Juneau: Gateway to Glacier Bay & Mendenhall Glacier

Apr 08, 2011 Avatar Nancy Bandley Nancy Bandley

Juneau is a popular port of call in Southeast Alaska, and gateway to Glacier Bay National Park on most cruise itineraries. No roads lead to Juneau! While Juneau is the Capital of Alaska, the only to get here is by sea or air. Just across the bay is the headquarters for Glacier Bay National Park.

As each cruise ship enters Glacier Bay, it must have a park ranger on board. The park ranger points out things to see, spots animals, and talks about receding and advancing glaciers. Although visiting Glacier Bay by large cruise ship is the standard method to see Glacier Bay National Park, one of the best ways is on a smaller vessel.

During much of the year, large ships are restricted from going too far into the bay, because the seals have pups on the ice floes. If wakes bother the seals too much, they leave the safety of the floes and enter the water, seeking more safety. Unfortunately, the pups are not strong enough to get back on the floes and eventually drown.

Juneau is also home to Mendenhall Glacier, just a few miles outside of town. You can walk the trail to get close to the Glacier. Another way to experience Mendenhall is to take a helicopter ride and land on it, get out and have a guided tour around its crevices and ice-blue colors, before the return trip back. Helicopter trips are pricey excursions, but the views and experience you get are worth every single penny.

Juneau is also a good place to see whales up close and personal, via various tours from evening sunset cruises to kayaking. There are also hundreds of miles of groomed trails in the area, and if you’re lucky you might view some of the wildlife – brown bear (grizzly), black bear, mountain goat, Sitka white tailed deer, and eagles. Rafting on Mendenhall River can be quite exciting, as is dog sledding on the Juneau Icefield.

Or, simply stroll the town’s streets, taking in beautiful Greek Orthodox churches, the capital building and the Red Dog Saloon. Called the oldest man-made structure in Alaska, the Red Dog has character all of its own. And no visit would be complete without stepping inside if only to take a picture or two.