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Mendenhall Glacier is Juneau’s top tourist attraction and one of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers. A quick 15 minute drive from downtown Juneau is all you need to reach the enormous sheet of ice.
Visiting Mendenhall Glacier
Stretching over 2.5 kilometres wide and 19 kilometres long, Mendenhall is sure to impress, even from afar. We caught our first glimpse from the highway, not long after leaving Juneau, and it made my eyes widen in excitement!
Upon arriving at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Centre, you’ll be greeted with a sprawling view of this famous ice field. A lot of people choose to admire the glacier here, from across the lake, but to fully appreciate this natural wonder you’ll need to get a little closer.
The easiest way to get near the base of the glacier is to take the Nugget Falls Trail. It’s a flat, well-maintained trail, but can get pretty busy when the tour buses arrive.
As an alternative, we chose to walk along the sandy beach of Mendenhall Lake. While the beach access is not maintained, we got to take our time and enjoy the views of small icebergs floating nearby.
The end of the trail offers unique views of the glacier’s face. The icy blue colour really stands out amidst the interesting formations and layers of ice built up over the years.
Not only do you get to see the glacier up close, but you’ll get to experience the raging waters of Nugget Falls. I couldn’t believe the amount of water that was roaring over the rocks!
As massive as this glacier is, it has still experienced the negative effects of rising average temperatures. Mendenhall glacier has receded 2.82 km since 1958 and over 4.0 km since 1500. Mendenhall Lake didn’t even used to exist because the area was covered by ice until 1958!
Many local researchers believe that the glacier will recede so far that soon it won’t be visible from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Centre.
So, if you ever find yourself in Juneau, be sure you make a trip to Mendenhall Glacier before this natural beauty disappears!
Tips for Visiting Mendenhall Glacier
- Mendenhall Glacier is easily accessible from the cruise ship docks if you don’t want to do an organized excursion as part of your Alaska cruise. There is a shuttle bus that picks people up in the parking lot beside the Mount Roberts Tram. It costs $10/person each way. You can save $4.00 if you bundle your shuttle ticket with a ticket for Mount Roberts Tram. We paid $48 each to visit both places. Buy your ticket at the Mount Roberts Tram building.
- You can also take the city bus but it drops off passengers 2.4 km from the visitor center.
- There is a fee to enter the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Centre, but access to the trails is free.
- The Visitor Centre’s hours are as follows: October- March 10:00 am- 4:00 pm Friday- Sunday. May- September 8:00 am-7:30 pm Sunday- Saturday. Closed the month of April.
- In addition to the easy Nugget Falls trail, there is the longer and more advanced East Glacier Trail.
- Steep Creek Trail is also nearby. This boardwalk trail is built off the ground to allow passage for bears and other wildlife.
- Make sure you read up on bear safety before your visit and respect the signs forbidding food at Mendenhall Glacier.
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