Exhausted after a string of strenuous hikes? Or frazzled from a jam-packed itinerary trying to squeeze in as many sights and tours before your cruise departs the capital city? Despite its small size, Juneau, Alaska has remarkably much to offer. After spending 10 very active days in Juneau, there were still plenty of trails, tours and activities that I didn’t get a chance to do, like hiking to Herbert Glacier, finishing Mendenhall Glacier’s West Loop trail all the way to the ice cave, or going whale watching from Auk Bay…
If you’re like me, you don’t want to miss anything! So you try to cram it all in.
But when your muscles start to ache and your mind races late into the night researching which trail to tackle next, then maybe it’s time to chill–just a bit. Yep, take a break. Slow dowwwwwn. Do something mellow.
I’ll admit that I’m a planner by nature, and actually craft my itineraries–down to great detail–months in advance. Balance is key. I try to balance high adrenaline activities with gentler ones, splurge on some and enjoy free ones, and select lodging in both busy cities and quiet countrysides. Then strategically organize it all–like booking a guesthouse with a Jacuzzi after we finished an physically demanding overnight trekking trip on top of an icy glacier.
After traveling to new destinations for 20 plus years now, I know the importance of planning some down time to restore the body & nurture the soul. So where did I go in Juneau?
These 3 places brought balance to my hectic pace, and helped me unwind.
Indian Cove, Out the Road
“Out the Road” refers to Juneau’s paved Old Glacier Highway that travels west of the airport from the ferry terminal at Auk Bay to the very end of the road, 44 miles later, at Echo Cove. Since there’s only one road, locals refer to it as such. On the coastal side of this road there are several state parks, while the other side has hiking trails through dense forests where rivers stem from icy glaciers. Pure wilderness.
Ahhh…nature does it best. Just staring out at the tiny island in this tranquil bay mellowed me.
My sister and I stayed in a little cabin in the back of a beachside home (rented through vrbo) for 2 nights. It was hands-down our favorite out of the 4 places we stayed–it even beat out a guesthouse with a Jacuzzi on Douglas Island that overlooked Juneau harbor. We actually thought about canceling our next hotel reservation to stay longer in this quiet little bay.
We spent lazy days tidepooling at nearby Point Louisa & Lena Cove and an afternoon hiking the nearby Auk Nu rainforest trail. Both evenings we drove to Eagle beach and watched black bears feed on salmon in the stream (much more reliable sightings than Steep Creek that week) and walked around the peaceful Shrine at St. Therese on the way home.
Loved the simplicity of being there without an agenda–letting the tides and weather dictate our activities–from kayaking in the tranquil bay, wandering the shore looking for interesting rocks, or exploring the little island at low tide (and hurrying back across the land bridge before incoming tides covered it in 20 minutes). Renting a cabin with a full kitchen was handy, and relaxing, to simply eat at home when we wanted. And we both loved sleeping in.
Indian Cove, just beyond Auk Bay, isn’t that far from Mendenhall Glacier (15 min drive) or tours that depart from the airport (10 min). Once you start comparing Juneau hotel rates you will quickly see that cabins such as this one, at $239 per night, are a great value. But if you can do without modern amenities such as private bathrooms and electricity you can rent rustic cabins at parks such as Eagle Beach or at the end of hiking trails for $55 a night thru the Alaska’s Dept of Natural Resources and Tongass National Forest Service. Now that’s a steal!
If you love nature as much as I do, rent a car and don’t just visit—-find a place to stay “Out the Road” for a couple of nights. Trust me, it will restore your soul!
Shrine of St. Therese
Not Catholic? Doesn’t matter. This place welcomes people of all faiths. Located “Out the Road” about 22 miles past Auk Bay, this 46 acre site sits in a bay along the ocean coast within the Tongass National Forest. This sacred refuge oozes peace. Perfect for meditating, praying or simply absorbing the calm beauty around you.
A stone chapel that sits on its own tiny island is the focal point of the Shrine of St. Therese, which was the brainchild of Father William LeVasseur, a Jesuit priest from New Brunswick, Canada who wanted to create a retreat center in Alaska. Paved walking trails around the bay lead to the Shrine’s chapel, built from beach stones in the late 1930’s. A foot path crosses the causeway to the little island where the chapel is enshrouded by mossy trees. Once on the island, you can take a short forest hike around the Stations of the Cross and linger at the scenic overlook to scan for eagles and whales that pass in the Lynn Canal. If you’re lucky, you can see whales breaching with snowy mountains in the background. We don’t know if we were lucky or not, as we visited at night.
Back on the main land is a Love Labyrinth (closer toward the cabins). The Labyrinth, also created from beach stones, symbolizes the route one takes to reach to the sacred center of the universe. There are no false starts or dead ends like you would expect in a maze, just a winding path to follow. It is intended for people to meditate, pray or seek out answers on their spiritual journey as they slowly walk the circular path. The labyrinth was a mellow place to meander. Such quiet solitude.
The Shrine of St. Therese is one of those places that draws you back just to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. We visited twice. But for those who want spiritual experiences, they too are available–from retreats, weddings and funerals, to mass (held at 1:30pm on Sundays during summer months). You can even stay overnight. Retreat groups often book the main lodge which accommodates up to 24 people. But couples or small families can stay in the Post Office cabin for $100 or the more luxurious octagonal-shaped Little Flower cabin for $180 a night. Shrine grounds are open from 8:30 am – 10:00pm in the summer. Free, but donations can be left in a box.
Glacier Salt Cave (downtown)
If you don’t have access to a car or time to hire a taxi for a trip “Out the Road,” you can escape the touristy shops and busy, noisy cruise-crowded streets by tucking into the Glacier Salt Cave in downtown Juneau. We scheduled our visit the morning after a strenuous kayak trip on the glacier fed Mendenhall Lake. I suspected that our achy muscles would be screaming for respite after straining against a strong wind and lake current, so we booked an hour in the salt spa.
From the moment we stepped into the Glacier Salt Cave and took our first deep breath as we settled back into the lounge chairs, we could feel the salt in the air. You could almost taste it. The fine mist was not visible but was detectable with every inhalation. If you closed your eyes you’d swear you were at the beach. The room felt warm. Soft warm sand cushioned our bare feet. The dimmed mood lighting encouraged napping while the soothing music playing in the background gently nudged us asleep. We sat in lounge chairs to keep sand out of our clothes, but people are welcome to sit or lie in the sand, or even partially undress if you book a private room. Just sitting there quietly, feeling warm sand between my toes, and inhaling deeply, was sooo relaxing.
If you’re like me and don’t have any respiratory issues but just want a convenient, warm and cozy place to unwind in downtown Juneau, this is the perfect place. Stress just melted away in that salt cave. Even my stiff neck and sore shoulder muscles started to relax in that salty air. You can book a session in advance or walk in from the street (917 Glacier Ave). Cost is $39 per hour or $20 for 20 minutes. The staff is super friendly and informative about the health benefits of Halotherapy and the products available in the adjacent gift shop such as the Himalayan salt lamps and spa products that you take home. Additional services include yoga on Tuesday nights and a masseuse that offers massages inside a mini-salt chamber.
Escape the rain, take a break from your hectic sightseeing, and go get salted. You’ll leave rejuvenated.
There are many ways to stay busy in Juneau. Just don’t forget to make time for moments, like this, to relax.