Mendenhall Glacier is a beautiful frozen band of ice which is located 12 miles outside of Juneau, Alaska. The glacier is over 13 miles long and occupies the Mendenhall Valley in Alaska’s southeast corner. Sitaantaagu (the native designation for “the glacier behind the town”) and surrounding area is protected in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area part of Tongass National Forest.
Mendenhall Glacier is a calving glacier which terminates in Mendenhall Lake. The lake was formed around 1929 due to the runoff of the melting ice field. Since then, the glacier’s end has retreated 1.75 miles up the valley due to a warming global environment. Its maximum length hasn’t been seen since the mini ice age of the 1700s. The glacier will stabilize for a short while as warm air at the head of the glacier creates snow, and balances the rate of recession.
The lake is the breeding home of trout and salmon, and serves as the freshwater supply for Juneau.
Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area has an abundance of trails which start at the Visitor Center. They offer some unique opportunities for landscape, vegetation, and wildlife viewing. As the glacier recedes, old growth trees and shrubs are invigorated back to life, with some forests being hundreds of years old. Some old stumps in the newly uncovered ancient world date back as far as 2,000 years. Summer and Fall are good times to experience the salmon swimming upstream to spawn. It’s also a great opportunity for local black bears to fill their stomachs. Visitors need to explore cautiously, make noise, carry bear spray, and take wildlife warnings seriously. Bears don’t like to be surprised. Insect repellent is also recommended.
Juneau is a unique city, the state capitol of Alaska, in that access is limited by boat or plane. No roads connect from outside. Tourists flood in by cruise ship, and ferry service is available to bring your car.
Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is open year round and welcoming when the rest of the state is a frozen block of ice.