An Introduction to Accessing Mendenhall Glacierby Caitlin McElhinny

Mendenhall Glacier

Photo of Mendenhall Glacier by the legend Connor Callahan

BAM! Paddling over the lake you round the peninsula to face Mendenhall Glacier which hits you with a cold gust of “WOW”.

Over 1 million people will visit the most famous glacier in Alaska this year.

But only a few thousand, less than 1/10th of all visitors, will have the opportunity to walk on the surface and to maybe even visit the famous ice caves.

But the Mendenhall Glacier has many more amazing features to experience when trekking onto the icy surface.

From seracs, moulins, crevasses, and so many more. The best part – it changes everyday!

That’s right. Everyday is a little bit different than previous days. This dynamic environment is not only extremely exclusive but also totally unique on the day you visit.

If you decide to join us for the day here is some information to consider:

There are several ways to access the glacier and the ice caves, but by motor boat is not one of them. Only non-motorized transport is allowed to reach the glacier face, so that means either by foot or by paddle. Below are the details of both options. Please note: we are the only professional guiding company that can trek onto the glacier surface by foot or by kayak.

You can hike! The West Glacier Trail has a side trail that takes you right to the face of the glacier. The trail is roughly 4 miles out and 4 miles back. It is considered a more strenuous trail for several reasons:

  • It has sheer rock surfaces which when wet are very slippery and hard to not slip on.
  • It has loose rock surfaces which slide under your feet when going up and down hills throughout this trail.
  • While the trail only gains and loses about 800 feet of elevation, the points of elevation can be considered steep and challenging to traverse.

ALL OF THAT BEING SAID – It is beautiful, challenging, thrilling, and awe-inspiring. If you love hiking, you will love this trail.

  • Great for physically active people who want to stretch their legs on vacation.
  • 8 hours long – get to be outside and adventuring longer!
  • Experience the Tongass National Rainforest – the second most diverse forest in the world behind the Amazon!
  • See the various stages of glacial recession from old growth to the newest exposed surfaces. A Trail of Time!
  • Great tour for natural history, flora, fauna, and the best panoramic views.

Private Glacier Trek is perfect for family groups  (8 years and up), slower groups, faster groups, and photographers.

You must wear solid shoes such as ankle high waterproof hiking boots or waterproof trail runners. Lots of traction needed and plan on getting your feet wet, it is a rainforest after all.

If you would like to join a professional wilderness guide who walks this trail every day, can show you the trail diverts, help keep you safe over difficult terrain, provide all safety gear including trekking poles and traction footwear for the ice surface, brings snacks, and gets you back on time at the end of the day, then please consider booking our Glacier Trek or Private Glacier Trek tour.

This trail is advanced enough that unguided travelers have to be rescued by Capital City Fire and Rescue by the dozens every year. Do not attempt this trail without proper safety gear, communication methods, and detailed topographical maps. Also a extra tip: Juneau taxi’s often run late and are delayed with huge demand. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get back to a cruise ship because we won’t be able to add you to our guide’s van. We guarantee you won’t miss your cruise ship or we will cover the costs to get you to the next port. (Always buy travel insurance in case something else comes up).

Here are pictures of the conditions on the  trail:

If you would like to hike the trail and then experience the most extensive and longest glacier adventure in all of Southeast Alaska consider booking the Glacier Blue Trek & Climb. Some details and possible activities:

  • 10 hours long! Not for the faint of heart. No literally, you can’t have heart problems and go on this tour. Everyone must be physically fit and active.
  • Ice climbs up the wall of a glacier with a top rope, real mountaineering boots, and fancy crampons. (Well,  they are normal crampons but they are shiny and new.)
  • Exploration of the glacier surface that no other visitors get to see – go farther and let the guide show you the “secret spots” only they know about. You have the time! Get out there and find new features never seen before!
  • Ever seen an ice fall before? Want to? Just ask your guide and see their eyes light up in excitement.

Here are some pictures of the Glacier Blue Trek & Climb tour:

You can paddle! The Mendenhall Lake has been formed as the glacier as receded over the past 100 years. Leaving an idyllic 2-mile paddle across the lake that is surrounded by mountain peaks and has a glacier on one side. Sooo it’s pretty awesome. 🙂

Choose your preferred paddle:

Canoe – the long tradition of the historic mighty canoe lives on in Southeast Alaska. This boat has stood the test of time for a reason. Sturdy, safe, and very smooth on the water, this is the perfect mode of transport for groups.

  • Perfect for beginner paddlers!
  • Easiest paddle experience!
  • Kid friendly!
  • Group friendly! Socialize, take pictures together, and get to share in the “WOWs”
  • Bring more stuff! Camera gear anyone?
  • Fastest option!

Is this the tour for you? Check out the Glacier Canoe Paddle & Trek

Kayak – the sleek and popular kayak allows you to sit low in the water and feel more connected to the environment. It’s a favorite of paddlers worldwide and allows you to explore the lake more with your guide before trekking onto the glacier.

We only offer private kayak trips to the glacier.

  • Perfect for advanced paddlers!
  • Ideal for couples or small groups! (Maximum group size is 6)
  • Longer tour at 8 hours
  • We only use tandem kayaks for all clients
  • Only want to use kayaks? You know who you are. Check it out here: Private Glacier Kayak Paddle & Trek



All glacier tours visit the same area of the glacier face and have an equal chance of accessing the ice cave and other features.

We recommend you pick your tour by your favorite mode of transportation!


Day trip not long enough? Want to spend the night on the ice? Join us for the ultimate glacier adventure!