7 miles round trip, 1200 feet elevation gainDifficulty: Moderate
Access: Free; trailhead can be reached by public transit
In a state where glaciers routinely exceed the size of Rhode Island and the volume of some of the smaller Great Lakes, the Mendenhall Glacier isn't much to boast about. A mile wide and a mere thirteen miles long from its source in the frozen sea of the Juneau Icefield to its terminus as Mendenhall Lake, it is dwarfed by giant Alaskan glaciers such as the Hubbard, Bering, or Malaspina. But even in a state with such impressive amounts of ice, no glacier is as easily accessible from an urban area by road than the Mendenhall; and no trail gets more personal with the blue ice than the West Glacier Trail. This is one the most popular trails in the Juneau area and is a worthwhile hike to see a glacier up close.
I hiked this trail at the end of my Juneau trip, experiencing the blue ice on a day of mixed sun and rain. The trailhead is at the end of Skaters Cabin Road; if you're driving from downtown Juneau, take Egan Drive north to the Mendenhall Loop Road, then follow the Mendenhall Loop road north (counterclockwise) to Montana Creek Road, turn right, and follow Montana Creek Road until it becomes Skaters Cabin Road; then continue to the ample trailhead parking at the end of the road. I took the Juneau Capital Transit bus to reach the trail; both bus 3 and bus 4 pass by the trailhead. I got off the bus at the Montana Creek stop along Mendenhall Loop Road and then walked along Montana Creek and then Skaters Cabin Road to the trailhead; this added a little less than a mile to the hike each way. Skaters Cabin Road was not far from the shore of Mendenhall Lake, so I popped over to the lake to get some initial views of the glacier and of the surrounding mountains.
|Mendenhall Lake and Glacier|
|Rainforest along West Glacier Trail|
|Creek along the trail|
I took the sharp left at the intersection to continue on the West Glacier Trail. Shortly after the junction, I passed a small clearing with the first nice view of the Mendenhall Glacier on the trail. I stopped here for half of my lunch, as it was already midway through the afternoon, to enjoy the view. Under cloudy skies, the ice of the Mendenhall Glacier was remarkably blue.
|Nugget Falls and Mendenhall Lake|
|Glacier meets lake|