Having been to Juneau before, I’d already done the more typical whale watching and Mendenhall Glacier shore excursions. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend a whale watching tour in Juneau! You seriously get the best sightings here.
For us, this Juneau bike tour sounded interesting and something new to try. Plus, my husband and I enjoy being active when we can. This Juneau bike tour fit the bill. Throw in the fact that it ended with a beer tasting and my husband was all in.
Juneau Bike and Brew Shore Excursion Review
Our tour met at 1:15 p.m., about 20 minutes after our ship was cleared by Juneau authorities. Though we purchased the excursion through Princess Cruises, it’s operated by a company called Cycle Alaska. (Fun fact: Cycle Alaska is owned by New Zealand Olympic swimmer John McConnochie who moved to Juneau in 1980.)
There were 10 of us altogether, plus our tour guides Chip and Jack. Both are retirees. Jack drove the van, which followed us around to various stops. We could leave anything we didn’t need on the van. This was a nice bonus; I thought I’d have to lug my backpack around with me.
Jack also had spare bikes, which came in handy when the front tire on my husband’s bike went flat. It took a little time for Jack to get to us, which resulted in less time at the end of the tour at Mendenhall Glacier.
Chip led the group. Though he had some 20 to 30 years on me, he put most of us to shame!
Our Bike Tour Begins
A short van ride took us to the start of our bike ride. It was raining so we were outfitted with rain pants and jackets, along with a bike helmet and gloves.
If you’re biking in the rain, don’t pass up their rain gear. Not only does it keep you dry. But the back tires kick up lots of dirt which gets all over your back. The rain jackets keep your clothes clean. We also got a bottle of water.
Our bikes were hybrid road/trail bikes, which was appropriate as our tour took us on both the highway and a dirt road before ending at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.
However, I found the bikes to be much harder to use than the road bikes I’ve been given on other bike tours. They were also super uncomfortable, though that could have been because my last bike ride was more than two years ago!
All in all, our bike ride lasted around an hour with three stops. The bulk of the ride was on level ground, with the exception of two smallish hills at the start of the tour.
The first hill wasn’t so bad, but the second gave me some trouble, especially because my bike’s gear shift didn’t work too well – something another person in my party experienced with her bike, as well.
Totem Poles, Local Culture and an Off-Road Path
Our first stop was less than five minutes into the bike tour. Here we stopped to look at two totem poles and Chip gave us a little history into the practice of totem pole carving and what the totems mean to the local Tlingit people.
Our next stretch of riding was about 20 minutes, after which we stopped just off the main road in front of a trailhead in the Tongass National Forest. Tongass is the largest national forest in the United States, and also one of just a few temperate rainforests in the country.
From here we rode for another 20 or so minutes. This stretch included some time on a nice off-road path that wove through the trees and over wooden bridges.
It was picturesque and quiet. But short. The path ended at a small parking lot from which we walked to a viewpoint off of Mendenhall Lake for our first view of the Mendenhall Glacier.
Next Stop: Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center
We had about 10 minutes to see the lake and glacier. Just enough time to hear a quick talk about the glacier and take photos. After this short break, it was back through the woods and onto the road for a 30-minute ride to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center.
We stopped regularly to wait for stragglers (I’ll include myself in the later.) In fact, we stopped more often to wait for stragglers and to cross busy roads than for anything else.
By the time we got to the Visitor’s Center, we had 30 minutes to look around, not really wasn’t enough time to do anything of significance. Though I had been to Mendenhall Glacier before, three of my traveling party had not.
It was a shame they didn’t have more time to explore the area. Suggestion to Cycle Alaska: it probably would be better to do a straight bike ride to the Visitor Center without the stop at the lake.
Time for Beer!
Once our time at the Visitor Center was up, it was back into the van and back to town to The Flight Deck for our beer tasting. Chip walked us over to the bar and eatery where full-bearded Kyle took over. Officially, we had 30 minutes at The Flight Deck to try several different beers, but, as it turned out, we were free to stay as long as we wanted.
Our tasting was VERY informal. Kyle had a few beers (and a local cider) he wanted us to try, but we were also free to choose a few off the board. Pours were generous.
Bike & Brew Juneau Shore Excursion Parting Thoughts
We chose this Cycle Alaska Bike and Brew shore excursion for the physical activity and views of Mendenhall Glacier we hoped to get. Because it rained most of the way, we didn’t get much of a view. But it did provide a workout. And, we did get to see the Glacier at the Visitor Center.
With that said, I would have preferred a longer bike ride (with more downhills). More time at the Visitor Center to take one of the walks would have been nice, too.
The rain may also have impacted the bikes’ shifting as several of us struggled to get our bikes to catch gears at various times throughout the ride.
Chip and Jack know a lot about the local area, its history, culture and ecosystem and were eager to ensure everyone was happy. There’s not much they could have done on a cold, rainy day to make it more enjoyable.
None of the four people in my party regretted doing the excursion. But we all agreed it would have been much more enjoyable on a warmer, sunnier day.
What to Know Before You Go
Be prepared for all weather. Understand this Juneau bike tour will go rain or shine, so be prepared for both possibilities. Wear something that won’t get too soggy if it gets wet. And, wear shoes that won’t get soaked through and are comfortable for pedaling.
Test your bike before the ride starts. Ride your bike around the parking lot. Make sure the seat is at the right height. It took me two stops to get my seat adjusted higher so that I wasn’t working so hard to pedal. And my husband didn’t notice his flat tire until halfway through the tour.
If you really want time at the glacier, choose another tour. This shore excursion is more about biking through the Tongass National Forest and catching glimpses of the glacier than it is about proper glacier views.
The entire tour lasts about 3 hours including 30 to 40 minutes at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. After the bike tour there’s 30 minutes for the beer tasting. However, you’re free to extend that last piece as long as you’d like. Just don’t miss your ship!
Dori Saltzman is a content and copy writer who previously spent 15 years covering the travel and cruise industries at several travel trade publications and at CruiseCritic.com. You can find out more about her at dorisaltzman.com