Mendenhall Glacier

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The Juneau Ranger District of Tongass National Forest surrounds Alaska’s capitol city, including Mendenhall Glacier. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center opened in 1962 and was the U.S. Forest Service’s first visitor center.

The trail system around Mendenhall Lake winds through fairly young ecosystems. These areas haven’t been out from under the ice for long. The glacier once covered the whole valley. Mendenhall Lake formed in 1929 as the glacier receded.

We took a tour with Gastineau Guides that began with a walk through the rainforest. We followed the trail from the bus parking lot to the Moraine Ecology Trail. This led to a beach with views of the glacier and Nugget Falls.

In 1929, the Glacier stretched all the way to this beach. Since then, it has receded almost two miles. It formed Mendenhall Lake as it retreated closer to the Juneau ice field. Today, Mendenhall Glacier is 13.6 miles long and continuing to shrink.

When John Muir visited in 1879, he named the glacier ‘Auke Glacier’ after the local Aak’w Kwaan Tlingit. In 1892, it was renamed for Thomas Mendenhall, a physicist, educator and superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. As superintendent, Mendenhall defined the boundary between Alaska and Canada.

Nearby, Nugget Falls cascades into Mendenhall Lake. Nugget Glacier, on Bullard Mountain, feeds the 377 foot high falls. Before Mendenhall Glacier receded, the waterfall dropped directly onto the glacier.

Juneau posts

Location: 12 miles from Juneau
Designation: National Forest
Date designated/established: September 10, 1907
Date of my visit: June 2, 2022

9 thoughts on “Mendenhall Glacier

    1. I just finished an Alaskan Cruise yesterday. The best thing on the trip was an excursion we did at the Mendenhall Glacier! We enjoyed a river rafting float trip from Mendenhall Lake down the river from there. It was amazing! We saw the glacier from a distance and a bunch of bald eagles.

  1. While it is a shame the world’s glaciers are melting away, being able to observe the recent changes to the environment over just a hundred years is fascinating! The Nugget Falls is quite incredible – seeing all those tiny dots of people near it is great for scale.

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