West Mendenhall Glacier Trail

August 9, 2019. A guided hike to a viewpoint above the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska.

  • Region: Tongass National Forest, USA. Traditional territory of the Tlingit people
  • Distance: 6.4 km round-trip
  • Total Ascent: 214 m
  • Elevation of objective: 221 m
  • Total time: 2h 57m (as part of a diverse guided hiking group)
  • Safety and Disclaimer

This year’s summer vacation was a cruise to Alaska. I packed some trail shoes so I could take advantage of a hiking opportunity if it came up. As it turned out, one of the excursions offered was a guided hike during our stop-over in Juneau, Alaska. Gastineau Guiding Company was the provider, and our guide was a young man named Mischa – a California kid transplanted to Alaska. The hike followed a trail leading to a viewpoint nearby the Mendenhall Glacier, a short distance from town.

The trail was actually quite fun to hike. Mischa stopped from time-to-time to point out interesting vegetation and to discuss the process by which forest reclaimed land which had been vacated by the retreating glacier. Aside from nice views of the glacier itself, the best part was the steep shortcut trail we used to quickly ascend a portion of the route.

Mendenhall Glacier is, for some reason, named after a physicist from Ohio. The Tlingit (the First Peoples of the Alaska panhandle) called it Aak’wtaaksit – the Glacier Behind the Little Lake.

Apparently, there’s another trail which is sometimes selected for this excursion which has no steep ascent but offers far less dramatic views. If you find yourself calling in Juneau during a cruise, check this excursion out and ask to do the West Glacier Trail.

Click on the pictures below for full-sized images.

Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 4.19.20 PM.jpg
Route overview, showing the Mendenhall Glacier extending down from the Juneau Icefield.
Screen Shot 2019-08-25 at 4.17.58 PM.jpg
A view of the route looking north, showing the meltwater lake, and the glacier coming down from the icefield. Note the loop portion of the route. On the ascent, we took the leftward path, up a steep trail. We descended on the gentler right-hand path.
The official route map at the trailhead. We followed the trail to a highpoint overlooking the glacier. The trail continued beyond that point, apparently onto a field of rubble which is best crossed with proper boots and tracking poles.
The meltwater lake below the glacier, featuring an iceberg and a kayaker.
A towering waterfall descending from the ice field (look at the trees for a sense of scale).
The Mendenhall Glacier, as seen from the viewpoint objective.
A closer view of the crevasses on the glacier.
Telephoto shot of another glacier, perched high above the Mendenhall.
The scale of the glacier is hard to convey with pictures. Helicopters were ferrying tourists on and off while we watched. When landed on the ice, the helicopters looked like small specks.

One thought on “West Mendenhall Glacier Trail

  1. At the time (1892) the glacier was named for Mendenhall, he was the superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (1889 to 1894). It was the custom in those days to name things for whoever was in charge of a survey or an exploration. Even if it already had a native name…

    Liked by 1 person

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