Alaska : Safety by CityUnited States - safety as a country Alaska - state review
Juneau, Alaska is the biggest city in all of America — well, the biggest by land size.
Throughout this massive piece of land, just 32,000 people call it home and 1.3 million people visit each year.
If I hadn’t done the research myself, I wouldn’t believe some of the things I’m going to tell you about Juneau (pronounced: “June-OH”).
This is a city where you can’t take any road trips because the only roads that exist take you around Juneau and the bridge-connected Douglas Island.
The terrain is far too tough to carve roads through glaciers and thick rocks.
You’ll need to be okay with small plane trips and ferry boats because they are the only way to get around outside of Juneau.
This is also the capital city of the state and the main source of employment is government-related jobs.
The heaviest time for visitors is May through September.
The number of tourists and cruise ships increasing has been a tender spot for locals who struggle with the number of people coming to town.
Two-thirds of locals supported limiting the number of cruise ships that can port at a time.
I’ve never seen so many tour options in my life. Excursions include: bear viewing, whale watching, dog sledding, gold panning, rainforest tours, glacier walkabouts, skiing trips, dog sled summer camp, ziplining, and kayaking.
That’s not even a complete list.
Yes, I said rainforest.
Glacier Gardens is a place you have to see to believe.
Flowers grow from trees and dangle above your head while seeing incredible panoramic views of the city below.
Juneau is a place where there’s never a lack of things to do — well, except road tripping.
Warnings & Dangers in Juneau
OVERALL RISK : LOW
There's a low overall risk here, with some definite areas of concern to go through. The actual city itself is quite small, but there's so much for a tourist to do you'll likely be on an excursion and now wandering down a dangerous alley. We also have a slew of weather concerns to discuss as well.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Capital Transit is the public bus system in town. The $2 fare takes you to the best spots in town. If you want to go on your own adventure outside of an excursion, you can get an Uber or Lyft. Taxis are available too. All options are low risk.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
Only four pickpockets were reported in 2020, which is small considering that 120,000 people can be in a small area at one time. There's a low risk, but you still only want to bring necessities with you and leave valuables in the hotel or on the cruise ship.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Avalanches, earthquakes, heavy snow, extreme cold, extreme winds, ice storms, dense fog, storm surge, landslides, tsunamis, floods, and wildfires are all risks Juneau Emergency Management is prepared for. There's a medium risk because of the sheer number of things that can go wrong and cripple transportation.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
Nearly 40% of the robberies were done in public. That seems a little intimidating, but there were just 40 robberies in the whole year. Alaska has some violent issues that are generally connected to alcohol and domestic problems, so there's a low risk unless you go into a bar and start trouble.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
Since Jueanu has no major transportation roads or railways and is isolated by thousands of miles of raw terrain, there's a low risk here.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
There are the traditional robocall scams against locals, but police aren't issuing any scam alerts for tourists. So I dug a little deeper and found a good nugget. Check any admission price for a place you are going, like Mendenhall Glacier, for example. The ticket price is $5 for people 16 and older, but when you arrive there you might see a long line to get tickets. A taxi driver might say "I'll sell you tickets for $15 apiece!" It's not really a scam, and it's not illegal, but it is another way to get more money out of tourists. Buy any ticket you can only get ahead of time, even at the Glacier.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
Women should feel safe here when traveling in groups or during the daytime. Nights can get a little rough, especially if you are hanging out at a bar where heavy drinking is happening. There's a medium risk because I want you to be extra careful. There's a high domestic violence rate in Juneau and a lot of heavy drinkers. These aren't your neighborhood bars.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The tap water is safe and has a low risk for consumption and bathing. There might be times the water comes out a little discolored or milky. If that happens, let the water run for a few minutes, and crystal clear water should follow.
Safest Places to Visit in Juneau
We’ll start with my favorite – bear tours.
Several tour companies offer bear excursions where you can fly to the forest, a glacier, or the beach to see bears in action.
One company had a deal that made me laugh.
It was an “End of Hibernation” sale.
Have you ever dreamed of mushing the dogs of the Alaskan wilderness in the Iditarod?
Here’s your chance.
Many companies offer tours where you get to see sled dogs in action and ride along with them.
Whale tours are also plentiful in Juneau.
The whales fill the waters so much that most tour operators offer a full refund if you don’t see any whales.
I’m not sure anyone has ever been able to cash in on that.
You can hike (a very difficult hike) or take the tram to Mount Roberts from sea level, through the rainforest, and to the top of the mountain at 3800 feet above sea level.
There’s also Mount Juneau (another challenging hike) with incredible views of foliage, wildlife, and the city below.
Glacier Bay National Park is a great place to see the wonders of glaciers and learn how they form and practice your ice walking skills.
From skiing across rivers to walking up the side of a glacier, there’s so much to do here and you won’t even notice how cold it is.
You might even see a sea lion shouting in your direction.
Eaglecrest Ski Area is across the water from Juneau and you’ll have to get there by plane or ferry, but once you do you’ve got fresh powder, backcountry skiing, and even a 1600-foot vertical drop if you’re crazy adventurous.
Downtown Juneau is filled with traditional souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars.
If you’re coming on a cruise ship, don’t be lured by the shops that are right at the port.
The local shops and local vibe are just a few miles away.
The downtown area feels like an old west relic brought to life daily with the influx of tourists.
Places to Avoid in Juneau
The city of Juneau is too small to be able to pick out good or bad neighborhoods.
The good thing is, you’ll either be on foot or taking a paid ride anywhere, so you can’t drive into the “wrong” part of town.
Most tourists stay on the beaten path and that makes it a lot safer for everyone.
The biggest place to avoid is a bar where a lot of locals are drinking.
Alcoholism is rampant throughout much of Alaska and the residents can be very heavy drinkers.
As with any city, but with more of an exclamation point on the risk in Juneau, alcohol can fuel fights, sexual assault, harassment, auto accidents, pedestrian accidents, and more.
You’d probably be safer drinking in a bar on Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday than at a bar in Juneau during tourist season.
Let’s talk about hiking.
If you aren’t a skilled hiker, you should think twice before attempting the hikes up Mount Roberts or Mount Juneau.
I was surprised to see this blunt warning about Mount Juneau on Alaska.org, “This is a very dangerous mountain that many have lost their lives on, so stay on the trail and don’t attempt to climb a different path.”
You want to avoid hiking or going on a glacier tour in anything but waterproof hiking boots.
Look for ones made of GOR-TEK.
Be sure to wear them several times at home before you arrive to avoid blisters during your hike.
Avoid arguing with your tour pilot if the excursion gets canceled due to weather.
They know best.
They have your safety top of mind.
Just search for “Alaska sightseeing crash” and you’ll see the number of crashes just in the past few years.
In 1971, a jetliner with 111 people on board crashed into the mountains just west of Juneau.
There was no warning, and everyone died on impact.
Listen to your pilot, I can’t stress it enough.
With every bit of fun in Juneau comes risks, so let’s talk through them.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Juneau
- If you are visiting Mendenhall Glacier, you’ll be in the rainforest. Pack appropriate rain gear from head to toe. You will get wet. Bring an extra pair of socks on your hike in case the ones you are wearing get wet.
- Make sure you start the hike with a fully-charged mobile device. It might be a life-saving beacon if you get lost, hurt, or fall.
- Get a backpack that also carries water so you’ll have hydration. Do not drink the water from the rivers or lakes as it could contain giardia, a parasite that causes incredible digestion issues. I somehow got giardia once and if I wasn’t 5-10 seconds from the toilet, there was going to be an accident. I tried to ignore it and it only got worse. Only antibiotics can fix it as it doesn’t go away on its own. Left untreated, you could suffer extreme dehydration. To be honest, even when you do treat it as the medicine works to clear up the infestation, you will have the most foul-smelling bowel movements of your life. Just don’t drink the water, okay?
- While we’re on the topic of being sick, don’t eat the mussels or clams from Glacial Bay. This is a much more serious risk of paralytic shellfish poisoning which can cause a victim to just drop dead. The National Park Service (NPS) said this toxin “has been found in high concentrations” in the area.
- Study up on the Baneberry plant. You’ll find them throughout the wilderness with their bright red appealing pea-sized presentation. The name explains it all – “bane” means “murderous”. Three berries can kill a child and six will kill an adult. Don’t eat anything in the wilderness unless you are 100% sure it’s safe.
- When heading to any hiking area that has water, you’ll need to study the tides before you go. The National Park Service says tides here rise and fall quickly, up to 25 feet in just six hours.
- In some hikes you’ve probably done, there was always a risk of wildlife, right? Some of the areas around Juneau have a high concentration of them and you’re very likely to see or be confronted by one of them. Research the NPS website for information on bear, moose, and wolf interactions, as each animal has a different way of being treated. That reminds me, buy bear spray before you head up the mountain.
- The Juneau Police Department sends out a crime bulletin every day at 3 pm. Go to the website to see a list of the most recent crimes in the area.
- The police department also has an updated crime map on its website where you can search for certain areas of town and the types of crimes that happened in your selected time span. This is a great resource to see what crimes are trending during your visit.
- If you see a crime happening, you can report it anonymously online through the Juneau Crime Line. Be sure to give as much information as you can remember and there’s an option to upload photos or videos too.
So... How Safe Is Juneau Really?
You’re going to see a lot of information about how dangerous Juneau is if you search online.
Here’s the real story – Juneau is a city filled with people who are okay being landlocked and only coming in or out by boat or air.
They are people who live here for the beauty of the region and half the year see their town flooded with four times as many people.
Some people are a little irritated by that.
The crime statistics break down like this:
- Violent Crime: 1 in 108
- Robbery: 1 in 805
- Theft: 1 in 43
Now looking at those numbers, it looks dangerous, right?
That’s how the math is done on the number of crimes vs the population.
When you figure in the annual tourists, the numbers look more like this:
- Violent Crime: 1 in 4500
- Robbery: 1 in 33,305
- Theft: 1 in 1781
Stay with your tour group or in the dozens, maybe hundreds, of tourist options and you should be just fine.
Prepare for the weather elements and bring enough warm clothing and rain gear to protect you from hypothermia or falling in your Birkenstocks.
How Does Juneau Compare?
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- Visas - While it's so far away, it's still a state, so no passport is needed. If you're not a U.S. Citizen, you'll be taking care of the Visa requirements at the airport or on the ship. It's important to know that each time you get back on a cruise ship, you'll have to show ID.
- Currency - Use the U.S. Dollar here for all purchases. There is little need to carry cash around and credit cards are widely accepted. Most excursions can be booked when you schedule the cruise. You can still tip the tour guide through the vendor. If you insist on tipping in cash (I prefer that), don't keep cash in your purse. Hide it somewhere like a hidden jacket pocket or the front pocket of your pants.
- Weather - It's not quite as cold here as other Alaska locations, like Fairbanks, but it still gets pretty cold. Winter has highs in the 50s and lows in the 20s, but strong winds can come through and drop the wind chill below zero easily. The warmest in the summer will be in the mid-60s and lows will get into the 40s. You should research cold-weather gear and wet-weather gear before you go. If you have a sports store near you, like a Bass Pro Shop, one of the experts there can walk you through everything you'll need.
- Airports - Juneau International Airport is at the northwest end of the city and it's the only commercial airport you can access, as there are no roads anywhere else.
- Travel Insurance - Go review that list of Natural Disaster risks and you'll see why travel insurance to Juneau is a must. As recently as February 2021, the city was braced for potentially the "big one" during an Extreme Avalanche Risk.
Juneau Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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