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Nature & Discovery around the mendenhall glacier

This masterpiece of nature, the Mendenhall Glacier, is known as one of the most accessible glaciers in North America. The spectacular experience of observing this enormous formation is only the beginning.  Read on for the top highlights of nature and recent discovery around the Mendenhall Glacier! Truly a day not to miss.


Mendenhall Glacier

Let’s start with the glacier itself. The site is 13 miles wide and up to 1800 feet deep. The Tlingit people originally named it Aak-wtaaksit, literally “glacier behind the little lake.” The lake is no longer so little, as it’s essentially glacial runoff and is expanding as glaciers recede. It was renamed in 1892 after Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, the man responsible for defining the national boundary between Alaska and Canada. Positioned just 13 miles from downtown Juneau, it’s accessible via hiking a forest trail or our preferred method of kayaking the Mendenhall Lake. The location is beautiful year-round, while May-October are the best months to visit.

Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls

Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls

Ancient Discoveries

It’s no secret, the glacier is shrinking, due in large part to climate change. Increased temperatures translate into faster melting, reducing the footprint of the glacier while increasing that of the lake. This has led to several interesting discoveries. In 2012 tracts of an ancient forest appeared, with trees preserved in their original growth positions. Scientists have dated them between 1400 and 2000 years old and gained valuable insight into the ecosystem before the glacier was formed.

Romeo the Wolf

In more recent history, a special resident wolf named Romeo lived in forests adjacent to the glacier, earning a reputation for his shocking comfort around both dogs and people. In the 6 years before his death by an out-of-town poacher, Romeo frequented a nearby lake and made many friends. These magical experiences were documented by Nick Jans, in his New York Times best-selling book, “A Wolf Called Romeo”. His story is also featured in this National Geographic article.

A Wolf Called Romeo book

Tongass National Forest

The glacier sits amidst America’s largest national forest, with abundant wildlife and lush forest landscapes. A day at Mendenhall offers a high likelihood of animal sightings, even from the seat of a kayak. The resident variety includes nesting gulls, arctic terns, mountain goats, river otters and beavers. The primary species of trees include Sitka spruce, western hemlock, western red cedar, and Alaska (yellow) cedar. The trees are home to bald eagles while in the many streams, black bears hunt for spawning salmon. Truly a rich and vibrant environment.

Black Bear in Tongass National Park

Black bears are often sited fishing in the streams of Tongass National Forest

Mendenhall Towers

Providing a grand backdrop to the glacier, the Mendenhall Towers are 7 jagged peaks that rise 7,000 feet above the Juneau Ice Field. These peaks attract skilled ice and mountain climbers from around the world. The towers are particularly popular in that there are several route options and a path along a ridge which is not too difficult to reach.

Mendenhall Towers

7 Peaks of Mendenhall Towers

Nugget Falls

Plunging into Mendenhall Lake is the spectacular Nugget Creek Waterfall, a meltwater runoff from Nugget Glacier. The waterfall rises about 375 feet above the lake and can be accessed via kayaking the lake, or a 1.5 mile round trip hiking trail. You’ll hear the falls well before seeing them, as they roar into the lake’s serene waters.

Mendenhall Glacier Ice Caves

ICE CAVES

And finally, there are the caves hidden inside and under the glacier. This video from Planet Earth offers a surreal look at the icy landscape just under the surface of the Mendhall. Enjoy!


Our Alaska Inside Passage tour offers the perfect completion, an optional extension to Mendenhall. The 2 day/1 night Seaplane to Juneau and Mendenhall Glacier Kayak extension offers a seaplane’s unique perspective alongside a private kayak paddle to the face of the glacier. Interested in exploring the wild and soul-expanding land of Alaska? Consider letting us take you on a crafted, cultural, and memorable active adventure.


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