The Mendenhall Glacier
Very accessible glacier in Juneau, Alaska
The Mendenhall glacier's 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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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 roundtrip. The West Glacier
Trail, with an elevation gain of 1,300 feet, can
be a 5-6 hour roundtrip. 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Juneau has full services for accommodations,
food, amenities, outdoor equipment rentals
including skiffs and kayaks, car rentals,
transit, camping, laundry, showers, medical and
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.