Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center

Juneau is fortunate enough to still have a glacier within its city limits.  The Mendenhall Glacier is a beautiful example of ice in action.  Many tourists will pay big bucks to see a glacier close up.  But follow these instructions for an extremely close view, without paying a dime.  And you want waterfalls?  Yeah, we’ve got waterfalls.  Nugget Creek Falls are more than just any old waterfall – it is an extreme gush of ice water blasting down the mountaintop in a foaming froth of fun!  Lay out on a white sand beach at the falls and enjoy God’s gifts.

The visitor center is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is relatively new.  To enter the visitors center there is a three dollar charge, but you need not pay to hike the trails or use the restrooms right outside at the beginning of the trails.  The center itself is built upon a rock outcropping that overlooks the glacier.  It features a small theater that shows an eleven minute film about the glacier and it is captioned for the hearing impaired.  There are also many exhibits about the glacier and biota that inhabit this unique ecosphere.  The visitor center is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through the summer.

Claimjumper and I hiked out to admire the falls and the glacier up close.  We began by walking out the photo point trail.  There we captured a glimpse of what we wished to accomplish (the base of the falls) and how we ought to get there.  We began to walk along the edge of the small ponds that formed when the water level of the lake dropped below a certain level.  It was a hot day and many people were splashing in the water.  The easiest way to the falls is just to wade through those shallow ponds in ankle deep water, which we did on the way back.  We recommend wearing water sandals (such as Tevas) for this hike, but one could also remove his or her shoes and socks and put them back on following any water crossing.  The ponds are quite warm, especially compared to the water in Mendenhall Lake.  There is a nice level trail all the way out to the falls along the lakeside.  At the end of the trail there is a beautiful white sand beach that several people were relaxing on and soaking in the beautiful scenery.  I could not resist taking a “refreshing” shower  in the edge of the falls.

We also explored the Moraine Ecology Trail that leaves from the parking lot furthest away from the visitor center.  It is about a mile and a half to complete the loop.  We expected there to be posters and signs describing the ecology along the trail, but there were none.  By mid July there was lupine growing everywhere along the trail.  Salmon were beginning to arrive in the beaver ponds getting ready to run up Steep Creek to spawn.  The volunteer rangers told us to watch for bear along the trails as they would be attracted by the recent fish arrivals, but we did not see any on our jaunt.

Last Visited: July 2000



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