Explore Alaska’s Mendenhall Ice Caves For A Surreal Glacier Experience

Mendenhall Ice Caves - Juneau, Alaska

 By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley 

Kick off your journey to the Mendenhall Ice Caves by heading to Juneau, Alaska’s state capital. As you venture inward, it’ll be impossible not to notice the supreme beauty that surrounds you.  Juneau is situated at the base of the 3,819-foot Mount Roberts on Alaska’s Inside Passage. The 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States, covers the coastal mountain sides in Juneau’s isolated locale. While there are lots of exceptional activities for visitors to enjoy right inside the city limits, one of the most popular off-the-beaten-path attractions is a trek to the Mendenhall Ice Caves. [caption id="attachment_9415" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]juneau alaska sunset Flickr - Ian D. Keating[/caption]
Nestled in Mendenhall Valley, the Mendenhall Glacier is a 13-mile-long stunning frozen formation located just 12 short miles from downtown Juneau. The Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area is a federally protected unit of the Tongass National Forest. Many don’t realize that Mendenhall Glacier originally had two names, Sitaantaagu (meaning “glacier behind the town”) and Aak’wtaaksit (meaning “glacier behind the lake”). It’s hard not to fall in love with the mountain, glacier, waterfall, and wildlife views that can be found here. This destination attracts tens of thousands of visitors from all around the world each summer as they flock to Alaska via cruise ships, ferries, and airplanes. [caption id="attachment_9416" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Mendenhall Ice Caves Alaska Flickr - Jay Galvin[/caption]
Although a view of the glacier can is easy to access, the Mendenhall Ice Caves are only accessible via kayak and then a short hike. [caption id="attachment_9414" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Mendenhall Ice Caves Alaska Flickr - Dan Nguyen[/caption]
Highlights along the way include up close and personal views of Mendenhall Glacier, Nugget Falls, and Mendenhall Lake. After paddling about three miles inward to the nearest access point, a one-mile hike (two-miles round trip) will lead you up to the entrance of the caves. [caption id="attachment_9413" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Mendenhall Ice Caves Alaska Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström[/caption]
Once you arrive at the Mendenhall Ice Caves, the magic will overwhelm your senses.  The piercing blue glacial shades that surround you are a level of beauty that is indescribable. You’ll feel the cool chill from the massive ice formation, and you’ll love every second of it (just be sure to bring a sweater). [caption id="attachment_9420" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Mendenhall Ice Caves Alaska Flickr - Joseph[/caption]
As the ice melts, areas inside the caves pour down glacial “rain” into rushing streams below. Many describe it as a total otherworldly experience. [caption id="attachment_9412" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Mendenhall Ice Caves Alaska Flickr - Andrew E. Russell[/caption]
Area wildlife include mountain goats, bears, beavers, and various species of spawning salmon when in season. [caption id="attachment_9419" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Mendenhall Ice Caves Alaska Flickr - Andrew E. Russell[/caption]
This is an activity that will take between six and eight hours to complete in total. Being in good physical condition is important, as this wilderness attraction is in an isolated location. It’s a great day trip to enjoy on a sunny Alaska day, or anytime in general when the weather permits. [caption id="attachment_9418" align="aligncenter" width="900"]Mendenhall Ice Caves Alaska Flickr - Penn State[/caption]
It’s encouraged to exert extreme caution as the area is very dangerous and unforgiving. Glaciers are slippery—proper gear is essential. Know before you go, and be sure that you’re properly prepared for all the extreme elements that you are preparing to embark upon. It’s always advised to go with an experienced guide if you are unfamiliar with the terrain and/or a novice backcountry adventurer. [caption id="attachment_9417" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Mendenhall Ice Caves Alaska Flickr - Joseph[/caption]
Looking for more where that came from? Check out Alaska's Frozen Underground Permafrost Tunnel That's Hiding In Plain Sight. Or El Capitan - Explore Inside Alaska's Largest Cave For An Enchanting Middle-Earth Experience. You'll also enjoy Matanuska Glacier: Visiting One Of Alaska's Most Amazing & Easily Accessible Places.
If you are living and loving The Alaska Life – share your adventures with us on our Facebook page HERE, and they might just end up getting featured in one of our next blog posts.
Written by Courtney Dowd-Stanley 

2 comments

“Although a view of the glacier can is easy to access, the Mendenhall Ice Caves are only accessible via kayak and then a short hike.” This is not true. You can walk across the lake when it is frozen, or you hike in from East Glacier Trail….and the cave photos you have posted do not exist anymore. It has melted away.

Stephen Stoddard April 17, 2021

Note that the caves come and go as the ice that makes up the glacier is always slowly moving forward toward Mendenhall lake. Often the caves are unstable or not even there.

Julie Mullis April 17, 2021

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