We arrived in Juneau via Carnival Cruise ship and took the easy-peasy blue Mendenhall shuttle bus (pick up directly in front of the cruise terminal)to Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. Along the way, the driver kindly pointed out bald eagles (aka "Juneau pigeons") and the civic building where all the checks get cut that get delivered to every Alaska citizen for the privilege of living in Alaska (roughly $1300/year. "It's been lower the last couple of years. We used to get $1600", thus quotes the driver.)
Ideally, we wanted to hike the West Glacier Trail because that is where the glacier ice caves are, but, alas, we didn't do our research too well. The West Glacier Trail is not accessible from the visitor center (it's on the other side of the lake) and it would have been a six hour hike, when we only had four hours to spend. So, we did the next best thing and hiked the East Glacier Trail. The East Glacier Trail offers no ice caves, but it does allow for some incredible views of Mendenhall Glacier and some great Alaskan scenery. Oh, and we did see a young black bear on the trail. We wisely beelined away from the bear and gave it a wide berth. Like, we gave him the whole trail until he wandered down the hill.
The lower portion of the trail is below the glacier trim-line and vegetation consists of very dense pioneering vegetation such as willow, alder and cottonwood. A short side trail leads to the A-J waterfall 1.3 miles from the trailhead. Very nice, very nice.
All in all, the East Glacier Trail is very doable when at port in Juneau. If you ever find yourself in these neck of the woods, I'd put my money on accomplishing this simple jaunt. You will return home with some great glacier photos and pocket a great Alaska nature experience.
Note: We went in late May and the waterfalls were swelling with water and there were several small icebergs floating in Mendenhall Lake. I'd say this is the best time to go, either Late May or Early June, but I'm sure the summer months are just as beautiful. But, be aware that the summer months attract more mosquitoes. We heard many stories about the monster size mosquitoes that frequent these parts, but, thankfully for us, they weren't out in swarms yet.
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