Juneau, Alaska's Glaciers

Our Guide to Juneau’s Glaciers

March 12, 2019

Did you know that glaciers are the #1 tourist attraction in Alaska? People from all across the globe travel to our state to see the incredible glaciers and icefields of the Last Frontier. It just so happens that Juneau is home to some of the best glaciers in all of Alaska. The Juneau Icefield is the fifth largest icefield in North America, stretching 1,500 square miles across the Alaskan panhandle. The Icefield encompasses 38 large glaciers and 100 small valley glaciers, meaning you have the chance to see many glaciers in a single trip. You can also see magnificent glaciers in the Tracy Arm Fjord and Glacier Bay. No trip to Juneau is complete without seeing at least one or two of these incredible natural marvels. Here is everything you need to know about viewing Juneau’s world-renown glaciers, courtesy of the Silverbow Inn.

Glaciers 101

You may know what glaciers look like, but do you really understand how they are formed? Over the years, layers of fallen snow gradually become tightly compacted into large, thickened ice masses known as glaciers. Glacial ice has a unique crystalline structure that absorbs and reflects light, giving them their striking blue appearance. You’ll find the most intense blue colors in the crevasses or where ice breaks off from the glacier’s face into “calves.” We recommend viewing glaciers on overcast or rainy days, when their colors really pop.

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall is perhaps the most famous glacier in Juneau. It stretches 12 miles from the Juneau Icefield to Mendenhall Lake, ranging from 300 to a whopping 1,800 feet deep. At its widest point, the glacier is more than a half mile wide. There are many different ways to explore the vast glory of Mendenhall Glacier. If you like to hike, the U.S Forest Service maintains several excellent trails near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. It is also a popular spot for biking, rafting, canoeing, and kayaking. Many commercial operators offer a variety of tours in the summer, including bus, van, taxi, and shuttle tours. However you choose to explore Mendenhall Glacier, it is truly a sight to behold. From Mendenhall, you can also explore several nearby glaciers, including:
  • Herbert: If you like to hike, Herbert Glacier is easily accessible via the Herbert Glacier Trail, a gorgeous 9.1 mile round trip route. The trail is also great for mountain biking.
  • Taku: Taku is the deepest and thickest glacier known to man and one of the few advancing glaciers in the entire world. You’ll need to take a helicopter to see it.
  • Eagle: This rugged and remote glacier offers some of the most stunning views in the region, and even features its own warming hut.

Tracy Arm Fjord

The Tracy Arm Fjord is located just south of Juneau within the Tongass National Forest. Jutting off the Stephens Passage, this 27-mile gem is truly awe-inspiring. Within the Tracy Arm Fjord, you’ll find glaciers, icebergs, and an incredible abundance of wildlife, including whales, bald eagles, mountain goats, and even black bears. If you visit in the spring, you may even catch hundreds of harbor seals and their pups lounging on floating ice platforms. Keep an eye out for the gorgeous waterfalls that cascade from the 3,000 foot-high rock cliffs. The main attraction of the fjord is its twin glaciers, North Sawyer and South Sawyer Glaciers. Boat tours are the most popular (and easiest) way to explore Tracy Arm.

Glacier Bay

As the name suggests, Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is made up of several different glaciers, including the Grand Pacific Glacier, Margerie Glacier, and Lamplugh Glacier. Glacier Bay is a National Park, a designated wilderness, a biosphere reserve, a marine park, and a world heritage sight. From its snow-capped mountains and dense forests to its breathtakingly beautiful glaciers, Glacier Bay offers some of the finest scenery in the state. At about 2-miles wide, Grand Pacific Glacier is the widest glacier in the park. Glacier Bay is the best place to observe both receding and advancing glaciers side by side. On the Western side, you’ll find the advancing Fairweather Range while the glaciers in the Chilkat Range to the east are receding. Planning a trip to Juneau to view its world-renown glaciers? Book a stay at the Silverbow Inn, the only boutique hotel in downtown Juneau.