Travel Log: Juneau, Alaska
Welcome back to my blog--you are just in time for part two of my Alaska Travel Log series! We recently spent a long weekend in the 49th state around Memorial Day, and it started with a visit to Glacier Bay National Park. If you missed that post, don't worry, you can read it here. After our Glacier Bay National Park adventure, we flew from Gustavus back to Juneau and set up a home base at a house located just outside of downtown for the remaining three days of our stay. Many people associate Juneau with a cruise ship stop, but you can see so much more than just the downtown shops if you can take a few days to get out and explore. We filled our weekend with rewarding hikes and gorgeous views, so please keep reading for my recap of our Juneau weekend.
One important travel tip regarding Juneau: if you are used to visiting larger cities, getting around without a car takes a bit more effort than you may be used to. Uber and Lyft both operate in the area, but there are very few drivers and finding one during peak hours is difficult. I recommend taking a business card from one of the friendly taxi drivers, so that you can call to arrange pickups when needed. This was especially useful to get out to Mendenhall Lake to start our hike. We chose the seven mile round trip West Glacier Trail, but for a less strenuous option visitors can also drive to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center and walk less than one mile out to Nugget Falls for a spectacular view of the glacier.
The West Glacier Trail starts with an easy walk through the trees, then starts to climb up the rocks above the lake. There are a series of rock cairns that identify not only the trail you are following, as some places are hard to tell, but also how quickly ice receded from this area. Each rock cairn shows the year that the ice touched that spot, which is a really cool way to track the history.
After a few miles and a fun rock scramble, you get to a clearing with your first view of Mendenhall Glacier. We were so lucky to have beautiful and sunny weather during our visit to Alaska, which made the views even more stunning.
From this point, you can look back over your shoulder to see Nugget Falls, which is a huge waterfall at the end of the short hike I mentioned earlier by the visitor center. The West Glacier Trail gets you so much closer to the glacier, though! Totally worth the effort if you are up for it, but as with any hike please be careful and be prepared: take lots of water, snacks, wear appropriate shoes and clothing, sunscreen, you get what I'm saying.
I know that I mentioned this fun fact in my first Alaska travel log, but my best packing tip for Alaska is to take layers! The first part of this hike felt really warm through the trees, but once we reached proximity of the glacier you could feel a cool breeze from the ice. That breeze felt wonderful after working up a sweat for a few miles, and we continued on down toward the glacier. You might notice in this photo that the trail is pretty much impossible to see, so we followed the rock cairns as our trail guides.
Once you reach the base of the glacier, you can start to see the ice caves and their cool natural shapes. It looks like the abominable snowman should pop out any moment, really. We did not go inside, you should never attempt to go inside as they are very unstable! Stay safe and enjoy the views from a distance, then from here you can carefully walk out onto the glacier itself. You can see two people in the above photo treading carefully on the glacier - but please keep in mind that they had cramp-ons and poles to provide extra grip and stability on the ice. There are tours that you can book, if you so desire, to take a helicopter out to the glacier or kayak out to the glacier and then trek onto the ice with the proper equipment.
I only walked a few paces out onto the glacier itself, just enough to take some pictures and be able to say that I stood on the Mendenhall Glacier! The ice has a lot of dirt mixed in at the base that provides a little bit of traction, but at the end of the day it is still ice and you need to use some common sense. We were in Alaska not long after after Game of Thrones ended, so of course we could not help but make references to "The Wall." I can see how the writer could have been inspired by a glacier like this, though. It is massive and so impressive to see up close! We spent some time taking photos and enjoying the view before trekking back to the trailhead. I thought this hike was awesome, and am really glad we went all the way onto the glacier--it was totally worth the effort!
The following day (Monday) was our last full day in Juneau. The guys went fly fishing, and the ladies opted for another hike up Mt. Roberts. We walked to the trailhead from the harbor area, which is about a mile uphill, a great start to your morning workout that takes about twenty minutes. Once you reach the trailhead here, you have a short two mile hike with gorgeous views of the town as you climb up and up.
Once you reach the top, you can take in the gorgeous views of the harbor and check out how many cruise ships are docked that day (chances are it is at least four - wow). From this point, you can choose to keep hiking for another couple of miles to the summit, hike back the way you came, or take the tram down. We opted to take the tram down, and to do this you can either pay $10 for a tram ticket or spend $10 in the gift shop for free passage.
All in all, I thought our first Alaskan adventure was the perfect amount of time with the perfect activities for a first time visit to this area. We really only dipped a toe into this massive state, and I would love to return to Alaska sometime in the near to visit more national parks (there are eight in total) and take in more of its stunning landscapes. I hope you enjoyed these recaps, and if you are thinking about traveling to Glacier Bay National Park or the Juneau area please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions! Thank you for visiting my blog today, I hope you have a wonderful rest of your week and happy 4th of July holiday to my U.S. based readers!