The sophisticated and vibrant city of JUNEAU is the only state capital in the nation not accessible by road. It is exceptionally picturesque, wedged between the Gastineau Channel and the rainforested hills behind. In 1880, Joe Juneau made Alaska’s first gold strike here, and until the last mine closed in 1944 this was the world’s largest producer of low-grade ore – all the flat land in Juneau, stretching from downtown to the airport, is waste rock from the mines. Today, state government provides much of the employment, and tourism plays its part with the drive-to Mendenhall Glacier and the watery charms of Tracy Arm fjord as temptation.
Sixteen glaciers spill into the 65-mile-long Glacier Bay, northwest of Juneau. Brown and black bears, moose, mountain goats, sea otters, humpback whales, porpoise, seals and a colourful array of birds call the area home.
For a true outdoor adventure, you can rent a cabin in the huge Tongass National Forest – which encompasses most of southeast Alaska – for around $35/night. Get details from the visitor centres in Juneau and Ketchikan, or at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, 50 Main St (fs.fed.us/r10/tongass), a striking cedar-framed building which houses absorbing displays of the region’s natural habitats and native culture, or through recreation.gov.