Travel Tips and Idea for Juneau’s Famous Ice Sheet
Traveling to Juneau on your next cruise? This nature-lovers paradise is a Mecca for travel enthusiasts. Towering above the bustling city streets, you’ll spy the snow-capped peak of Mount Juneau. Its majestic zenith descends into rich Alpine forest teeming with mountain goats, bears, and black-tailed deer. Further down, the slope plunges into lush, sprawling meadows packed with kaleidoscopic wildflowers. To the north lies the infinite expanse of Tongass National Forest. And to the south await the wonders of the famous Mendenhall Glacier. No trip to Juneau is complete without a visit to this sparkling, sapphire ice sheet.
Conveniently positioned a short drive from downtown, the Mendenhall Glacier is a remnant of the Little Ice Age, which started about 3,000 years ago. At 13 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, this behemoth packs millions of tons of crystal-blue ice. Its spellbinding color is the result of intense pressures that force air bubbles out of the ice mass. The bubble-free ice absorbs every wavelength of visible light except the mesmerizing azure reflected back at curious onlookers. It’s an awe-inspiring sight to behold.
Punching Your Ticket to a World-Famous Glacier
When you make the trek to the Mendenhall Glacier, how you get there makes all the difference. There are tons of options for experiencing its glory, each offering unique advantages. One size definitely does NOT fit all. When you’re searching for excursions, choose a travel style that’s right for you. Consider your interests, passions and fitness level. Because how you get to the glacier transform how you experience it.
Four Heart-Stirring Ways to Reach to the Mendenhall Glacier:
1. Take a Hike (With World-Class Guides!)
Get the thrill of a lifetime and brush up on natural history as you hike the glassy surface of this colossal chunk of ice. On this adventure, you’ll get an up-close look at amazing features like ice caves, streams, crevasses and other unique formations. Since the surface of the glacier is constantly changing, there’s no telling what you’ll see.
After a 30-minute orientation, you’ll embark on a 3-hour hike over a 4-mile trail. The path winds uphill through the lush, verdant rainforest along Mendenhall Lake. The first mile of the trail is well maintained, winding through woodland and gorgeous switchbacks. The second half is more challenging as it meanders through mud, slippery bedrock, loose gravel, and short-but-steep, ascents and descents. Over the course of the hike, you’ll climb about 800 feet upward. But it all pays off when you top the final ridge, and the heavenly face of Mendenhall Glacier slides into view!
2. Go with the Flow
There’s nothing quite like rafting along the majestic shores of iceberg-studded Mendenhall Lake. Your journey begins with a scenic tour to the Mendenhall Valley, surrounded by towering mountains, verdant forests, and scenic wildlife. After arriving, you’ll don protective rain gear and board a raft that’s rowed by a professional Alaskan guide. Setting sail downstream, the five-mile journey includes spectacular views of the glacier and a mile-long stretch of Class 3 rapids.
Once the river levels out, take in views of the riverbank, lush forests, and 7,000-foot mountains above the valley floor. Your professional guide teaches you about the river’s natural history — and if you keep a sharp watch, you’ll spy bald eagles, black bears, otters, seals, and salmon during spawning season. At the end of the tour, celebrate with an Alaskan-style snack. Want a slightly more challenging experience? Request a paddle raft when you book and do the rowing yourself!
3. Do What Floats Your Boat
If you’re up for a more athletic adventure, experience the glacier from the seat of your own kayak. Thanks to an exclusive U.S. Forest Service permit, you can explore the serene setting of Mendenhall Lake with a chosen companion or brand new friend. Set off from the shores of Mendenhall Lake past floating icebergs and breathtaking natural wonders. Your experienced guide will point out native wildlife and explain fascinating facts about the ecology of the Mendenhall Glacier.
Next, venture toward the massive glacier face to explore awe-inspiring Nugget Falls. Paddling back across the lake, you’ll soak up unforgettable views of the magnificent glacier, then reward yourself with an Alaskan-style snack. Never paddled a kayak before? No worries! Your professional guide will pair you with guests of a similar skill level, ensuring a comfortable and memorable journey.
4. Slide, Glide, Slippity-Slide
The intrepid Tlingit Indians were the first explorers of southeast Alaska. To navigate the icy waters, they built sturdy wooden canoes, and today, you can recreate their historic explorations. After a scenic drive to dazzling Mendenhall Lake, you’ll board a Native-style canoe, holding up to 19 passengers. As you paddle across the lake, you’ll witness serene waters, drifting icebergs, spectacular glacier views and mountainous panoramas.
Your expert tour guide shares natural history and Native lore as you float atop the wondrous waters. Don’t be surprised by a visit from arctic terns, eagles, goats, salmon, otters, and bears (waaay off in the distance, of course!). The climax of this scenic tour is an up-close encounter with the massive and breathtaking face of the Mendenhall Glacier. Feel your heart skip a beat as you skirt the roaring base of Nugget Falls afterward. Enjoy an authentic Alaskan snack on the beach at Nugget falls to refuel for your return trip across the lake. This awesome adventure through Alaska’s stunning wonders is a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with nature.
Book a Bucket List Tour of Mendenhall Glacier
They say in life, it’s not the destination that counts. It’s all about how you get there. But when it comes to the Mendenhall Glacier, you get the best of both worlds. If you’re ready to explore Alaska’s most illustrious ice sheet, a myriad of exciting tours await. Don’t wait until the last minute to reserve your seat. Book now, while openings are still available!