Juneau and the Mendenhall Glacier

June 21, 2015

Our first stop on the cruise was in the state capital of Alaska, Juneau. Juneau is really interesting because of how removed it is from the rest of the state; there are no roads into Juneau from the rest of Alaska, the only way to the state capital is via ship or plane. We had a full twelve hours in Juneau, with a scheduled dock time from 9 AM to 9 PM. There are a lot of things to do in Juneau but the most popular activities are whale watching and visiting the Mendenhall Glacier. In our research we had seen whale watching available at nearly every port, but glaciers would get less common as we made our way further south, so we opted to focus on seeing the Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls.

There are lots of ways to see the glacier, including tours that take a helicopter onto the glacier allowing you to walk on the glacier itself, or take a dog sled trip across the ice, but there are also dozens of taxis and shuttles that can take you right to the glacier for a much more reasonable sum. We opted to take the Glacier Express “Blue Bus” right from the pier for $21 a person, round trip. The glacier is about 20 minutes away from the pier and the shuttles run really frequently, making getting to and from the glacier a breeze.

Once at the glacier there is a visitor’s center with a lot of really good information about the glacier and surrounding trails, as well as three trails; Nugget Falls, East Glacier, and West Glacier. There is also a “Trail Through Time” with several historical markers and photos showing how far the glacier used to extend and how much it has shrunk. On this trip we opted to do the Trail Through Time and the East Glacier Trail as the trail head was most convenient from the visitor’s center. This trail was about a 3 and a half mile loop, mostly easy hiking, and mostly through forested areas, although we were able to get some decent views of the glacier and found a few hidden waterfalls. If you’re not up for a hike the visitor’s center itself has some really good vantage points and views of the glacier and surrounding area.

After we had finished our hikes we took the shuttle back to the city and decided to take the Mount Robert’s Tramway. This leaves from a building right at the cruise dock and travels about halfway up Mount Robert’s to the Juneau Raptor Center’s bald eagle display and a number of additional hiking trails. There were some really good views from the mountain, but the cost of a tram ticket was rather steep and, for me, this would likely be a one time only activity.

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