Viewing Glaciers in Juneau
Juneau’s hottest attractions are some of the coolest spots around
The Mendenhall is just one of the 38 major glaciers that flow from the Juneau Icefield, an expanse of interconnected glaciers that sits just behind the mountains next to Juneau. The Icefield covers more than 1,500 square miles and runs from the Taku River inlet east of town to Skagway, 90 miles northwest. Now that's one big ice cube.
You have lots of options if you want to explore our glaciers. You can actually drive to the Mendenhall Glacier, but ground tour companies offer trips as well. Once you're there, the Forest Service operates an excellent walk-up visitor center. The center provides regular updates about the glacier and surrounding area -- check it out.
A Word About Ice Caves
The ice caves at the Mendenhall have received a lot of publicity lately, as the glacier's recession has allowed access by curious visitors. However, there are no public trails to the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves, and while beautiful, glaciers are ever-changing and may be dangerous. Glaciers should only be approached with a professional guide.
Recognized as the thickest glacier in the world measuring in just short of a mile thick (4,845 feet or 1,477 m), the Taku Glacier sits just to the southeast of downtown Juneau. An amazing fact about the Taku is that it’s one of only a handful of glaciers in the world that’s advancing. According to the Juneau Icefield Research Program, the Taku has been measured advancing at a rate of 56 ft. per year since 1988! This epic display of raw wilderness serves as a reminder to everyone that whether it’s our glaciers, our mountains, the local bears, or migratory whales, the beauty of Southeast Alaska is everywhere!
Flightseeing companies offer aerial tours of the Icefield, and helicopter companies can land you right on the ice for a short walk or two-hour hike. Day boat tour companies offer tours of the twin Sawyer Glaciers in Tracy Arm Fjord southeast of Juneau. Glacier Bay National Park, with its incredible collection of tidewater glaciers and 3 million acres of wilderness, is just a short trip to the west.
Glacier Fun Facts
- Juneau glacier viewing is often best on overcast days, so don't let a little rain dampen your plans.
- Glaciers put off a mystical blue color caused by a unique crystalline structure that absorbs and reflects light, giving the ice its unique hue. The most intense blue occurs in crevasses and when ice breaks off, or calves, from a glacier's face. The blue color fades as the ice is exposed to air and the crystalline structure breaks down.
- And while glaciers appear to be sitting perfectly still, they are in fact constantly moving, flowing downhill out of the mountains like rivers. This constant movement gives glaciers the power to shape the landscape as they go.