Even though our Midwest anniversary road trip had to be canceled (thanks to the selfish Chinese government, NOT) we were able to head to Juneau, Alaska in July of 2020 once things started opening up a little. We had always wanted to Alaska but it was never the right time. I usually don’t like to travel much during the summer months, because it’s too hot and too many people also traveling. However, with all the craziness of 2020, we figured it was the right time. We are so happy we were able to go and see such amazing sites as the Alaska State Capitol, Eagle Beach, the Shrine of St. Therese, Jensen-Olson Arboretum, and Glacier Gardens Rainforest, the place we kept going back to was Mendenhall Glacier. It is absolutely incredible.
The Mendenhall Glacier, which is located in the Tongass National Forest, is one of many major glaciers that connect to the vast Juneau Ice Field. It’s a 1,500 square mile remnant of the last ice age, cradled high in the coast mountain’s lofty peaks. It is about 12.6 miles long and about 12 miles from downtown Juneau. It was originally known as Sitaantaago (“the Glacier Behind the Town”) but then renamed in 1891 in honor of physicist Thomas Corwin Mendenhall.
They have many hikes and trails which I will share in a few, but first I wanted to share my podcast about the area, my feelings on our visit, and share some things I didn’t necessarily share here on this blog post. I hope you enjoy it.
I also wanted to share a little about the visitor center first. Sadly it was closed due to China’s selfishness again, but hopefully, we will get back one day to explore. Usually, the center is opened year-round and receives about 5000,000 visitors per year, of course not this year :(. Normally this is due to the summer cruises, but there are also people like us, who are just exploring on our own. No matter how you get there, the views of the glacier and lake are phenomenal.
Apparently, it was the first U.S. Forest Service Visitor Center built in the US and was dedicated in 1962. It was primarily built to be a large observatory where people could get out of the rain while enjoying the amazing views of the glacier. It has grown through the years and now has a restaurant and gift shop, but a theatre showing the history of the glacier. I am really sorry we missed that. 🙁
What we didn’t miss, was walking along some of the trails and taking a LOT of pictures, lol. Here is a list of the trails and their distance. I have also added a map of the trails.
Photo Point 1/3 mile round trip
As its name implies, Photo Point Trail is the best vantage point to capture panoramic shots of Mendenhall Glacier and the surrounding peaks. The entire trail is accessible, with benches and interpretive information spaced along the path.
Steep Creek – ¼ mile loop
Walk along the Creek on a boardwalk elevated and fenced for easy close viewing of salmon spawning. The trail is accessible from close parking areas for all abilities. Apparently, it was too early for the fish or the bears. L
Trail of Time – 1 mile loop
Excellent trail for seeing vibrant rainforest away from the tourist crowd. Black bears and salmon are often seen from this trail in the summer months. Sadly we didn’t see any bears near the glacier L Maybe next time.
Nugget Falls – 2 miles round trip
This moderate trail follows the Nugget Creek drainage and gets you closer to the face of the glacier.
East Glacier 3.5 mile loop
East Glacier Loop branches off from the Trail of Time. Visitors starting the Trail of Time from the second parking lot will intersect the East Glacier Loop at a Civilian Conservation Corps shelter. Visitors starting the Trail of Time from the Visitor Center will intersect the East Glacier Loop
West Glacier Trail – 6.8 miles
The moderate trail that follows the glacier’s west side. FYI, the West Glacier trailhead cannot be reached from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. Take Mendenhall Loop Road to Montana Creek Road and follow the signs to Mendenhall Campground.
Like I said earlier, we loved being near the Mendenhall Glacier and visited many times, and walked many of the trails (or at least part of most of them). It rained a lot, which made it wet and slippery. There were some rangers walking around and happily answered our questions about the fish spawning, bears, etc. It was just intriguing and amazing, we just had to keep going back. Without a lot of the tourists, most of the time it was so quiet and peaceful, and we often felt like we had the area to ourselves. Here is a website with more information if you want to learn more.
Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center
6000 Glacier Spur Rd, Juneau, AK 99801
Open Daily May–September 8 am–7:30 pm Open Limited Hours October–April
The daily cost to use the pavilion, Photo Point Trail, Steep Creek Trail, restrooms, the bus shelter, and the visitor center is $5. Regular users can purchase a $15 season pass, which will allow the pass holder and a guest to use the areas. Fees apply through Sept. 30.
Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is located approximately 13 miles from downtown Juneau and cruise ship docks. There are several transportation options from the Juneau cruise ship docks. The Forest Service does not recommend any business in particular. There are limited options from the airport or ferry terminal.
City Public Transportation:
The city bus charges a minimal fee. The bus does not make a stop directly at the dock or at the Visitor Center. The city bus drops visitors a mile and a half from the Visitor Center. Visitors will then need to follow the sidewalk from the bus stop 1.5 miles to the end of Glacier Spur Road. The path is flat and paved. http://www.juneau.org/capitaltransit/pdfs/busschedule5.pdf
Two private companies provide shuttle bus service between the cruise ship dock and the glacier.
Juneau Tours – 907-523-6095
M&M Tours – 907-500-5186
Juneau has several taxi companies available as well
DLUX/Capital/Taku/Evergreen – 907-586-2121 for Dispatch
Juneau Taxi – 907-586-1111
Limo Licensed Companies:
12th St Taxi & Tours – Custom Juneau Tours – 907-209-8387
Juneau Limo – 907-463-5466
The visitor center has two accessible entrances – an upper entrance with a ramp and a lower entrance with elevators.
The first parking lot offers two restricted parking spaces for vehicles displaying the international symbol of access or official identification issued by a city or state. There is also a loading/unloading space available for loading/unloading passengers, but please do not park here.
The visitor center’s film and video exhibits are captioned. The personal listening device may be checked out from the Information Desk for the Magnificent Mendenhall movie.
Photo Point Trail and the salmon viewing boardwalk are accessible.
Many black bears reside in the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center area and rely on the salmon return to Steep Creek and berries ripening in late summer and fall to prepare them for winter hibernation. When in bear country, make lots of noise to make your presence known especially if you are by yourself or in a small group. Bear spray and insect repellent are recommended items to carry. Be prepared for inclement weather by wearing non-cotton clothing and having rain gear handy.
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