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Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

The Mendenhall Glacier is one of the glaciers that flows down from the huge Juneau Icefield above.  For the past 300 years, glacier has been slowly retreating up the valley, leaving behind rocks and dirt, called moraine.  The melted water from the glacier collects in the icy cold lake in front of the glacier, Mendenhall Lake. The lake itself is full of finely ground rock, called "rock flour." Where the glacier meets the lake, an ice shelf forms; eventually parts of the ice fall off and become icebergs floating around the lake. 

glacier ice

The Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most accessible in Alaska – you can drive right up to the visitor center and lake in front of the glacier.   In the Visitor Center, check out the hands-on exhibits about the glacier, scale model of the icefield, and watch a short informative movie. To learn about the wildlife in the area, there are dioramas of wolves and bears, a touch table with pelts, and spotting scopes – look for mountain goats on Mt. McGinnis.  The visitor center has a large windowed observation area, so there are views of the glacier and lake, even if the weather isn't fabulous.


Outside the visitor center, the day we visited there were samples of glacier ice for kids to touch.  It's pretty cool to touch ice that's 200 - 250 years old, and the crystal structure is incredible!


Trails –

      Nugget Waterfall Trail – Our favorite trail is the trail to Nugget Falls.  The largely level trail goes along the lake to a rushing waterfalls cascading down off the rocks into the lake.  The sandy beach near the waterfall is the perfect spot for a picnic.
      Moraine Ecology Trail and Trail of Time – These are short, self-guided loop trails, where you can see effects of the glacier, such as glacier polished rocks, kettle ponds and rocks brought from a distance.
      Steep Creek Salmon View Trail – This trail has viewing platforms, perfect to see salmon spawning.  Sockeye (red) salmon, spawn in this creek in July and August, Coho (silver) salmon spawn in September and October.  (There's also a live camera in the visitor center, where you can also see the salmon.)
      East Glacier Trail – This longer trail goes on the east side of the lake through the temperate rain forest, with views of the glacier from above.

Go out on the lake  – Take a canoe or raft float trip on Mendenhall Lake.  What an experience for kids to paddle by icebergs floating in the lake, arctic terns flying overhead, and see the 150 ft. ice blue glacier at close range. Going out on the Mendenhall Lake was one of our favorite excursions in Alaska.


On the canoe trip, go out in a traditional Tlingit-style canoe, and have a taste of traditional Alaskan snacks. Float trips in a raft require no experience, and include a rafting down the Mendenhall River.  Kids need to be at least 40 pounds to fit into the life jackets, all gear is provided.  Click here for more information on the canoe and float trips.

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