Getting Up Close and Personal With Mendenhall Glacier

Juneau, Alaska, US

For a drive-through glacier, you know – the type of glacier where you can simply drive to, park, and gawk at, Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau was still impressive.

So when our Couchsurfing host told us of a trail that would take us TO the glacier itself (and fall in the crevasse if we choose to) with no guides, no nothing… we jumped at the chance.

There are trails starting from Mendenhall Glacier Visitor center, but they would only lead you to viewpoints (beautiful viewpoints nonetheless). The trail that our host was telling us about is called The West Glacier trail and the starting point is on the other side of the water. Across from where the visitor center is.

West Glacier Trail – (or Mendenhall Glacier hike)

Our host was kind enough to let us borrow his car. The trailhead starts at a parking lot for Mendenhall Lake (the lake that the glacier feeds into) which is located at the end of Skater’s Cabin Road.

Towards the trailhead of Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska
The visitor center is on the other side of that body of water
On the West Glacier Trail itself
On the West Glacier Trail itself

The clearly marked trail is 3.4 miles long one-way and has an elevation gain of 1250 ft. It passes through the fern-covered ground of Tongass National Park and follows the west side of the lake closely affording us views of the icefield and the lake below.

And of the Mendenhall Glacier itself.

Each viewpoint awarded us with a better and closer look at the glacier.

Near the end of West Glacier Trail hike
Near the end of West Glacier Trail hike

Having never seen glacier that close before, we, of course, couldn’t stop gawking at it.

How blue… and how glacier-y it looks.

But the views from the trail were nothing compared to what awaits us at the end of the trail.

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska
Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska
Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau
Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau
Mendenhall Glacier
Jack petting an iceberg

Bluey goodness of an iceberg

Jack among the iceberg

We were glacier virgins before, having never touched or seen a glacier up close…

The feeling to be walking about these gigantic chunks of ice is pretty hard to describe. We felt like kids all over again… touching the ice, being surprised at how cold it is (duh), and being amazed at the different hues of blues covering the glacier.

And because I’m not very good at descriptive words, I’m just going to say that it was a pretty darn cool glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier might not be the biggest or the most famous glacier known, but considering that it only took us 2.5 hours of hiking the West Glacier Trail to get super close and personal with it…

Mendenhall Glacier will always have a special place in our hearts.

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38 Replies to “Getting Up Close and Personal With Mendenhall Glacier”

  1. Hello there! I will be spending about 2 weeks in Haines, Ak in late April, but will have a day or two in Juneau when I arrive and before I leave. I’d love to actually hike out to a glacier, but most tours don’t start up until May. Is this hike doable in April? Any other suggestions appreciated!

  2. Hi there,
    My husband and I will be in Juneau August 26th and are looking for something to do. We'd love to do this hike since it looks beautiful! But I have to ask – how difficult is the hike? I have bad ankles and my husband has a bad knee, so we don't want to do anything too intense at our first stop of the cruise. Keep me posted! Thanks!

    1. Hi Lauren, it's been a few years but I don't remember the hike being particularly difficult. There was no trail towards the end, as you're required to walk on the loose morraine to reach the glacier. But it wasn't too bad/steep. My suggestion is to visit the mendenhall glacier visitor center and inquire about the latest condition of the trail. Have fun!

  3. We are getting ready for our trip to this glacier. I wanted to make sure we don't get lost on this trail. Did you go to the end of the trail then hike down to the glacier or was there a side path that took you to the glacier.

    Thanks,

    Jennifer

    1. The trail just somewhat disperses towards the end. It takes you very close to the glacier and then you can just head towards it. You'll see the glacier before the trail ends, there's no way you'll miss it. Have fun and enjoy!

  4. Those photos make it all look so fan-friggen-tastic! I am a glacier virgin too! Can't wait to see some! And I don't care that you didn't use descriptive words! I think 'pretty darn cool' says it quite nicely! 🙂

  5. So excited you posted this. This is exactly what we want to do and avoid all the big buck tours.

    We will be coming from the cruise ship and have to rent a car. How long was the drive from downtown to the glacier? Wanting to make sure we don't miss the boat.

    Any other tips.

    Thanks!

    1. The drive wasn't long. Juenau's not very big at all. The hike took us some 4-5 hours to complete but could be done under much less time (we hung out and stopped to take pictures about a billion times). If your ship is one of the first ones to arrive, I think you'll hv plenty of time. Another thing is to try to buy from locally owned stores. A lot of the souvenir stores downtown are owned by the cruise ship companies themselves and very little money goes back to the community. Locally owned stores often have stickers on the front window saying 'locally owned' or something like that.

      I'm very excited for you and hope you enjoy your trip. We're dying to go back to Alaska. So much more to explore.

  6. Wow, those pics are impressive. Although I'm not really a fan of cold weather, usually cold and icy landscapes leave pretty speechless.

  7. Fantastic pictures! If we will be around there someday, I want to do that too. How long the journey takes? How difficult is the walk?

    1. It was about a 3 hour hike one way (but some of it was spent taking pictures and goofing off) and the hike was relatively level. Definitely do-able for even the most casual hiker.

  8. Fantastic photos and love that a relatively short hike leads to this glacier. Your posts are really making me want to go to Alaska.

    1. Lol, thanks Leslie. Being up close to a glacier was quite incredible. They're so much bigger, bluer, and cooler (pun intended) than one might think.

  9. ha, i was confused for a while there too about glaciers in columbia. cool pics. i love the colours of thew glaciers, the blue is just so, blue…
    i went to perito moreno in argentina. incredible. i know what you mean when you say you feel like kids again.

  10. I have a think for glacier… ever since I climb on Franz Josef. It's just so beautiful!! Glad to see you enjoyed glacier hiking. 🙂

  11. LOL, I was confused at first. Columbia doesn't have glaciers, does it? Now I know it's in Alaska it makes more sense! That's cool you got to pet it. Most of the time people have to look at them from a boat or otherwise far away.

  12. Wow, amazing! Beautiful photos. I've never been that close to a glacier before, the color of that blue is breathtaking.

  13. WOW.

    I had no idea the glacier pieces were that large, but the photo of you "petting" the glacier really puts it in perspective. I can only imagine how breathtaking it was in person. I usually avoid cold activities when I travel (I don't like the cold) but I think I may make an exception for glaciers in the future.

    Great photos!
    – Lily
    P.S. Did you lick one of the glaciers too? Would have been a funny picture if your tongue got stuck to it! 😀

    1. Hah, Jack did. Nothing got stuck though… :p
      Oh, we're like the opposite… we prefer to be in the cold so much more than being too hot. But glaciers are so worth braving the cold, they're quite captivating (especially when you think that they're actually moving, albeit very slowly).

    1. I don' t think many people do. That's why when our Couch-surfing host showed us the trail on his map, we were so excited!

  14. I have always wanted to go to Alaska, while I am Canadian the only glacier I´ve seen is in New Zealand, it would be nice to see the one North of me!

  15. Ahhhh! I want to go to there! Cool photos, and I imagine I would have the same childish reactions!

    Who says you don't write well descriptively??? I especially liked it when you said it looked "glacier-y"!! 😉

    Very cool!!!

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