If you are gearing up for an Alaskan cruise this season, you are probably looking forward to exploring the region’s picturesque landscapes. One of the most popular attractions is the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska. This national treasure is among the state’s most visited locales, and for good reason. During our latest cruise to the region, we took a second trip to view this impressive landmark from a different perspective. If you have plans to cruise to Juneau, we highly suggest that you make time to visit the glacier. Find out all you can explore with our Top Things to Do at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.
Top Things to Do at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center
Travel Back in Time
In the Visitor Center building, travelers have the opportunity to learn more about the Mendenhall Glacier and the surrounding area. Several exhibits give you a new appreciation for how the landscape has changed over time and provide more details on the ecology and geology of the area.
Most startling are the photos that depict the changing appearance of the glacier from this observatory which first opened in 1962. Rangers are readily available to answer questions and provide regular presentations targeting learners of all ages. Listen as they discuss this retreating glacier and the emerging forest and wildlife that have transformed the region over the past 125 years.
While you are enjoying the indoor spaces, make sure to also watch the 15 minute documentary Landscape of Change. This well produced and scripted movie chronicles the ever evolving Mendenhall Glacier. You can witness the changes in the glacier’s size and features over time and learn more about how the glacier will further change in the years to come.
Snap Pictures on the Photo Trail
Even if you are not a hiker, you will want to walk the (approx.) 1/3 mile path along the Photo Trail. This paved walkway lands you in an ideal location to capture the majesty of the glacier and the Mendenhall Lake. On a sunny day, the glacier will shine as the sun reflects off the surface of the deep blue ice.
Even if the weather does not want to cooperate (like on our trip), the elevated platform provides you with a clear shot of Mendenhall Glacier and Lake. It is well worth the 20 minute trek to grab those photos that will make everyone back home jealous.
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Get Under a Waterfall
While travelers usually make the 12 mile journey from downtown Juneau to see the Mendenhall Glacier itself, Nugget Falls is also worthy of a visit. If you take the approx. 1 mile trail out to the falls, you will be rewarded with an up close and personal view of this 377 foot tall perennial waterfall.
The roar of the water and the light mist from its descending stream gives you a new appreciation for the power and beauty of nature. Technically, the water here comes from the Nugget Glacier, which is upstream from the Mendenhall Glacier and is just one of the 38 named glaciers that comprise the Juneau Ice Field. You can also score the closest views of the Mendenhall Glacier from this alternate vantage point.
Hike the Surrounding Forest
There are four other hiking trails at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center that cover about six miles. The trails range from easy, with mostly paved walkways and gravel, to challenging courses. You could easily spend an entire day exploring these various paths around the area to discover all that nature has to offer.
You should grab a map of the different trails before heading out to ensure that you do not get lost. Of course, you should pay attention to your surroundings and be careful as you could run into wildlife, such as bears, on some of the lesser traveled trails. Proper footwear is definitely recommend, and just remember that no food or drinks other than water are allowed during the peak seasons due to bear activity.
Catch a Glimpse of Bears
Depending on the time of year you visit Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of black bears roaming the park, usually near waterways. According to our guide, one of the best places to snag a bear sighting is close to the parking lot near the Steep Creek Trail.
There are several boardwalks above the creeks so travelers can have aerial views, hopefully of some bears fishing for the plentiful salmon swimming in these waters. Even if you do not get a glimpse of bears, you will most likely spot other Alaskan wildlife, including bald eagles.
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What You Need to Know Before Visiting the Center
The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is located 12 miles from downtown Juneau. Almost all cruise lines offer a tour to the area that includes the entrance fee. The $5 entrance fee (ages 16+) covers admission to the Observatory building, as well as access to the trails and viewing areas.
On our Norwegian Bliss cruise, our excursion (Mendenhall Glacier Explorer) allotted two hours at the area. This provided enough time to walk both the Nugget Falls Trail and the Photo Trail at a moderate pace with plenty of time for taking pictures. We also spent some time in the observatory to watch the glacier documentary and to look at the exhibits and listen to part of a ranger lecture for a few moments.
If you plan on exploring some of the longer hiking trails or spending more time viewing the indoor exhibits, you should probably allow for more time at the Center. The weather in Alaska can be unpredictable. So, make sure to pack rain gear, most importantly a lightweight rain coat.
Comfortable footwear with solid grips are also recommended. If you bring your camera, make sure to have a bag to keep your accessories dry in the case of inclement weather.
The Center is open rain or shine. During the months of May to September, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is open from 8 am to 7:30 pm everyday.
Have you taken an Alaskan Cruise? Have you visited the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska? Drop us an anchor below with your experience touring this famous landmark.