Hiking a Trail of Blue Ice: The Mendenhall Glacier

Alaska Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area

Added by William Woodward

  • This is Alaska in all it's beauty
  • Multiple trails varying in length and degrees of difficulty
  • Picturesque blue ice & surrounding mountains
  • Experience the magnitude of the forces that shaped many of our mountains and valleys
  • Duration: Winter, 3-4 hours. Summer, 5-8 hours. Includes time for exploring

The Mendenhall Glacier, formerly known as Sitaantaagu ("the Glacier Behind the Town"), is a 12 mile long glacier about 12 miles outside Alaska’s capital Juneau. A quick drive from downtown Juneau to the ‘trailhead’ parking lot finds you overlooking the nearly half a mile wide face of the glacier. I say ‘trailhead’, as the trail across the lake only exists in the winter months when the lake is frozen enough to cross on foot or ski.

The past two years the caves have mainly been found along the far west side of the glacier, where it meets the base of Mt. McGunnis. As glaciers are constantly shifting, the caves can never be completely mapped, but that leads to the adventure.

A popular day hike for the locals, expect to see others out enjoying the frozen lake in snowshoes, cross country and nordic skis, as well as on foot. Glacier travel should always be done with care, even when following a well defined trail. Slick conditions on the ice may call for crampons, and it’s always best to travel with a partner. Use caution, and have fun exploring the land of the bluest ice.

Frozen Trails:
  • 3 mile out and back hike/cross country ski/snowshoe across the frozen Mendenhall Lake, culminating at extensive ice caves for some mild spelunking
  • Duration: Winter, 3-4 hours.
West Glacier Trail:
  • 8 miles and 2000 vertical feet cumulative elevation change offers a challenging yet rewarding approach to the glacier
  • Duration: Summer, 5-8 hours. Includes time for exploring.

Pack List

  • Day Pack
  • Camera Pack
  • Hiking Boots
  • Crampons
  • Water
  • Extra Layers
  • Snacks
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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More



Hiking, Photography, Skiing, Snowshoeing

Skill Level:



Year Round



Easy Parking

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How to Get There

7 months ago

My Backyard

I currently live in the Valley and whenever it's a sunny day you can expect many to be here. Even better in the winter.

7 months ago

about 1 year ago

Ice Cave Collapse

These caves were a sight to see. Unfortunately however they are much less extensive now due to a cave collapse in July of 2014.

about 1 year ago

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