Updated August 2022 | Originally written August 2022
At just 12 miles from downtown Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier is a popular excursion for those visiting Alaska’s capital whether a cruise ship passenger day tripper or someone spending a few days in the city. For those adventurous it’s possible to hike to Mendenhall Glacier (or even paddle to it) and if you’re lucky possibly see one of the beautiful ice caves Mendenhall Glacier has become famous for.
Tips to Know Before You Go to Mendenhall Glacier
- If you do not have glacier travel experience already, I would highly recommend hiring a guide to visit Mendenhall Glacier and go out on the ice for safety reasons.
- Go at your own risk. Glacier travel can be dangerous as glaciers are constantly shifting and moving. Visiting the Mendenhall ice caves are also a dangerous endeavor as these ice caves do collapse from time to time and people do get injured and killed on glaciers.
- Dress in warm layers and don’t forget a waterproof jacket and rubber boots. If you are not going on a guided trip with equipment you will find crampons helpful. Trekking poles can come in handy too.
- There is no guarantee you will see an ice cave at Mendenhall Glacier. If you are hoping to find one it’s best to enquire with local companies that do tours to Mendenhall as they will always have the most up-to-date info regarding them.
How to get to Mendenhall Glacier
Arrive in Juneau
Despite being the capital, Juneau is quite cut off from the remainder of the state of Alaska and is only accessible by plane, ferry, and cruise ship.
Getting to Mendenhall Glacier West Glacier Trailhead by Car or Taxi
You can reach the West Glacier Trailhead for Mendenhall Glacier by either your own car/rental, by taxi, or by shuttle.
By Car or Rental
If you have your own transport in Juneau, you’ll want to take Egan drive northwest from Juneau and take a right onto Mendenhall Loop Road, which will eventually turn into Glacier Spur Road. Again, you’ll see a sign for Mendenhall Loop Road, take a left here and finally take a right onto Montana Creek Road and again on to Skater’s Cabin Road to arrive at a parking lot and the West Glacier Trailhead.
Address: Skaters Cabin Rd, Juneau, AK 99801
By Taxi or Rideshare
Taxis and rideshares such as Uber operate in Juneau. You can plan to pay around $35+ for a taxi and around $30+ for an Uber for a one-way trip.
By Shuttle and Public Bus
There are both shuttles and public buses in Juneau, however, they only go to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. If just wanting to go to the visitor center these are great options as the center is quite far from the West Glacier Trailhead.
A one-way ticket on the public bus is $2. A ride on the Juneau-Mendenhall shuttle which departs from outside the Roberts Tramway Ticket Office in downtown Juneau will set you back $48 per person return (and includes the $5 Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center fee).
Hiking the West Glacier Trail to Mendenhall Glacier
From the end of Skater’s Cabin Road, head out on the West Glacier Trailhead toward Mendenhall Glacier. The path in total is roughly 4.5 miles to reach the western flank of the glacier one way.
The West Glacier Trail is largely unmarked the entire way, though you may find pieces of surveyor’s tape up leading the way. The trail can be very slippery so take caution. The last section involves a steep scramble downhill to reach the western flank of Mendenhall Glacier.
Plan for the hike to take 3.5 to 4.5 hours in each direction for moderately fit hikers. Do be careful as sprained ankles, falls, and injuries are quite common.
Arriving at the West Flank of Mendenhall Glacier
You’ll descend a fairly steep and slippery downhill so be careful as this is a common spot for people to fall and get hurt. You’ll want to walk a bit to the north to arrive at the western flank of the glacier.
If you have crampons with you this would be a good place to put them on.
When I visited Mendenhall Glacier it was here along the western flank that we found the entrance to a massive ice cave. Note that with the ever-changing nature of Mendenhall Glacier, you may have to do some looking around in other locations to find an ice cave if there are any formed at all.
Paddle to Mendenhall Glacier
Not wanting to hike to Mendenhall Glacier? No problem!
It’s possible to book guided kayaking and canoe trips to Mendenhall Glacier.
What to Bring with you to Mendenhall Glacier
- Hiking boots
- Crampons or ice cleats
- Rain jacket
Safety at Mendenhall Glacier
As mentioned earlier in this post, glacier travel is dangerous. Going out onto the glacier or entering the Mendenhall ice caves is not a safe endeavor and should only be taken on independently by those with glacier travel experience. If you do not have experience in doing so, hire a guide.