Visiting Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

Visiting Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska

Mendenhall Glacier is one of Juneau’s major attractions, and arguably one of the most scenic glaciers. The glacier is situated 13 miles from downtown Juneau and only a few minutes from the airport.

Mendenhall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest.

The Mendenhall Glacier is one of the 38 major glaciers within the Juneau Icefield, an area of interconnected glaciers that rests behind the mountain next to Juneau. The icefield is spread over 1,500 square miles and flows from the Taku River inlet to the town to Skagway. 

Ice Caves at Mendenhall Glacier

The ice caves at the Mendenhall have gotten massive publicity lately, as the glacier’s receding. There are public access trails to the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves at the park but you should enter at your own risk if trekking alone. Though spectacular, it’s recommended that glaciers should only be explored with a professional guide.

Tours of the ice caves are offered July through September.

Visiting Mendenhall Glacier

The most popular way to visit the glacier is by the visitor center.

The Mendenhall Visitor Center offers observation decks, trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, and educational displays. Public restrooms, a gift shop, snacks, and accessible ramps are also available at the center.

The easiest way to explore the glacier is by buying a tour from the shore excursion desk on your cruise ship or through a third-party shore excursion company.

By car or shuttle, it takes approximately 25 minutes to reach the visitor center.

READ MORE: Juneau Cruise Port Guide and Information

If you are booking through a tour company, the admission to Mendenhall Glacier is typically included in the fare. However, doing it on your own will cost $5 per person. Tickets can be purchased at the visitor’s center.

Alternate Ways To Explore Mendenhall Glacier

There are a few ways alternative ways to experience Mendenhall Glacier when cruising Southeast Alaska.

Active travelers can take public transportation from the cruise pier to the glacier. Know that the public bus option does not drop you off at the glacier itself but a mile from it, so you will still have to walk to the visitor center. The adult fare for the public bus is $2, and kids are $1.

You can rent a bike and pedal to the glacier from Cycle Alaska. Bike rentals start at $37 and can run over $100 if you want to rent an electric bike.

Keep in mind that it’s 13 miles from downtown and there isn’t a lot of bike trails. You can reserve your bike rental online through the company’s website.

Note: Only do this option if you’re experienced in biking

There are tours offered at the pier from private tour companies that run transportation to and from Mendenhall Glacier every thirty minutes. If you want to experience the glacier on your own and spend as much time as you’d like there, this is a great option.

You can also view the glacier by helicopter, this is the priciest but more scenic option. Booking a helicopter tour can cost up to $500 per person through the cruise ship. This is a more intimate option to see Mendenhall Glacier because some tours will land on the glacier and let you walk on the very top of it.

Booking a flightseeing tour is another option to see Mendenhall Glacier. These tours fly over the tops of the glaciers located in Juneau’s Icefield and offer spectacular photo opportunities.

You will want to shop around because you can also book these tours outside of the cruise line for almost half the price.

Note: For weight and balance reasons, helicopter and plane tours may have a weight limit.

The cruise lines are in business to make money so many shore excursions offered by the ship could be double the price you see once you get on land. On the flip side, Alaska excursions sell out quickly, so you may want to book your tour from a private or third party vendor in advance.

Also, keep in mind that Alaska is a bucket list destination, the excursions may cost more than a Caribbean tour, but they worth the value.

Fun Facts About Alaska’s Glaciers

  • Juneau glacier spotting is often jaw-dropping on overcast days, so don’t let rain weaken your plans.
  • Glaciers set back a mystical blue color because of a unique crystalline structure that soaks up and reflects light, providing the ice its distinctive hue. The most vivid blue happens in crevasses and when the ice breaks from a glacier’s front. The blue color disappears as the ice is open to the air, and the crystalline structure cracks-up.
  • And when glaciers seem to be resting entirely still, they are continuously moving and running downhill out of the mountains in the form of rivers. This continuous movement provides glaciers the strength to shape the landscape as they move. 

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