Lurking in the mountains above the town of Juneau is the epic Mendenhall Glacier. It’s a vast 14-mile long glacier in the federally protected Tongass National Forest. We flew up from Juneau town in a helicopter, surveying the glacier before landing at base camp. Once at base camp, we strapped on our crampons and explored the Mendenhall Glacier by foot for several hours before flying back to Juneau Town.
HOW TO GET TO MENDENHALL GLACIER IN JUNEAU
Mendenhall Glacier is located 12 miles out of the town of Juneau. While the most popular mode of transport used to reach the glacier is a helicopter for tourists and cruise visitors, it is actually possible to hike up and down to the glacier at your own leisure. You can also kayak to the base of the glacier and hike up. The options are really countless if you want to go get out on the glacier but my three recommendations are the tours below:
Helicopter and Glacier Trek to Mendenhall Glacier: Check Prices and Availability
Kayak and Glacier Trek to Mendenhall Glacier: Check Prices and Availability
Guided Mendenhall Glacier Trek from Juneau: Check Prices and Availability
I did the helicopter flight to Mendenhall Glacier as a shore excursion from the Ovation Of The Seas – Royal Caribbean cruise ship and we began our exploration trek from base camp on the glacier. The helicopter tour was one of the most insane flights I’ve ever been on and it was well worth the extra money for the incredible landscapes you can really only see from the helicopter!
THE HELICOPTER FLIGHT TO MENDENHALL GLACIER
The helicopter flight begins at the airport in Juneau. For the first five minutes, you are just flying over the town and nearby forest in what is a lackluster opening to the flight. However, what you’re about to witness is incredible and comes out of nowhere.
After cruising over the forest you creep up on a few beautiful lakes that sit beneath the opening to the glacier. The helicopter flew directly over the lakes and straight into the mouth of the glacier, shooting through the canyon created by the cliffs on either side. Our helicopter began to feel incredibly small as the vast glacier seemed to be an endless shelf of ice.
As the helicopter continued flying across the glacier, the landscape opened up more and more until we could see for miles but there was no end in sight for the glacier. It was white for as far as the eye could see with cliffs and mountains popping up through the glacier in all directions.
After about 20-minutes we dove down to the right and parked the helicopter directly on the Mendenhall Glacier where the base camp is set up for the tours. A small tent is all that marks the spot with just a few other groups in their red jackets wandering around the glacier shelf.
Another great heli-glacier hike combo adventure is the Franz Josef Heli-Hike in New Zealand so check that one out if you get a chance!
Trekking on Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau
The trek on Mendenhall Glacier will differ depending on which tour, tour company and package you selected. For us, it was more of an exploration of the glacier rather than a trek. We stayed nearby the base camp but explored many of the glacial features and a waterfall that can be found near the base camp.
The main focus of our two-hour exploration was to learn basic techniques of walking in crampons (ice shoes). It was actually super interesting and I found the lesson very valuable as someone who had little ice-shoe experience. We learned how to walk up hills, walk along 45-degree inclines and several other key techniques to know when navigating a glacier.
Along our walk, we came across several small rivers, a 20-foot waterfall and lots of unique ice formations and features, which our guides explained and pointed out.
It is possible to explore on your own at Mendenhall Glacier. However, you would need to have experience in glacier trekking and come with the correct gear. Our guides provided us with and ice-pick, crampons, snowshoes, Goretex trekking jackets and pants and gloves. I wouldn’t head up to Mendenhall Glacier without all of those items.
As a first-time glacier visit, I found the expedition incredible and really enjoyed the crampon lesson and investigating the ice formations. If you have glacier experience, you may find the tour a little basic and feel a bit limited. There are longer options that do 4-5 hour treks and assume some basic knowledge, which is a good alternative option in that case.
These are my favorite photos from our exploration on Mendenhall Glacier.