Juneau, Alaska has a secret paradise that melts as you watch. Here lies the fifth largest ice field in the world, stretching across an immense 1,500-square-mile glacial delight. With ice 300 to 1,800 feet deep, Mendenhall Glacier remains the most beautiful of them all.
Beneath the trails that require hiking on bedrock and under the thick layer of solid ice, you will find earth’s beauty in its rawest form – a discovery that will live with you throughout your life. Here, the ice caves are as appealing as they are threatening. The glaciers move, the caves change, and the thrill can go as high as the towers of ice that greet you and as deep as the blue crevasse posed alongside a rushing stream of the purest water.
The trip begins with a three and a half mile trail hike through the rainforest along Mendenhall Lake. Park at the head of Western Glacier Trail. The first mile of the trail is easy and goes through Juneau’s gorgeous rainforests. The second two and a half miles of the trail can be treacherous and even slippery. It includes walking through an off the beaten track where rocks scramble in steep sections.
From here, you will begin the final descent onto the glacier itself. You must wear your crampons, steel framework that will be attached to the bottom of your shoes to prevent you from slipping while walking on ice. As one follows the flow of water down the mountain, it slips under the edge of the glacier where it has carved massive caves through the ice. The strenuous journey is well worth it.
The holes that go all the way through the glaciers will remind you that the massive land of ice is alive with activities. The transformation that the topography goes through every day is otherworldly beautiful. Neither words nor pictures can do it justice. Feel the cold wind against your cheeks, hear the power of the waterfalls, fill your water bottle from a stream and taste the glacier. The ice caves put off a mystical blue hue. Watch how the color fades when ice breaks off. And while you would assume that they have been carved just liked that for thousands of years, they are in fact persistently moving, flowing downhill out of the mountains like majestic rivers.
On rainy days, kayaking may be a better alternative to hiking. Paddling in a sea of icebergs of various shapes and sizes will take your breath away. You will be surrounded by mountains and magical mist, and just when you think you are alone with your group, you likely will catch a view of the incredible black bears lurking around.
For those who cannot stand the cold, mist and rain, there is always the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. Open year-round to welcome visitors from all over the world. The exhibit showcases the variety of wildlife in the area including mountain goats, wolves, and salmon in the nearby streams. Explore models of Mendenhall Glacier and attend an engaging fireside chat/lecture. Admission is $3 for adults and free for children under 16.