Mendenhall Glacier is one of Juneau’s major attractions, and arguably one of the most scenic glaciers. The glacier is 13 miles from downtown Juneau and only a few minutes from the airport.
The Mendenhall Glacier is one of the 38 major glaciers within the Juneau Icefield, an area of interconnected glaciers that rests behind the mountain rising above Juneau. The icefield is spread over 1,500 square miles and flows from the Taku River inlet to Skagway.
Ice Caves at Mendenhall Glacier
The Mendenhall ice caves have received increased attention due to the glacier receding 150 feet yearly. While public access trails exist, exploring glaciers with a professional guide is advised.
Tours of the ice caves are offered from July through September.
How To Get To Mendenhall Glacier
The most popular way to visit the glacier is via the Mendenhall Visitor’s center. It takes approximately 25 minutes to reach the visitor center from the cruise port by car or shuttle.
The Mendenhall Visitor Center offers observation decks, trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, and educational displays. Public restrooms, a gift shop, snacks, and accessible ramps are also available at the center.
The hours of operation at the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center are:
- 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily during summer months (May to September)
- 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during winter months (October to March)
- Closed in April for Staff training.
The easiest way to explore the glacier is by purchasing a tour at the shore excursion desk on your cruise ship or through a third-party shore excursion company.
If you are booking through a tour company, admission to Mendenhall Glacier is typically included in the price. Doing it on your own will cost $5 per person, and visitors 15 years old and below are free. You can also take advantage of their season pass for $15.
Tickets can be purchased at the visitor’s center or the automated kiosks in the parking lot.
Alternate Ways To Explore Mendenhall Glacier
There are a few alternative ways to experience Mendenhall Glacier when cruising through Southeast Alaska.
Active travelers can take public transportation from the cruise pier to the glacier. Know that the public bus option does not drop you off at the glacier, but is about a mile away, so you will still have to walk to the visitor center’s entrance. As of this writing, the adult fare for the public bus is $2 for adults (18+) and $1 for kids(6 to 17 years old). Children below five years old are free.
Another alternative is to rent a bike and pedal to the glacier from Cycle Alaska. For adults, four-hour bike rentals start at $40 and can run as high as $70 if you want to rent an electric bike.
Remember that it’s 13 miles from downtown, and there aren’t a lot of bike trails. You can reserve your bike rental online through the company’s website. Remember that you can also rent in 8-hour or full-day increments. You should only consider this option if you’re an experienced biker!
Tours are offered at the pier from various private companies that run transportation to and from Mendenhall Glacier every thirty minutes. If you want to experience the glacier on your own and not part of an organized tour, this is a great option.
You can also view the glacier by helicopter. This is the priciest option but also the most visually stunning. Booking a helicopter tour can cost $500 or more per person if done through the cruise ship.
However, you’ll experience an unforgettable one as you see Mendenhall Glacier up close and, depending on the tour, even land on the glacier and walk around a bit.
Booking a flight tour is another option. These tours fly over the tops of the glaciers in Juneau’s Icefield and offer spectacular photo opportunities.
With flight tours and helicopter trips, consider shopping around instead of booking directly through the cruise line. Play your cards right, and you could find something for as little as half the price of a typical shore excursion. Do due diligence by researching the company; ensure you’re not booking with a fly-by-night (pun intended) company.
You should know that flight and helicopter options will have limits regarding a group’s size and collective weight. There may also be weight restrictions regarding each individual in the party.
The cruise lines are in business to make money, so many shore excursions offered by the ship could be double the price you see once you get on land. Conversely, Alaska excursions sell out quickly, so you may want to book your tour from a private or third-party vendor in advance.
Also, remember that because Alaska is a bucket-list destination, the excursions will cost more than you would pay for activities in locations such as the Caribbean. However, excursions in Alaska are also far more unique, with many of them falling into the category of “once in a lifetime.”
Facts About Alaska’s Glaciers
- Juneau glacier spotting is often jaw-dropping on even an overcast day, so don’t let the rain deter your plans.
- Glaciers have that mystical blue color because of a unique crystalline structure that soaks up and reflects light, providing the ice with its distinctive hue. The most vivid blue happens in crevasses and when the ice breaks from a glacier’s front. The blue color disappears as the ice opens to the air, and the crystalline structure cracks.
- Although glaciers can seem to be sitting entirely still, they are continuously moving. Although it can be invisible to the naked eye, the movement of glaciers is so strong as to alter the landscape forever as it makes its way down mountains and through wooded lands.
READ MORE: Juneau Cruise Port Guide and Information