Visitors to Juneau can experience the majesty of the Mendenhall Glacier, a massive and mighty river of ice that extends 13 miles. Featuring vivid blue ice and awe-inspiring views of the magnificent Coast Mountains, the Mendenhall Glacier is a natural wonder.
When you visit, you’ll step back in time to the last ice age, when Juneau Icefield spilled forth with 38 glaciers, including Mendenhall with its with rugged, icy crevasses. Have your camera ready as you wander along the well-maintained trails to view black bears, salmon streams, and even bald eagles.
When you arrive at the visitor’s center, take a short walk on Photo Point Trail, about 0.15 miles, to a beautiful viewpoint, great for taking photos of the glacier. The trail is paved and accessible for strollers and wheelchairs.
Once you’ve taken the perfect glacier photo, head to the U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center to learn more about the glacier and watch a 15-minute video. You can also pick up a trail map from the National Forest Service. Many people enjoy learning about the science of the glacier, along with the area’s rich history. The visitor’s center charges a small fee for entry, but you can use the restrooms and visit the bookstore for free.
If you have more time, take a 15-20 minute walk along the trail to Nugget Falls to reach a large and beautiful waterfall. Enjoy the spectacular sight of the waterfall spilling into an iceberg-filled lake, with the glacier in the background. This is the closest you can get to the glacier from this side of the lake.
The Nugget Falls Trail is 2 miles roundtrip and takes about an hour to accomplish. It is a well-maintained, gentle trail with dirt and gravel.
Those visiting the Mendenhall Glacier in late July through September can look for views of black bears fishing for salmon. Head left from the roundabout onto a series of boardwalks for the Steep Creek Trail. If you’re lucky, you’ll find black bears chasing the salmon that have spawned in the creek. (Don’t worry, bears can’t get up to the platforms where you’ll be.)
Steep Creek Trail is a 0.25 mile loop, and takes about 20 minutes to see. The trail is easy for most visitors, alternating between pavement and raised boardwalks.
Overcast days can bring some of the best glacier views and photographs, so don’t let a little rain discourage you!
In addition to its splendor and beauty, the Mendenhall Glacier offers fascinating insights into science and history.
The ice appears blue, because it absorbs all of the colors of the visible light spectrum except blue, which it reflects. Other ice may appear white, because it is highly fractured with air pockets and scatters the visible light spectrum. The ice is bluest in the areas least exposed to air.
Year after year, snow accumulates and compacts underlying snow layers from previous years into solid ice. Snowfall in the Juneau Icefield often exceeds 100 feet, which creates excellent conditions for glaciation. Mendenhall Glacier is one of 38 glaciers that flow from Juneau Icefield.
Yes, the glacier is always moving, shaping the landscape as it goes. While the movement is very, very slow, the glacier is always moving and flowing downhill like a river.
The glacier was actually orginally known as Sitaantaagu (“the Glacier Behind the Town”) or Aak’wtaaksit (“the Glacier Behind the Little Lake”). Naturalist John Muir named the glacier Auke Glacier in 1888. Then, in 1891, it was renamed in honor of Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, who served as Superindendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1889 to 1894.
The Mendenhall Glacier is located just north of Juneau, in Tongass National Forest, and is part of Juneau Icefield. Visiting Mendenhall Glacier makes a great shore excursion for Alaskan cruisers.
You can view the best that Juneau has to offer with the Juneau City and Mendenhall Glacier Tour. You’ll start your excursion in the streets of historic downtown Juneau. Afterward, you’ll travel along the scenic Gastineau Channel and Wildlife Refuge to the Mendenhall Glacier.
Before visiting the Mendenhall Glacier, get out on the open water to view another one of Southeast Alaska’s majestic wonders: humpback whales swimming in the icy waters of Auke Bay on the Juneau Whale Watching and Mendenhall Glacier Tour. Spend plenty of time on spotting whales before you embark on the splendor of the Mendehall Glacier.
For one-in-a-lifetime views of the million year-old glacial ice fields, you can try the Juneau Icefield Helicopter Excursion. In addition to the views from above, you’ll land on a glacier and walk along its surface to experience the glacier’s might and majesty first-hand.
To share a dog sled adventure with 80 Alaskan Huskies, check out the Juneau Glacier and Dog Sled Tour via Helicopter. After arriving via helicopter, you’ll enjoy the thrill of driving a dog team in a great Alaskan pastime along the magnificent glacier. There’s also an extended dog sled tour.