Traveling in Juneau and hoping to see a glacier? Well you have the chance to! Located about 12 miles from downtown Alaska capital city, Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier is a spectacular place that is not to be missed when visiting in Juneau and it’s also one of the more accessible glaciers in America.
This glacier is a relic from the Little Ice Age time, which is about over 3,000 years ago. As the glacier melts, it goes into Mendenhall Lake, which is the blue-colored lake you see in these photos. In Mendenhall Lake, you’ll also see icebergs floating around, which doesn’t look much during the summer at all.
To see this glacier, there are many activities around to get the chance to see the glacier. You can go hiking around it, kayaking near it, go inside the ice caves with a guide, take an airplane tour over it or go glacier climbing.
Know before you go: Make sure to book an excursion tour.
If you’re coming from a cruise and stopped by Juneau as a port stop, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to make it over to Mendenhall Glacier and to explore it especially since you’re only there for a few hours.
As you get off the cruise ship, there will be so many tour companies lined up offering plenty of tours. This is how I found mine, which basically just includes a shuttle transfer and an interactive tour guide who talks about the history and stories of Juneau.
The tour company I decided to go with is M&M Tours of Juneau using the Glacier Express tour, which costs $47.25 per person. They have other available tours than the one I took, which is basically a blue bus that takes you directly to the glacier (and back) with an informative tour guide to give you the history and facts of Juneau and the glacier.
Depending on the seasons of when you’re visiting Alaska, the availability of tours on certain activities/excursions vary. If you’re planning to visit during wintertime and want more of the glacier experience of climbing and going into ice caves, it is very advisable to book with professional tour guides who can guide you there.
Visiting Mendenhall Glacier
Since the tour I took just drove us over here, it gave me the freedom to go explore the glacier myself. Of course, you need to be professionally guided to see the glacier up close and personal or to go on it, but there are a few hiking trails you can take around the surrounding areas by this glacier! I did two of the trails and many of these trails are short and easy!!
- Nugget Falls Trail – 2.0 mile long, 121 feet elevation gain, out & back route
- Steep Creek Falls Trail – 1.5 mile long, 777 feet elevation gain, out & back route
- Trail of Time – 1.1 mile long, 121 feet elevation gain, loop route
- Photo Point Trail – 0.6 mile long, 49 feet elevation gain, out & back route
- East Glacier Loop Trail – 3.1 miles long, 774 feet elevation gain, loop route
- West Glacier Trail – 4.0 miles long, 567 feet elevation gain, out & back route
Steep Creek Trail
The first trail I got to experience around Mendenhall Glacier is this one. Steep Creek Trail is a very easy trail. It starts off at the parking lot where the shuttle buses can drop you off at. This trail will take you inside the forests with many opportunities to see the creek flowing underneath these wooden boardwalks. If you’re lucky, you might see salmon in the creek and some bears. There will be some breathtaking viewpoints to see from this trail too. You will need to pay for the $5 permit straight from the parking lot if you plan to go here, if you do not have the $5 day use pass.
Nugget Falls Trail
This is such a popular trail and it’s going to be obvious as to why if you choose to do this too. This trail has such a powerful waterfall that has the 377-feet Nugget Falls and it flows epicly into Mendenhall Lake. These falls were actually formed as the glacier melted and continues to melt… and so it flows into the pristine blue Mendenhall Lake. Around the trail, you’ll get to walk through trail ways sometimes shaded with trees and towards the end by the falls, you’re led to this sandbar-looking area.
Visiting the Visitor Center
The visitor center is maintained by the US Forest Service and it requires a day use pass for a $5 fee. This same pass is also good to use for the Pavilion, Photo Print, and Steep Creek Trails. The visitor center is accessible from the parking lot and is handicap-friendly, creating way with an easy ramp. In the visitor center, you can meet with Service Rangers who can answer questions and talk about the landscape. There is a 15-minute film you can watch inside to learn about the glaciers around Tongass National Forest.