During our cruise to Alaska onboard the Carnival Legend, we were so exited to go on several glacier excursions, especially since one of the benefits of cruising Alaska is that you get to go places that are impossible to see by car. After cruising through the Tracy Arm Fjord to gaze at glaciers right from the balcony of the ship, and then seeing one up close during our Wilderness Safari in Skagway, we were excited to get one last peek at these majestic rivers of ice during our Mendenhall Glacier Excursion in Juneau.
Now, speaking of places that are impossible to see by car, did you know that Juneau is the only U.S. capitol city that you can’t actually drive to? You can only get there by plane or by boat as the frozen landscape of the Juneau Ice Field prevents cars from driving in. But once you’re in Juneau, you can see the tip of this ice field at Mendenhall Glacier Park.
We started off our our morning in Juneau enjoying coffee and breakfast on our stateroom balcony, then met our tour on the docks for the Mendenhall Glacier excursion. Since it’s just outside of downtown, we boarded a bus to make the short drive and got a little history lesson about Juneau along the way from our jovial driver.
Once we arrived at the Mendenhall Visitor Center, we set out on our own to explore the trails in the park. There are several hikes available, one to a scenic overlook, one to a large waterfall, and another to look at wildlife. After taking a look at a map, we decided to try and see them all during the three hour excursion.
Our first stop was at Photo Point Trail for an amazing panoramic view of the glacier and waterfall. There were a few kayakers out on the water which helped put the enormous size of Mendenhall Glacier into perspective, with it’s vibrant blue ice contrasting against the white clouds in the sky. It was a bit more chilly out by the lake with the wind coming off the glacier, making the air feel brisk and refreshing. From Photo Point, we could see Nugget Falls out in the distance and decide to make that our next stop.
The Nugget Falls Trail is about a 45 minute walk round-trip, or if you’re like us, a little longer when you stop to take photos. The trail was well maintained and easy to navigate, with a lot to see along the way including smaller waterfalls, wildflowers, and a sandy beach that provided a closer view of the glacier.
After walking out to Nugget Falls, we still had a little bit of time left to explore Steep Creek Trail. This one is known for being the place to spot wildlife, and while we didn’t see any bears, we did find quite a few bald eagles and watched the last of the season’s salmon swimming up the creek.
Three hours at Mendenhall Glacier ended up being more than enough time to explore the park and enjoy the outdoors. Plus, since no food or drink are allowed in the park due to the bears, we had worked up quite an appetite for lunch and were happy to have plenty of time left over to see downtown Juneau too.
Mendenhall Glacier Excursion Tip: Pack a bottle of water and a wind breaker or light jacket. No hiking boots are needed as the trails are mostly flat and well maintained, so comfortable walkings shoes or sneakers are perfect.
Our tour driver gave us a great tip for lunch as he dropped us off downtown. Right next to the seaplane flight deck is a place called the Alaska Fish & Chips Company. It’s a terrific spot to watch the seaplanes take off and land while indulging in some great Alaskan seafood like King Crab or Halibut, and sipping on local craft beer from Alaska Brewing Co.
Another great find in downtown Juneau was Kindred Post, a tiny post office that’s also a cute gift shop of handmade crafts. My friend Julie told me about it and I’m glad we stopped for a visit. Not only was it convenient for mailing our postcards, but we were also able to shop for a few locally made souvenirs.
One our walk back to the pier, we made one more stop as I couldn’t leave the city without trying a cup of locally roasted coffee at Heritage Coffee Roasting Company. They’re the city’s local cafe and have been roasting coffee in Juneau for over 25 years. Not only is their coffee delicious, but the barista that whipped up our lattes told us the story of their logo, a cute bear holding a cup of coffee who’s name is Bruno, a combination of “brew” and “Juneau.” How clever is that?
Between seeing the Mendenhall Glacier, to leisurely exploring downtown Juneau and discovering a few great eats along the way, our day in Juneau was simply perfect.
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