Through My Lens

Exploring the World Through Photography

Category: Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier: Juneau, Alaska’s Most Beautiful Glacier

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…

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.

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  • 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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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The trail heads through a lightly shaded section of trees before being coming alongside the water or the “beach” of Mendenhall Lake. 

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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. 

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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.

Nugget Falls

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Totem Bight State Historical Park in Ketchikan, Alaska

Located about 7 miles outside of the city of Ketchikan is a beautiful state park dedicated to the totem pole history in the area. For both the Native Americans and…

Located about 7 miles outside of the city of Ketchikan is a beautiful state park dedicated to the totem pole history in the area. For both the Native Americans and settlers in Ketchikan, totem poles were a huge part of the culture and one that I really enjoyed seeing on my visit. I was able to make it here via public transportation from my cruise ship so you do not have to take an excursion if you are ok with a public bus, here is all the information.

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Getting There

Without booking an excursion that goes there from the boat you can grab a shuttle bus from downtown for $1 each way. There are a few spots in town to get the shuttle but I grabbed it from the visitors center then just got dropped off in downtown after visiting the park. The shuttle takes about 25 minutes from downtown to the state park itself and it took about 2 hours total for this adventure.

The Park

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The park itself was free to enter when we were there but all of the information and visitor centers were closed so we just went on the short loop ourselves. There are about 20 different totems in the park as well as a large clan house that was built to resemble the Native American architecture in the area. The loop is about a half mile to complete and it can be as short or as long as you like. Here are a few of my favorite totems.

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History of the Park 

Taken from this site:

With the growth of non-Native settlements in Southeast Alaska in the early 1900’s, and the decline of a barter economy, Natives moved to communities where work was available. The villages and totem poles they left behind were soon overgrown by forests and eroded by weather. In 1938 the U.S. Forest Services began a program aimed at salvaging and reconstructing these large cedar monuments. By using Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) funds to hire skilled carvers from among the older Natives, two things took place: young artisans learned the art of carving totem poles, and totems which had been left to rot in the woods were either repaired or duplicated.

By the time World War II slowed down the CCC project, the community house and 15 poles were in place. The name of the site was then changed to Totem Bight. At statehood, in 1959, title to the land passed from the federal government to the State of Alaska, and the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. At that time it came under the management of the State’s Department of Natural Resources for continuing historic preservation treatment by the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

Totem Work Area

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As you can see in the above history, there are still people dedicated to preserving the art and the totems. There is an area in the park dedicated to that where you can see them working on the totems (only at specific times), and see the pile of totems waiting to be worked on.

The Clan House

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The clan house was an amazing thing to see in the park. We had seen a replica of it in the museum so it was nice to see the actual one up close. The house has three totems in the front as well as a small walk through entrance at the base of center totem. It was only about 4 feet tall so you had to duck to enter.

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The inside was massive since it was a family dwelling and it has no windows as that made it more fortified when attacked from other tribes.

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The inside had a few totems in it as well and it was one of the best things we saw in the park, easily worth the trip up here to see it.

The Beach

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From the clan house you can head out to the beach and I would recommend you do it as it had a lot of different colored algae that covered the rocks and it looked over an amazing inlet. 

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There was even an old boat sitting in the water that I really enjoyed taking a picture of as the juxtaposition of the urban decay with nature was serene and beautiful.

The Rest of the Totems

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After walking along the beach we headed back in to finish our tour of the park. There were about 10 more totems to see ranging in size from 10 feet to 60 feet. 

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I even found one that had a plain pole with a random animal on top looking down on you, I am not sure the significance but it was unique.

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After walking through the forest we were back at the parking lot where we waited for the bus to come back and pick us up. 

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All in all it was about one hour for the whole walk and that was with taking our time. You could have spent less time if you were rushed and still wanted to see it.

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While this park was nothing super crazy I really enjoyed being able to see the history and all of the beautiful totem poles in the area. It is a fun way to get outside of the tourists and city and experience a little bit of the culture. Check out the rest of my recommendations for what to do in Ketchikan here.

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