accessible by boat. You can only get there from the inland by walking up to it.
The glacier is located at the end of Mendelhall Glacier Spur Road, 13 miles from downtown Juneau. There is a large parking lot and a visitor center offering information about the glacier.
The lake is very popular with both locals and tourists who kayak on it in the summer, and ice skate & cross country ski on the lake in the winter months.
The majority of large cruise ships and smaller day ships take people up to Tracy Arm. You pass through granite cliffs the whole way up to the glaciers that raise above you it seems to the heavens! There are very large waterfalls that the smaller tour boats can come with in feet to them because it is straight down underwater along the passage.
The summer boasts some of the best hiking and trails for all levels of skill. Fishing for salmon, halibut, trout are also one of the most popular activities either by a charter boat, off the shore or a float plane that will fly you into the smallest inlets that will make even the most avid traveler hold their breath. Winter activities include skiing, snow boarding, snow shoeing, hiking, extreme helicopter skiing and some of the best diving around! Yes, scuba diving!
Best Diving Destinations in Juneau
AUKE REC ARTIFICIAL REEF & DIVE PARK
On October 23, 2003 the State of Alaska dedicated 40 acres of inter tidal and submerged lands in the west side of Auke Cove to the City and Borough of Juneau Parks & Recreation Department. This property was designated to be an underwater dive park.
The first object to be placed in the underwater park was a 48-foot ferroconcrete sail boat (named Rikki Tikki), sunk in approximately 50 feet of water. The intentional sinking was to create an artificial reef and to provide underwater enhancement to this area. Within less than one hour of sinking a sculpin was seen swimming on the stern of the boat and the “critter count” after one month included king crabs, tom cod, needle fish, Dungeness crab, flounder, snails, hermit crabs, sea lions, porpoise and jelly fish on or around the boat.
A beautiful cove surrounded by high, rocky cliffs. Access is by a steep trail, so be prepared for a bit of a hike. Since this is a remote area, double check your gear and supplies and plan to spend the day.The cove is sheltered no matter which way the wind is blowing. Divers of any skill level will enjoy the diversity of diving here. The reefs are loaded with nudibranches and crab hunting is great. Benjamin Island (a major sea lion haul out) is the next island away, so don’t be surprised if you’re visited during your dive. Above water you’ll encounter sea lions, whales, eagles and bears. Have a lookout for crabs, invertebrates and sea pens. If you are up to a long swim, go out to the two islands and have a look. The cut between them is pretty. On a calm day at slack tide, the outer side of the two islands is a great dive. Be sure to head back to the inside before the tide changes, or you’ll end up in Haines!
SHRINE OF ST. THERESE
A religious retreat owned and maintained by the Juneau Catholic Diocese. Although the Shrine is private property, visitors and divers are welcome during the posted hours. The underwater habitat is also considered by local divers to be part of the Shrine, so a “take nothing” policy is observed. The Shrine has something to offer all year round. Playful sea lions are guaranteed every dive in the late fall, winter and early spring. Macro photographers will be amazed at the abundance of subject matter. On the Wall-side there are several octopus (watch for “bone” piles) and a young Ling Cod couple are nested in the rocks. Turn right at the 40-foot depth and you are on a sheer wall. Look up for you may see salmon swimming overhead.
Channel Dive Center has turned many aspiring divers into excellent ones. Learning how to dive in Alaska is a very hard & painful experience, especially in the winter. Snow is blowing horizontally during your hour surface interval, the water is actually warmer than the air on land! Steller sea lions buzz you at warp speed, the first couple of times are quite terrifying, but then you look forward to seeing them again. They are magnificent! You become a very good, tough diver after learning up here.
Channel Dive Center is located just 5 minutes from the international airport and within an hour of the best shore dives in Juneau! They are the only PADI 5 Star IDC facility in Juneau and will accommodate your needs for rental gear if needed and take you on underwater guides to your specification. You will be able to explore the wonders of underwater Alaska seeing many species of nudibranchs, decorated warbonnet’s, sailfin sculpin, the amazing little grunt sculpin, vibrant orange sea pen forests, spiny lumpsuckers, snailfish, sturgeon poachers, halibut, wolf eels, giant pacific octopus, the mighty, graceful Steller sea lion, the underwater park with two sunken vessels and if you are really lucky, see whales & dolphins pass by on the surface upon ascent, maybe even a bear on the shore!