As one of the few drive up glaciers in Alaska, Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most amazing things you can drive up to in the entire United States. While it gets smaller every year, it is still a 12 mile long and half mile wide glacier and when you see it for the first time you will not soon forget it. I had the opportunity to do so when I arrived in Juneau on my cruise ship and no trip to Juneau is complete without a glimpse. Here are all the details.
- Can get a bus from downtown Juneau for around $10 round trip
- $3 for the visitor center
- Two easy hikes for 2 miles round trip with limited elevation gain
- Located 25 miles from downtown.
When you arrive at the park itself you will need to pay the $3 then you can go explore. Right near the entrance is a map of the park and the different trails you can take. I decided to take the Photo Overlook Trail and the Nugget Falls Trail while I was there.
Photo Overlook Trail
From the main path that heads to Nugget Falls and the visitor center you can veer off a tenth of a mile on the Photo Overlook Trail to get an amazing view of the glacier and the waterfall.
This trail itself is short but it is well worth it. You pretty much just head up for a tenth of mile until you reach the overlook. We were blessed to be able to see the glacier on a clear day and the sheer size of it is hard to comprehend. It is also crazy to see how big the waterfall is next to it and to see all of the icebergs floating in the water below. From there we headed out on the Nugget Falls Trail to see the waterfall.
Nugget Falls Trail
This trail leaves from the start of the Photo Overlook Trail and heads on a flat one mile dirt trail all the way to the base of the falls. You can see how big it is by looking at the people in the above photo.
The trail heads through a lightly shaded section of trees before being coming alongside the water or the “beach” of Mendenhall Lake.
As you walk along this beach you will be able to see some of the icebergs up close, depending on the season. It really is amazing to see the blue hue that they give off.
Each step takes you close to Mendenhall itself as well and if you bring a zoom lens or binoculars you can get up close with the glacier.
When you reach the end of your one mile trail you will be able to see this roaring waterfall up close and it truly is churning.
While it is not as tall as many of the other waterfalls I have seen, the amount of water that was coming out of it was ridiculously impressive. I could not believe how much was flowing through, it was loud being up close.
I also loved being able to see both the waterfall and the glacier at the same time and it provided for amazing photos. Since this is a popular and easily accessed trail you will see a lot of people here though. The area below the falls is big so you can find a spot for yourself even in the midst of the people.
This is the closest you can get to the glacier itself without taking a much longer trail so it is also a great place to view it from. I found it crazy to see how many helicopters were flying over it as that is a popular attraction on cruise ships, flying to the glacier and walking on it ($400). I would love to see it from above like that but it is a little distracting to keep hearing and seeing helicopters flying by. I saw as many as five at a time going by.
After taking it all in we headed back down the trail to the parking lot and boarded a bus back to the city center. You can walk around the visitor center as well if you want to learn more about the history of the area.
No trip to Juneau is complete without a visit to the glacier and I really do recommend it. Let me know if you have been in the comments.