The Captivating Blues of Mendenhall Glacier

The sight of Mendenhall Glacier to the mere human eye appears as a blue carpet, spread out in all directions,

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and is nothing short of enchanting. This famous blue ice sheet is about 13.6 miles long, located in the Mendenhall Valley, spanning one of the snowy corners of Juneau, Alaska. Both the glacier and the landscape surrounding it are maintained as part of the 5,815 acres Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, belonging to the federal territory of Tongass National Forest. 

and is nothing short of enchanting. This famous blue ice sheet is about 13.6 miles long, located in the Mendenhall Valley, spanning one of the snowy corners of Juneau, Alaska. Both the glacier and the landscape surrounding it are maintained as part of the 5,815 acres Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, belonging to the federal territory of Tongass National Forest. 

Unique Attractions 

It’s no wonder that Juneau’s hottest attractions are some of the coolest spots around, one being Mendenhall Glacier. What makes the glacier an instant favorite is that one can easily access it, unlike the rest of the 37 major glaciers that flow from the Juneau Icefield. Mendenhall Glacier is 13 miles away from downtown Juneau and is quite close to the airport. Half a mile off the face of the Mendenhall Glacier stands the visitors’ center, overlooking the glacier and the Mendenhall Lake. Here, one can make use of the aerial map viewing feature and watch the informational videos offered at minimal rates. 

Brief History

The glacier was formerly known as Sitaantaago, meaning, “the Glacier Behind the Town”. It was called Auke Glacier by naturalist John Muir, and in 1891 renamed as a tribute to Thomas Corwin Mendenhall. 

The Mendenhall Glacier gets its life source from an icefield peaked high above Juneau. The glacier is a dynamic flowing force, crushing and enveloping everything in its path, leaving out nothing, as it merges with the sea below. The “river of ice” took birth in Southeast Alaska during the Little Ice Age, dating back to almost 3,000 years. 

Attractions for the Youth

The Tongass National Forest runs two Junior Ranger Programs. One is specifically for Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and the other for the entire Tongass National Forest. Apart from these, kids can engage themselves in entertaining activities hosted in the visitor center like movies every 20 minutes, interactive exhibits, telescope-gazing, and ranger talks. Moreover, it also provides spectacular views of Mendenhall Glacier and icebergs floating in the Mendenhall Lake.  

Tours Available at Mendenhall Glacier

Whichever trail you choose to celebrate your trip to the Mendenhall Glacier, for what it is worth, rest assured you will never be disappointed. Following the almost-7-mile West Glacier Trail will bring you to the glacier’s face, or trudge upward for a good viewing platform only a quarter-mile away. If you are feeling adventurous, try tagging along the Nugget Falls trail, ending at a five-story-high waterfall adjacent to the glacier. Then there is the infamous Trail of Time, a half-mile smooth interpretive walk, beholding signs marking the glacier’s recession. For a bird’s eye view of the ice, taking the East Glacier Trail would prove to be beneficial, as it is a 3.5-mile loop with 500 feet of elevation gain. 

The ice caves at the Mendenhall Glacier have received flattering attention from the tourists lately. The glacier has been receding, thereby providing access to its curious visitors unlike before. Although there are no visible trails to the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves, a professional guide is always on the go, coming to the aid of the sightseers. 

Restaurants and local food spots

Some of the best restaurants in Juneau close to Mendenhall Lake include Twisted Fish Company Alaskan Grill and Deckhand Dave’s, popular for their seafood. Sandpiper Cafe, only a few kilometers away from Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most charming cafes in Juneau and a must-visit for every tourist. 

In all of Southeast Alaska, Mendenhall Glacier might be the only glacier accessible by road. It certainly stands up to its good name and fame, as proven by the 400,000 or so visitors traveling here each year. The captivating blues of Mendenhall Glacier never cease to evoke the nature lover in every visitor, continuing to bring in a barrage of folks from all over the world.