When we ask our clients and hotel guests, “what Alaskan adventure is on your bucket list?”, the number one answer is “HIKING ON A GLACIER!” -or- “SEEING THE ICE CAVES!” (usually said with the exclamation point emphasis). There are over 100,000 glaciers in Alaska, so a casual observer might think that this activity would be readily available in all areas. The truth, however, is that most of these glaciers are inaccessible, and the glaciers that are accessible are becoming less so as they melt and retreat.
This melting is what creates the incredible and otherworldly ice caves, but it also makes them a fleeting phenomenon. In Juneau, you have as good a chance to see them as anywhere in Alaska by hiking to the Mendenhall Glacier. When planning a glacier hike, we always recommend booking with guiding professionals, as the ice is ever-changing and unpredictable. The guides know which paths to take to stay safe, as well as where all of the best glacial features are. The guiding companies will also provide all of the necessary equipment needed to keep you safe. We always book with Above and Beyond Alaska in Juneau, a wonderful hiking and guiding company.
MENDENHALL GLACIER – WEST GLACIER TRAIL HIKE
The famous Mendenhall Glacier is a quick 10 minute drive out of downtown Juneau, making it one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. It’s melting ice feeds Mendenhall Lake, a beautiful iceberg-studded lake with waterfalls, bird watching, salmon spawning streams and black bears.
There are three ways to get to the glacier, and get ON the glacier for some glacier trekking. 1. Helicopter Landing 2. Canoe/Kayak Paddle across Mendenhall Lake and 3. Hike along the West Glacier Trail.
Let’s talk about the hike!
It is a forested trail that winds along the west side of Mendenhall Lake for a while, and then it becomes tricky. The path becomes less clear, and you start to climb up and down bare rock that has been scraped by the retreating glacier. It can be a little treacherous if it is raining and the rocks are slippery! Really good hiking boots are a must! As long as you keep your eyes on the Lake and the Glacier, you shouldn’t get lost. It is considered a moderate to difficult hike, and it is beautiful!
This is where you will be glad that you are with a guide, and Above and Beyond Alaska is the best guiding company in Juneau. They carry your crampons and poles that you will need for hiking on the glacier, so that you are unencumbered for the hike. Once you reach the glacier, about a 2 hour hike, they will give you a quick lunch, then gear you up for your bucket list glacier hike!
The Mendenhall Glacier is famous for its Ice Caves, which form when melting water from “up glacier” winds its way down through the glacier and toward Mendenhall Lake. The water literally carves out the “caves” over periods of time. But, you need to be a little lucky to be able to enter the Mendenhall Ice Caves. They come and they go, so hopefully you can hit the timing just right. Aside from the ice caves, the glacial features caused by the melting water are incredible: deep blue crevasses, moulins (nearly vertical channels), glacial streams and glacial ponds or “lakes”. And yes, the glacier water is the best water you will ever taste!
Your guides do more than show you the way and keep you safe. They also will educate you! They will give you more information on the glacier than you could ever remember, which we believe greatly enhances the experience!
Happy Ice Cave Hunting!
~Keli & Kris~