Mendenhall Glacier is a national site overseen by the US Forest Service just outside Juneau, Alaska. Since there are no roads to Juneau (no, not even a shabby dirt road), this venue can only be visited by ship or plane. We visited while on a cruise stopover in Juneau. If you are going on an Alaskan Cruise, check out our tips before you head out.
Transportation to Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most popular glaciers in Alaska because it is so accessible from the state’s capital. However, it is still around 12 miles, or 20 minutes, to the glacier from the city. Most cruise lines will have an excursion that you can book that will shuttle you directly to the glacier. Since we had other business in the area, we decided to rent a car. This has drawbacks as well, as we had to rent at the airport, and take a cab to the boat dock. Either way, it will cost you to see the glacier and will require a little bit of planning before you arrive.
There is also a $5 admission pass for everyone 16 and over to enter the Visitor Center and certain areas at Mendenhall Glacier. Kids 15 and under are FREE. The pass allows access to the Visitor Center, Pavilion, Photo Point and Steep Creek Trails. If you are only planning to hike to Nugget Falls, you do not need to pay the fee. Fees are also not necessary for accessing the parking areas, hiking Nugget Falls Trail, East Glacier Trail, Powerline Trail, Moraine Ecology Trail, the Trail of Time, and all the Dredge Lakes and West Glacier Trails. If you have any type of National Parks pass, this covers the fee. We enjoyed the Visitor Center and doing the Junior Ranger with our family.
Once you arrive at the glacier, there is plenty to do. First, you can see the glacier from the parking lot. It is pretty far away, but there are paths to get closer. In fact we found two trails. The first trail takes you to a lookout point much closer to the blue ice. Photo Point is definitely worth the walk as it gives you a great view of the glacier. It only runs about half a mile roundtrip. If you’d like a good photo of Mendenhall Glacier, this is the way to go.
The second trail we hiked was to Nugget Falls. This is a roaring waterfall that comes down to the right of the glacier. You can see the waterfall from the parking lot, too, but if you’d like to adventure to the foot of the falls, it is 1 mile each way. We really enjoyed this flat, easy hike on a mostly paved trail. The trail is paved all the way to the waterfall, but to walk up right next to the falls you need to walk on the beach. Since this waterfall is quite large (nearly 400 feet), it is amazing to stand right down near its spray.
The Visitor Center at Mendenhall Glacier is small, but it has some great displays. There are spotting scopes set up for everyone to get a closer look at the glacier. We were saddened to see how much the glacier has changed and shrunk over the years. Our boys really enjoyed doing the Junior Ranger program, and they were able to complete it in a reasonable amount of time. There is also a small gift shop and restrooms inside the Visitor Center.
If your cruise ship stops in Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is a great place to spend some of your shore time!