Mendenhall Glacier Trek in Juneau AK – Is it Worth It?

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It looked like it was going to pour when I woke up in Juneau.  But they say there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing, so I gathered up my rain gear and decided to make the best of my day on a Mendenhall Glacier Trek.

The block closest to the cruise port looks the same everywhere in the world.
The block closest to the cruise port looks the same everywhere in the world.

My plans in Juneau would be the most physically strenuous of my 13-day trip: I had signed up for a glacier trek with Above & Beyond.

With only 13 hours at my disposal to see all of Juneau, I was determined to be off the ship right when we docked at 8am.  I had a single hour to tour the city before my Mendenhall Glacier Trek, so I started walking.  I saw the courthouse, state capitol, and St. Nicholas Orthodox Church before returning to the tram area to meet my tour.

After meeting our guide, we began the day hiking the West Glacier Loop to Mendenhall Glacier.  The trail itself was relatively easy in the first section and not at all what I expected from Alaska, despite knowing the area is officially classified as rainforest.

west glacier loop trail mendenhall glacier juneau alaska | glacier trekking juneau

Afterwards, the trail became gradually more challenging, moving onto uneven terrain or slick bedrock.  Every step was worthwhile, though, since it led to beautiful views of Mendenhall Lake and our first view of the glacier.

Eventually, we made it to Mendenhall glacier itself.  Outfitted with crampons, helmets, and ice axes, we were prepared to begin the highlight of our trek.

mendenhall glacier juneau alaska | glacier trekking juneau

You know what no one tells you ahead of time?  That glaciers are dirty.  Of course, that makes instant sense when you recall that glaciers are moving, bringing sediment along with them.  The other thing they don’t tell you is that sometimes you can hear running water flowing underneath you.  That discovery alone made the entire trip worth it.

Once we were on Mendenhall Glacier, we trekked for about an hour, spending way more time ooohing and aaahhing than actually walking.

Even now, back home, I’m still in awe of this opportunity.  Every minute on the glacier was absolutely mind-blowing.

trail 1
Have I mentioned it was beautiful?

Luckily, the adventure continued even off the glacier.  To get back to our starting point, the trail required some bouldering and down-climbing on rock walls.

trail 2
A steep section of trail

Going into the trip, I knew I would love checking out Mendenhall glacier, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed the hiking and climbing sections. It was a great day and it was on that glacier that I fell in love with Alaska for the first time (it would happen over and over again after that…)

This was a strenuous hike and I hurt a lot afterwards but it was worth every ounce of energy. If you are in shape and enjoy a challenge, I can’t think of anything better to do in Juneau.

As all good hikes do, this day ended with a cold beer.  Joining some of my fellow hikers, I had a few Alaskan beers at — where else? — the Alaskan Bar.  A locals’ joint with exactly zero ambiance, this was the perfect end to my day.

alaskan bar

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