Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier, up close and personal
Photo by: MarmotChaser, Creative Commons

Located approximately 12 miles from downtown Juneau is one of the most beautiful glaciers easily accessible to visitors. There is a river of ice that flows for 12 miles from the Juneau Icefield down to Mendenhall Lake. It got its name in honor of Thomas Corwin Mendenhall in 1891 but previously had various names such as Auke Glacier, Sitaantaagu and Akk Wtaaksit.

The glacier is a popular destination for visitors from around the globe, not only for its stunning beauty but because it is a testament of the effects of global warming. Scientists believe that the glacier has been receding since the 1700’s and is now retreating at a rate of 25 to 30 feet a year. This phenomenon has attracted around 500,000 visitors a year, mostly from cruise ships that tour the area frequently.

Cruise ships are not the only way to visit the Glacier, Juneau can only be accessed by sea or air travel. The terrain surrounding the Tongass National Forest is too steep and rugged making Juneau inaccessible by land. The Alaskan Marine Highway System (AMHS) has ferries that travel to Juneau on regular schedules. Once in Juneau, you can take the Glacier Express busses that have trips to the glacier leaving every 30 minutes. There are also private tour operators if you want to have a more personalized tour.

There are different hiking trails around the glacier and all of them will give you an excellent view. Walking on the glacier itself can only be done by professionals or people who have had proper training.

If you would like to see Mendenhall Glacier and you are also interested in camping, then the Mendenhall Lake Campground has the facilities that you will need. There are 60 units in the campground including 10 units for 22 ft. trailers and 7 units for backpackers. Campers can stay at the campgrounds for a minimal fee.

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