After three days of scenic cruising and a day spent floating the Chilkat River, we docked in the capitol of Alaska. Juneau is gorgeous, to say the least. Our first stop was at the Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier is 12 miles long and surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, which, you’ll see, is really something else. The area is a mix of rainforest-esque greenery but with a larger than life glacier as the backdrop….well played, nature.
Once we finished the couple mile hike, we ended up at a nice clearing by the edge of the lake where we could admire the glacier away from the hoards of people we rode out with. These pictures don’t quite capture the enormity of this bad boy. We took a while to soak in the beauty (and quiet) before moving our way back towards to tour bus.
Once we finished with the glacier, it was on to whale watching. I should mention that this was the ‘excursion’, as they call them, that I was most excited about. I mean, whales?! Humpback whales (which are very common in the Juneau area in the summer months) can grow to 70,000 lbs and over 50 feet; therefore, they are like a school-bus sized swimming dinosaur. Amazing. In hindsight, however, this excursion was probably the most anticlimactic of the three that we took…(more on this later).
We boarded our whale watching boat with roughly 100-150 of our closest friends, meaning we were in extremely close quarters. We opted out of staying inside on the lower level, and instead spent the majority of our time enjoying the sun on the upper deck. We weren’t too successful with seeing whales at first, so the captain took us on a scenic detour to see some of the amazing islands and sights surrounding the harbor.
I was very excited once we idled near this enormous group of sea lions sunning themselves. It was our first animal sighting in over an hour, and even though they aren’t whales, they are pretty damn cute.
After slowly putzing around for another good while, we finally saw a humpback whale!…or at least, we saw her back and her tail. Whales can dive deep and they can ‘hold their breath’ for a LONG time–up to 35 minutes, or longer, in fact. Lucky for us, our particular whale was only staying under for about 5 minutes before reappearing at the surface. Even though we didn’t see too much of this beauty, it was still pretty magnificent.
As amazing as a sight as this was, there are a few drawbacks to whale watching with a huge touring company.
- You are with a lot of people, which means that when Mrs. Humpback decides to come up to say hello, you have 100+ people all scrambling to the best vantage point possible. Be prepared for that!
- You probably aren’t going to see a ton of whales, and you most likely will not see a whale breach. I was certainly expecting the opposite. Mostly, you follow a whale or two around for a good long while and get to see their backs and their tails just before they dive back down.
- These tours are pretty pricey! They are typically between $100-$200 per person, but that is variable based on size of the vessel, length of the tour, where you book the tour, etc.
All in all, I think this was a pretty neat experience if you are aware of what these tours are like, and that the whales just may not cooperate the day that you decide to see them!
– M & B