Very accessible glacier in Juneau, Alaska
The Mendenhall Glacier beat has a hasty retreat – 656 feet lost on its east side in 2004 and 269 feet lost on its west side in 2005 – is attracting a lot of curiosity from visitors around the world. Fed from an icefield high above Juneau, the Mendenhall glacier is a dynamic flowing force, grinding and scouring everything in its path as it carves its way down to the sea. The Mendenhall Glacier is one of many “rivers of ice” in southeast Alaska formed during the Little Ice Age which began about 3,000 years ago. The unique climate and geography of this region allowed glaciers to survive long after they began receding from other places in North America. The Mendenhall Glacier continues to provide us with new insights into past, present, and future climatic conditions.
The Mendenhall glacier flows for 12 miles down the Mendenhall Valley to its terminus near the visitor center. The ice flows forward at an average rate of 2 feet per day, but at the very same time, it wastes away at a slightly faster rate. Wastage occurs through melting or by large pieces of ice breaking off the face of the glacier. This latter process is known as “calving” and produces the icebergs floating in Mendenhall Lake.
When the rate of melting exceeds the rate of flow, a glacier recedes. The Mendenhall glacier has been receding since the late 1700’s and currently retreats at a rate of 25-30 feet per year.
On the Web
Here’s the Tongass National Forest website.
Here’s the US Forest Service page on the Mendenhall Glacier.
Here’s the City of Juneau website.
The Juneau Icefield:
Glaciers flow from icefields high in the Coast Mountains where heavy snowfall accumulates year after year. The Juneau Icefield encompasses about 1,500 square miles of ice and is the beginning of many glaciers including Mendenhall, Lemon Creek, Herbert, Eagle, and Taku Glaciers. Annual snowfall on the icefield often exceeds 100 feet and the cold temperatures at higher elevations keep the snow from melting.
How Glaciers Form:
As snow accumulates and is buried, it is gradually transformed into glacial ice. This ice has little or no trapped air and spaces between ice crystals are reduced. Under tremendous pressure, it has the ability to flow becoming a glacier.
Mendenhall Glacier Area Wildlife:
The spawning salmon provide a ready source of food for black bears and eagles which are frequently seen in the area. Small mammals such as fox, coyote, porcupine, squirrel, and snowshoe hare inhabit the valley floor. The alpine environment of the surrounding peaks is home to several small herds of mountain goat. They are often spotted scaling the sheer cliffs of Mt. Bullard.
Loons, gulls, and arctic terns nest along the lake shore. A variety of waterfowl use the lake as a stopover on their spring and fall migrations.
Mendenhall Glacier Area Camping:
Mendenhall Lake Campground is open from mid-May through September each year. The campground has 60 units including 10 units that accommodate trailers up to 22 feet in length. There are 7 walk-in units for backpackers. Camping fees are $8.00 per day with a 14-day limit.
Airport Dike Trail:
Located in Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge. Features: Wheelchair-accessible; close to airport, opportunities for waterfowl and bird watching. Uses: hiking, dog-walking, biking, jogging. Roundtrip of the 1.2-mile one-way hike takes 1-2 hours. Zero elevation gain and excellent maintenance make this trail an easy hike.
Several trails are accessible from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. The East Glacier and the West Glacier trails are both about 3.5 miles long and rated more difficult. The East Glacier Trail, with an elevation gain of 400 feet takes 2-3 hours round trip. The West Glacier Trail, with an elevation gain of 1,300 feet, can be a 5-6 hour round trip. Shorter jaunts include the 1.5-mile Nugget Creek Trail, a 1.5-mile Moraine Ecology Trail loop, and a 5-minute, 0.3-mile Photo Point trail that is wheelchair-accessible.
Kaxdigoowu Heen Dei (Mendenhall river trail):
Wheelchair-accessible trail that follows the Mendenhall River greenbelt area, starting at Brotherhood Bridge off Glacier Hwy. The name is Tlingit for “going back clearwater trail.” Expect a lot of traffic, including some bikes and horses on this zero elevation gain hike. Features: access to fishing holes in Montana Creek; vivid wildflowers, including Siberian Irises.
Mendenhall Glacier Weather:
Juneau has a mild, maritime climate. Average summer temperatures range from 44 to 65; winter temperatures range from 25 to 35. It is in the mildest climate zone in Alaska. Annual precipitation is 92 inches in downtown Juneau, and 54 inches ten miles north at the airport. Snowfall averages 101 inches.
Mendenhall Glacier Location:
Located on the mainland of Southeast Alaska, opposite Douglas Island, Juneau was built at the heart of the Inside Passage along the Gastineau Channel. Juneau lies 900 air miles northwest of Seattle and 577 air miles southeast of Anchorage. 1 1/2 hours by jet from Anchorage or 2 hours by jet from Seattle.
Mendenhall Glacier Transportation:
Alaska’s Marine Highway System offers regular ferry service to Juneau from many points, including Bellingham, Washington, and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. There is also daily service between Haines, Skagway, and Juneau from May through September. AMHS offers an affordable alternate to air travel for passengers who are traveling on foot, and want to enjoy and explore the Southeast Passage.
Juneau is accessible by air from Anchorage or Seattle with service provided by Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines partners with other major commercial U.S. carriers making connections from other points in the United States and abroad convenient for travelers wanting to visit Juneau. Smaller communities within Alaska can connect to Juneau via commuter carriers such as Air North. The airport is located 9 miles from downtown and the ferry terminal is located 14 miles from downtown Juneau.
Once in Juneau, taxi cabs offer standard city rate fares while many hotels and lodges provide free airport and ferry terminal shuttles. Rental cars are available at the airport. The local public transit system is useful and widely accessible.
Mendenhall Glacier Services/Accommodations:
Juneau has full services for accommodations, food, amenities, outdoor equipment rentals including skiffs and kayaks, car rentals, transit, camping, laundry, showers, medical and emergency service
12 hotels/motels, 50 bed and breakfasts (over 900 rooms), 64 restaurants, two large enclosed shopping malls, many other shopping centers in downtown and outlying areas.