Juneau Whale Watching Review: Flukes for Days!

If you’re coming to Juneau, Alaska, it’s hard not to think bout going on a whale watching adventure.

The Juneau area is one of the best places to catch humpback whales in the summer and you can easily book a tour whether you are flying in or coming in on a cruise.

In this article, I’ll show you what you can expect when doing a humpback whale watching tour. I’ll give you an overview of the experience and also some tips to make the most of your time out on the water!

Juneau whale watching overview

We decided to do our tour with Juneau Whale Watch.

In total, it’s about a 3.5 to 4 hour excursion that spends about two hours and 15 minutes on the water. The rest of the time is getting situated and transported to and from the dock.

They run quite a few tours throughout the day so you can pick a time slot that works just for you.

I don’t think the time of day really matters that much because the whales are active throughout the day. However, mornings and evenings are typically when the water is calmer.

Prices are $145 for ages 13 and older, $130 for ages three through 12, and free for ages 2 and under. Tours will be offered April through September.

Something I like about these tours is that if you don’t see any whales you can get your money back!

Also, if you shell out $20 more bucks you can combine this so that you get dropped off at the Mendenhall Glacier. You’ll be able to hang out there as long as you want and then board the shuttle bus back.

It’s on the way coming back from whale watching so it makes a lot of sense to knock out that site after a whale watching tour.

Before you go the Mendenhall Glacier, I would highly recommend for you to read our detailed guide of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Juneau Whale Watching

Pre-visit tips for whale watching

In order to really enjoy your whale watching trip you want to make sure that you are 100% prepared and here are some essential tips to help you be completely ready for your visit.

Adjust your expectations

I hate to break it to you but most likely, you are not going to witness a spectacular, once in a lifetime breaching event.

You also will likely not see bubble netting which is a pretty rare event.

You might see these things… but probably not.

With that said, just being able to see humpback whales in the wild is a pretty spectacular site.

And there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to see some majestic flukes breaking the surface at a minimum.

Hopefully, you will see something extra spectacular but just set your expectations so that you’re not disappointed.

Juneau humpback Whale

Getting good photographs

Getting really good photographs of whales is not an easy task on these tours.

One reason is that you have to keep a good distance from the whales and that can make it difficult to get a good shot with a lot of detail.

Another reason is that you have to anticipate their movements and/or just get lucky.

The good news is that you can see so many whales here so that you have a lot of opportunities to anticipate those movements which does make it a lot easier to get good shots.

However, you’re still going to want a good zoom lens if you want quality shots. I utilized my 300 mm Cannon L-series lens and I thought it did a pretty good job.

Serious wildlife photographers might go with something like a 400mm but most of the people on the boat were definitely not serious photographers.

If you only have your smart phone with you that can still get some pretty good shots, especially if you have one of the whales getting a little close.

Video of whales can also come out really nice even on a cell phone.

Juneau humpback Whale fluke

Get a good vantage point

As soon as the second deck opens I would recommend going up there because you just have a better vantage point.

Don’t forget the Dramamine

If you are prone to sea sickness it’s probably a good idea to take some Dramamine.

I think the bay/Inside Passage is often pretty calm and it was definitely calm during our expedition so seasickness is probably not a major issue out here.

But it’s always good to be prepared.

Juneau whale watching experience

Your whale watching experience begins when you meet up for check in. This will take place right outside of the Mount Roberts Tramway.

Depending on the time of day this area can be quite busy but we scheduled our tour for the morning and so it was quite empty, especially because the cruise ships had not arrived yet.

You’ll look for the person wearing the blue cap and simply let them know that you are have arrived.

Soon you will board the whale watching shuttle bus and it is going to take you over to Auke Bay, where you will board your boat for the tour.

Juneau Whale Watching bus

It’s about a 30 minute ride over to the boat full of dad jokes and commentary, which was a little bit difficult to fully appreciate so early in the morning.

The good news is: you may have a surprise waiting for you on the way.

When we took the shuttle, we spotted many bald eagles along the way. A handful of them were just hanging out on top of the light posts along the road.

You also might get lucky and spot a black bear roaming the fields along the main road.

It’s pretty incredible how accessible the wildlife is in Juneau.

Once you arrive in Auke Bay Harbor, you’ll walk down a short dock and then board the 49-person catamaran. When the boat is taking off they may not open up the second deck so you will just need to find a seat on the first deck.

Note that some tours go out on a smaller jet boat that seats 26 people.

Juneau Whale Watching boat

Our boat was really nice and I liked that the seats had a small shelf area so I could easily set my camera down.

Note: They don’t provide meals but they do provide some light snacks at some point during the tour.

Juneau Whale Watching boat
Juneau Whale Watching boat

Large windows provide great views so that you should not have to miss anything. I also appreciated the fact that the windows were well cleaned.

On the second deck, there’s a pretty spacious viewing deck which gives you panoramic views. Once they opened up the top deck, that’s where we spent most of our time.

Juneau Whale Watching boat

There is a bathroom on board but you can also go ahead of time at the dock or at the Mount Roberts Tramway.

Once everybody has boarded you will get your short orientation which will include a very brief safety instruction and then it will be time to takeoff.

Depending on the tides, this will be another opportunity for you to get some unforgettable views of bald eagles.

When we were here, we spotted at least a dozen eagles hanging out and fighting over fish. It was probably the best views we had of them our entire time in Alaska.

Juneau Whale Watching eagles

Once you launch, the instructors will give you a little bit of insight about humpback whales and offer you the chance to check out a baleen which is what some people call a “whale’s tooth” although it’s a different thing.

After cruising out for a little while you’ll eventually be out in the bay where hopefully some pretty nice views will open up. We had lots of clouds on our tour but the sky did open up for a while at some point.

(Even if it is raining outside the tour will still go on so you should not have to worry about cancellations.)

It didn’t take very long for us to get our first whale sighting and once we got the first one they pretty much were nonstop.

Once a pod would pass us by, we would wait around a little bit and then head out to a new spot and pretty much immediately find whales. That’s not always the case on a whale watching tour so it’s definitely not something to take for granted.

Juneau Whale Watching humpback

What I like about whale watching tours is that the boat is geared specifically towards allowing you to view these magnificent creatures.

That’s different from a boat cruise that you can take like the one we did to Glacier Bay which is focused on glaciers and general wildlife.

It makes a pretty big difference because on a whale watching tour you’re likely to get closer to the whales and the boat will stop and allow you to spend more time with the whales.

You can actually hear them blowing water through their blowholes and if you’re lucky (or unlucky) you might even get sprayed.

Seriously, I’ve heard horrible things about the ensuing stench after getting sprayed by a whale.

I’m all about close encounters but that might be pushing it.

But back to the boat tours….

My point is that if you really want to focus on getting a good whale encounter, don’t think that a normal boat tour will always be good enough.

Juneau Whale Watching humpback

The team on the boat is really good about helping to spot whales and will immediately alert you as to what direction to look in.

However, it’s really not that hard to find them in this area because they are so numerous.

All you have to do is look for spouts which are pretty easy to spot with the naked eye, even whenever they are pretty far out.

Juneau Whale Watching humpback spout

Once you see a spout you may then see multiple spouts following which could be different whales or it could be a new spout from the original whale.

Sometimes the whales will hang out near the surface for a while and engage in things like lunge feeding.

But eventually, they will want to take a dive and that is whenever you will see them arch their back and then maybe stick out there fluke. It’s truly a sight to behold.

On this tour, whenever we saw one whale we would usually see one or two additional whales hanging out with it.

Juneau Whale Watching humpback

That was really cool because the only other time I did whale watching was off the coast of Sydney, Australia, and we did not see as many whales.

Another thing that’s cool is that the whales you see likely migrated from Hawaii. So if you are ever there during the winter and do some whale watching it’s always possible that you could actually see the same humpback whales!

At a certain point we stopped to check out some sea lions hanging out on a buoy.

We were pretty close to them so this offered some of the best views I think I’ve ever gotten of sea lions. It was pretty funny watching them sun bathe and continuously annoy each other. Such a tough life.

Juneau Whale Watching sea lions

Chances are there will be other boats circling around the areas where the whales are spotted.

The boats are required to keep a good distance from the whales (100 yards) but some of the smaller boats seem to either disregard that rule or have some kind of exception that allows them to get closer.

It’s possible that you could spot other whales (or orcas) on your tour but we did not see any on this whale watching adventure.

Something that is cool about this tour is that if you get a good photo of a whale’s fluke you can try to identify it by going to Juneauflukes.org.

If you don’t see any matching whales then you may have discovered a new one and they will even let you name it!

I believe I found one of the whales I spotted which is known as “moon cheese” and I thought it was pretty cool to be able to identify a whale like that. So far, 150 humpback whales have been officially documented here.

Juneau Whale Watching humpback fluke

After spotting quite a few whales it was time to make our way back.

Once again, whenever we arrived back at the harbor there were a lot of bald eagles hanging out.

Juneau Whale Watching bald eagle
Juneau Whale Watching bald eagle

We also saw a beautiful Canadian goose flying right by.

Final word

If you’ve never been whale watching before this is a fantastic place to do it because you are virtually guaranteed to see some beautiful humpback whales when visiting during peak season.

While I enjoyed this whale watching tour, Gustavus, Alaska, may offer you an even more exhilarating whale experience. If I could’ve had it my way I would’ve done my whale watching tour over there and then done the Tracy Arm boat tour out of Juneau.

But that did not quite work out, which is fine because this tour was still a lot of fun!

Mendenhall Glacier Ultimate Guide: Tips for Exploring

The Mendenhall Glacier is one of the easiest glaciers to access in all of Alaska and arguably the most popular attraction in Juneau.

There are many different bucket-list worthy ways to explore Mendenhall Glacier and in this article I’ll break down all of the different ways you might want to spend time visiting Mendenhall Glacier.

I’ll cover things like hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and how to see things like the ice caves.

I’ll also provide you with a lot of practical tips on things like transportation so that you can have as smooth as a visit as possible.

What is Mendenhall Glacier?

Mendenhall Glacier is a valley glacier only 20 minutes away from Downtown Juneau.

Found in Tongass National Forest, it’s a beautiful 13.6 mile long, 1.5 mile wide glacier with a face towering more than 100 feet at its terminus in Mendenhall Lake.

Due to its beauty and easy access, it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Juneau.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center sign

Why is Mendenhall Glacier special?

Mendenhall Glacier is a special place to visit for a number of reasons.

First, it’s just a very accessible glacier.

Glaciers are not always the easiest places to visit. They may be tucked away in remote mountains or only viewable after going on a long boat ride through a deep fjord.

You don’t typically have the ability to just “stroll up” to a glacier.

But considering how easy it is to get to this place from Juneau, this might be one of the most accessible glaciers you’ll ever visit.

If you’ve never seen a glacier before, it really is a sight to behold.

The glacier itself will probably be a lot bigger than you imagine and it’s just a really beautiful site that’s kind of hard to put into words.

If you’re from a climate where you don’t see a lot of snow or ice, it’s even more dramatic.

Another reason why this is such a special place in my opinion is the recent history.

This glacier once covered the entire valley during a mini ice age a few hundred years ago. But by the mid-1700s, the glacier began to retreat creating the lake you see you today.

So when you admire the area you’re witnessing a recently revealed landscape with vegetation still trying to find its footing which is a pretty cool sight.

Mendenhall Glacier

How to get to Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is located at: 6000 Glacier Spur Rd, Juneau, AK 99801.

This is in Mendenhall Valley which is 12 miles northwest of Downtown Juneau and the Juneau Cruise Ship Terminal Area.

Driving a rental vehicle from these areas to the glacier will take you about 22 minutes.

If you book any of the adventurous tours such as a kayaking tour, canoe trip, helicopter tour, etc., your transportation should be covered.

You can also book a shuttle bus for $45 roundtrip that will take you to and from the glacier and allow you to spend as much time as you would like there. They sync up schedules with cruise ships which makes things easy.

We decided to use a rideshare service to take us over to the glacier and with the tip we ended up spending $38 for the one-way ride.

Utilizing a rideshare like Uber or Lyft in Juneau is not always easy because of the limited number of drivers.

Also, apparently rideshare drivers are not supposed to serve the Mendenhall Glacier so our driver had to basically sneak us in and we had to book a taxi on the way back.

Speaking of taxi companies, if you are looking to book a taxi to the Mendenhall Glacier consider utilizing one of these services:

  • Juneau Taxi: 907-586-1111
  • DLUX Rides: 907-586-2121

Expect the taxi cost to be about $35 one way.

Tip: Consider planning transportation ahead of time because you may not have good cell phone service at the glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier pre-visit tips

Before getting into each different way to explore this place I’ll give you some helpful tips for planning purposes.

How much time you’ll need

The first thing to think about is how much time you’ll need.

If you’re just coming to the visitor center and walking around a few of the platforms then you probably only need about 30 minutes to an hour.

If you’re going to hit up the visitor center and plan on doing a short trail or two then giving yourself an hour and a half to two hours is plenty.

But if you want to embark on a kayaking adventure or one of the longer trails then you need to spend half a day or longer here.

Mendenhall Glacier from photo point

Cooler temperatures

Thanks to the natural AC effect, the temperature near Mendenhall Glacier can drop about 10° compared to the outer valley so make sure that you are dressed for the temperature swing.

Check on the visibility

If you’re visiting during a rainy time or when there is a lot of cloud cover, consider calling the visitor center before you head over and ask about the visibility of the glacier.

The park ranger on the phone will likely have a direct view of the glacier when they’re talking to you, so you can get real-time information.

Sometimes you may not be able to see the glacier due to foggy weather but luckily clouds can quickly move in and out over here so there’s always a chance it will clear up later.

Speaking of weather….

Mendenhall Glacier iceberg

Give yourself extra time for air travel activities

If you plan on doing a tour that is dependent upon air travel try to leave yourself with some open dates and brace yourself for cancellations because of how rainy the area can be.

(It’s not so much the rain but the clouds that can be the issue.)

Remember that if you book tours that take place on the water you can pretty much always go out regardless of the weather.

So if you only have one day that might be the way to go.


Bears can be found just about anywhere here so always be prepared for that encounter.

They advise you to not have any food on you when you come here which I think is probably a good idea. The visitor center and pavilion are dedicated eating areas but there are no lockers, vending machines, or food concessions on site.

(If you’re doing a hike you can have some snacks in your pack.)

Exploring Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier visitor center

A great place to start when exploring the Mendenhall Glacier is to simply go by the visitor center — the information hub for Mendenhall Glacier.

It’s where you can learn more about the glacier, browse the gift shop/bookstore, and spend some time indoors if the weather is not cooperating outside.

This is also where you can view the latest wildlife sightings posted by the rangers.

By the way, the park rangers are excellent over here.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center

You can make your way up to the Visitors Center via the stairs but if you have mobility issues they also have an elevator that you could take.

Inside the visitor center, exhibits shed light on the local environment and wildlife.

Learn how glaciers produce that brilliant glacier blue color. See a rare stuffed glacier bear.

If you have time consider catching the 15 minute film that covers the history of the glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center exhibit

If you want some views, large windows brilliantly showcase the glacier and Nugget Falls.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center view

It’s a great view but I would definitely prefer to also do one of the hikes below to get a better vantage point.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center

Just outside of the visitor center you can find bathrooms and you also can utilize some of the overlooks, where you can check out the interpretive panels while you learn a bit about the history of this valley.

Tip: While the visitor center is relatively close to the glacier, consider bringing binoculars so that you can get a better view.

Don’t expect to see much calving at this glacier though.

This type of valley glacier is very different from a tidal glacier you would find in a nearby place like Glacier Bay National Park or the Tracy Arm.

Those get continuously disturbed by ocean currents and have frequent major calving events.

Those don’t really happen at this glacier — at least not as often.

Mendenhall Glacier

One last thing to mention about the visitor center.

This area technically is a fee zone although it’s a little confusing to me.

Day use passes sell for $5 per person but those age 15 and younger are free.

The passes allow access to the:

  • Pavilion
  • Photo Point
  • Steep Creek Trails

Fees are not necessary for accessing the:

  • Parking areas
  • Nugget Falls Trail
  • East Glacier Trail
  • Powerline Trail
  • Moraine Ecology Trail
  • Trail of Time
  • Dredge Lakes and West Glacier Trails

If you have an annual national parks pass such as the “America the Beautiful” pass, Senior Pass, or Military Pass you can use those to get in for free.

While the website states fees are needed to visit some of the locations above, we did not have to actually pay anything when we visited so I’m not sure how they enforce these fees.

As for hours, during summer months (May – September), the visitor center is open from 8:00am – 7:30pm daily. 

During the winter, (October – March) the visitor center is open from 10:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, excluding federal holidays.

The grounds surrounding the visitor center are open from 6:00 a.m. to midnight year-round.

Check here for information


There’s quite a few different hiking trails that you can enjoy here.

The “must do” in my opinion is the hike to Nugget Falls. It’s 2 miles round-trip on a gravel path that feels paved and the trail has very little elevation. It will take you somewhere around 45 minutes to one hour depending on how swift you are moving.

Be sure to look for wildlife along the way including porcupines that might be resting up in the trees.

Nugget falls hike

I’d highly recommend you combine this with a small detour to Photo Point which is a paved loop path that offers some great views of Mendenhall Lake, Nugget Falls, and Mendenhall Glacier.

Photo Point hike

You also want to check out the Steep Creek Trail which is a series of boardwalks and paved paths.

A portion of this trail is closed during the peak salmon run but you can still check out some of the raised observation decks which can offer you an amazing (and safe enough) views of black bears and salmon (sockeye and Coho).

Your odds of seeing bears will increase during the peak salmon runs but it’s never a guarantee.

We were told they are most active in the morning and evening when there are fewer visitors but I’ve also heard they can be spotted at pretty much anytime.

And while some of the black bears may appear brown, they do not have brown (grizzly) bears here at Mendenhall Glacier.

Well, at least they are not common.

The last one officially spotted was back in 2008 so it always could be a possibility although extremely unlikely.

On that note, if we’re talking about rare bears a “glacier bear” has been spotted in the Juneau area before. You probably won’t see one but they do have one on display in the visitor center which is an underrated exhibit.

Finally, if you’re worried about finding bear spray, be aware the Visitors Center does NOT sell any.

You most likely won’t need any unless you are doing some hiking, walking with a dog, camping, etc. But you can find some in local sports centers like Sportsman’s Warehouse.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor Center steep Creek black bear
Photo by Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA.

Another trail close to the visitor center is the East Glacier Loop Trail, 3.1 miles and 775 feet elevation gain. It’s a good trail for encountering dense pioneering vegetation such as willow, alder and cottonwood and also for exploring the rainforest.

View from the East Glacier Loop Trail.
View from the East Glacier Loop Trail. Photo by David Baron.

If you want awesome views and to get close to the glacier then you need to hike from the other side of lake via the West Glacier Trail.

The trailhead for this trail is located about 10 minutes away from the visitor center in a completely different area on Skaters Cabin Rd.

West Glacier Trail view
West Glacier Trail. Photo by Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA.

If you wanted to do something more strenuous, then a popular option is the Ice Cave Trail. This is basically just an extension of the West Glacier Trail that takes you down to the glacier.

It’s an amazing experience because you’ll end up right at the foot of the Mendenhall Glacier, offering you an unforgettable encounter with this massive “river of ice.”

This trail is about 6 miles long (out and back) with elevation gain of about 1,200 feet.

That doesn’t sound too bad but the closer you get to the glacier, the less maintained the trail becomes and you may be dealing with a lot of wild tree roots and muddy conditions requiring a bit of technical work.

Rangers don’t recommend that you try this hike during the rain because of how treacherous some of the mossy rocks can become.

For many, this hike is a lot of fun but it’s only a good option for those willing to commit to a fairly strenuous hike. Stop by the visitor center and get a map of the trail and talk it over with a ranger if you are in doubt.

If you don’t feel comfortable leading yourself, you can book a guided adventure. Either way, you will want to have crampons if you plan on stepping on the glacier.

West Glacier Trail view
View at the end of the West Glacier Trail. Photo by Megan Madding via AllTrails.

If you don’t want to do the hiking, you can kayak over to this point. Be sure to pull your kayak way up out of the shore zone because it could be swept away.

Explore the blue ice caves

One of the most stunning sites to behold would have to be the ice caves that form under the Mendenhall Glacier.

It’s the ultimate way to take in that mesmerizing glacier blue and to view an otherworldly landscape that you just can’t mimic anywhere else.

Visiting the ice caves is a little bit tricky because the Mendenhall Glacier is always changing its shape so caves are constantly forming and disappearing.

Timing and safety are major concerns.

To get there, you can do the hike above or you can book hiking or kayaking tours and they will take you to the caves if they are safe enough to visit.

Consider calling in and asking about the latest conditions to see if you have a chance to explore these.

I don’t think I would ever feel comfortable venturing into these caves without a guide but if you know what you’re doing I say go for it.

As far as I can tell, the caves have been difficult to visit as of the summer of 2022 but hopefully that will change.

One way to find the latest conditions in the caves is to filter for things like “Mendenhall Glacier cave” on social media or check the social media accounts of the tour companies.

Make sure people know when to expect you to come back if you are venturing onto the glacier by yourself.

Mendenhall Glacier ice cave
Photo by adam_gulkis.


If you trust your kayaking skills you can bring your own kayak and set off by yourself. No permit needed.

The launching point is very close to the parking lot so it’s really easy to get in the water.

It’s about 2 miles to the face of the glacier so it’s gonna take you anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour to get there for your average kayaker.

Just remember this water is like 34° so be prepared to deal with extreme cold in the event you take an unplanned dip in the lake.

You can also book a kayaking adventure tour in Mendenhall Lake for around $230.

You’ll set out and paddle something like five or 6 miles around the lake while taking in exceptional (close) views of the Mendenhall Glacier and other sites like Nugget Falls.

Wildlife sightings could include beavers, bald eagles, waterfowl, and arctic terns.

Another kayaking tour takes you out to sea and offers a view from a distance of the Mendenhall Glacier, while potentially seeing porpoise, seals, sea lions, eagles, herons, or even whales.

While having experience will certainly help you enjoy these experiences, experience is not necessary.

With that said, some of these adventures last for quite a few hours so make sure you are up for the physical challenge especially if your adventure combines kayaking with hiking.

Be sure to pay attention to the size requirements when it comes to kayaks.

If you are on the larger side either by height or weight you might consider going with a canoe which could be more comfortable.

Note: When you book a tour like a kayaking adventure, you should be supplied with all of the necessary gear you would need like a dry bag, rain jacket, and rain pants, so it’s relatively easy to prepare for these.

Mendenhall Glacier kayaking
Photo by Dan Nguyen.


Canoeing is another option that might be better suited for people not comfortable in a kayak or who are interested in traveling with more fellow travelers.

The canoes can hold a lot more people and sometimes you might be paddling along with close to a dozen other explorers.

Again, be ready for a full day adventure in a lot of cases as some of these tours combine hiking with your boat time.

The cool thing about the kayaking and canoeing tours is that not only do you get close to the glacier but you get some close encounters with ice bergs, some of which can dazzle you.

Getting in a kayak or canoe is probably the best way to experience the face of the glacier.

Canoe glacier paddle
Photo via beyondak.com.

River raft

Embarking on a river raft adventure is another way to explore Mendenhall Glacier Lake.

You’ll get some time to admire the face of the glacier and then float through the milky blue-gray waters of the lake before starting downstream on your 5-mile route.

You’ll pass through Class I and II whitewater rapids, so it’s a great way to experience some adventure without committing to a super hard-core, white-knuckled rafting ride.

Expect to shell out around $165 for this adventure.

Glacier walks, treks, and climbs

One of the most memorable ways to experience Mendenhall Glacier is to actually step foot on top of the glacier.

To me, this is the ultimate way to experience the glacier as it’s not every day that you’re standing on hundreds of feet of tightly packed ice that’s been carving its way through mountainous terrain for centuries.

You can find three different types of adventures that will allow you to accomplish this. The price range is usually around $400 for these.

The first type it’s called a walkabout or walking tour and it will land you on the glacier and allow you to simply walk around and admire the scenery.

This is the most tame and least demanding type of experience but could still be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The second type is a trek that will be a little bit more physically demanding as you explore more of the glacier’s features. This type of trek takes you up close to crevasses, over glacier pools, and offers more of a work out.

And then finally there is a more strenuous option where you can even do a little bit of climbing. If you want to know what it’s like to go fully vertical on a wall of ice this is the type of tour you want.

Mendenhall Glacier trek
Photo by Jill /Blue Moonbeam Studio.

During our trip to Juneau, we booked a glacier trek but unfortunately we were forced to cancel due to the weather. This was a major bummer because we also had to scrap our last plan to glacier trek in Iceland due to me getting sick!

I’m not sure when it will be but one of these days I’m going to find my way on to the top of a glacier!

Mendenhall Glacier trek
Photo by elaine.

Helicopter tours

Seeing Mendenhall Glacier from the air is one of the most impressive views you could have in Juneau.

You can accomplish this with a helicopter tour that will take you over the glacier. You can also book flight seeing tours.

Mendenhall Glacier View from helicopter
Photo by elaine.

If you’re not able to book any of those you can often see the Mendenhall Glacier from your plane whenever you fly in or out of Juneau.

We definitely had a great view coming back from Gustavus and I was able to sneak in a quick photo of the glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier View from plane

Dog sledding

If you’ve ever seen the movie Togo or Balto then you know how far back dogsledding goes in Alaska.

You can venture up to the ice field further back on the Mendenhall Glacier via a helicopter and experience firsthand what it’s like to go dogsledding.

In my opinion, this is a much different “glacial” experience because the ice field is a very different environment than where you would be treking on the glacier or kayaking closer to the face.

However, if you wanted to experience dogsledding this would be a fantastic place to do it and it looks like an adventure of a lifetime. Prices are about $550.

Mendenhall Glacier dog sled
Photo by Curtis & Renee.

Package deals

There are tons of package deals that include a visit to Mendenhall Glacier.

You can often add on an experience like whale watching, the Salmon Bake, the Salmon Hatchery, or something else in the area.

Because the glacier is a little bit away from downtown it makes sense to go ahead and lump something else in so that you can efficiently use your time.

That is especially true if you are on a cruise ship.

Final word

As you have already seen, there are a lot of different ways to explore the Mendenhall Glacier. At the very least I would recommend a visit to the visitor center and doing the Nugget Falls Trail along with Photo Point.

If you can handle something more strenuous, the West Glacier Trail would be my preferred choice.

When it comes to the adventurous tours, I think the glacier trek would be amazing because you get exceptional views while in the air and also get to get up close to some glacier features.

But if you’re not able to get up in the air then kayaking or canoeing in the lake among the icebergs and face of the glacier would be quite the experience.

Skydiving over the Great Barrier Reef at Mission Beach, Australia

I remember the first day I arrived at my hostel in Bondi Beach, Australia. I was eager to set out and explore the amazing country known for its exotic wildlife and landscapes but had no idea what kind of adventures I’d ultimately experience. With my bags still not even unpacked and not knowing where to begin, I asked the girl working the front desk about things to do and she handed me what seemed like 20 brochures of all kinds of crazy adrenaline-packed things to do and places to see.

Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!

I hadn’t met any of the other people in my program that I’d eventually become good friends with so I was still in that weird phase of “semi-shock” that can hit you when it first dawns on you that you’re in a foreign country, thousands of miles away from anyone who could recognize your face. At that point, an adventure to me was just getting to know new people and getting situated with my surroundings.

Anyway, I opened up one of the brochures, a little red one,  turned a few pages and saw this photo of someone jumping from an airplane. Their face was lit up almost as bright as the sparkling turquoise ocean they were free falling over. I couldn’t help but admire this person. “Good for them,” I thought. I’ve always been inspired by seeing people live their lives to the fullest, regardless of how reckless their acts may sometime appear to be.

As I looked at more photos of others gliding through the clouds on their way down to a safe landing on the beach, I wondered what it would be like to experience such a rush — not to mention to do it while free falling over such spectacular scenery like the Great Barrier Reef. I imagined how accomplished they probably felt and how proud. But at the same time I almost felt a kind of guilt. Like I knew that deep down inside I wanted to do stuff like that but I was reasoning myself out of attempting such a crazy, radical adventure because of fear. I closed the brochure, stuffed it into one of my bags and never really thought about it again. At least not for a while.

Fast forward two months.

My knees are a little weak as I’m entering into a small, crowded plane getting ready to be taken 14,000 feet up into the air to be dropped over the same stretch of ocean I’d seen once upon a time in that little red pamphlet.

During those two months I’d gotten close to a handful of great people I’d met through the program. While most of us lacked any kind of extensive adventurist past, we’d developed a pattern of, for better or for worse, talking each other into risky activities like shark diving, surfing in a strong swell at Bondi Beach, and somehow all talked each other into skydiving a couple of weeks before. Since the day we’d booked the skydiving trip, I hadn’t really thought about it much. In fact, the only time I really thought much about it was as we took off from Sydney to Cairns and the fact crossed my mind that the next time I was going to be in  a plane, I would be jumping out of it….

But now, once again, as I was being taken up in this shaky little plane, the free fall that was ahead of me was all that was on my mind.

Skydivers in plane waiting to jump

The original plan for this skydiving day was for all five of us to be in solidarity with each other and board the plane together. It’s such a weird thing how the mind works but knowing other people personally and seeing them getting ready to go through the same logic-defying leap seemed like it would help ease my nerves versus preparing to jump with a bunch of strangers. Unfortunately, the people behind the logistic ends of things got my name swapped with another Daniel and I was plucked out of the group.

Of course I was.

Thus, not only would I have to go by myself but I’d be going before everyone else and  to top it all off they put me at the top of the line up so I’d be the guinea pig jumping first!

Men getting off bus

As the plane gained more elevation, the instructors kept telling us “4,000!”…… “5,000!”……”6,000!” With each thousand feet gained I looked out of the see-thorough door that was the only thing  between me and the blue ocean below and just admired the little rocky islands rising out of the sea. Everything from the wide open blue atmosphere to the ocean looked so calm and peaceful, yet I knew what awaited.

Arial view ocean Australia

At 6,000 feet I couldn’t believe that  we weren’t even half way there yet! Still, even though the flight felt like it was going on forever, I honestly wasn’t even really nervous anymore.

Skydivers in plane waiting to jump

The whole scenario felt too unreal to be a situation where I could feel real emotions. As my instructor buckled me into his harness and tightened up the constraints, it dawned on me that these little clasps were what my life depended on for the next five minutes. Thoughts of them snapping under the pressure or coming undone shot through my mind. But it was way too late to back out. At this point, if anything were to go wrong that’s just what was meant to be and I knew I just had to put the fear aside and just go with everything if I were ever going to exit this plane as I’d hoped.

It seemed like it took us 3 hours to get to 10,000 feet but only 3 seconds to get from 10,000 to 14,000 feet. Once the green light came on  in the plane, all of the camera guys and instructors started to shuffle around as a sense of urgency seemed to fill the plane. And that’s when my nerves came back… in a flurry.

Now it was go time! I turned my body from facing the back of the plane to facing out this plastic see-through door. It was the first time I could really see the other skydivers packed like sardines towards the front of the plane. As soon as I scanned their faces and could sense their weariness, the  butterflies shot through my stomach and I could feel the intense pounding of my chest within the tight constraints of the harness.

After I finally turned in position they opened up the gate. Suddenly, I couldn’t hear anything but wind, its freezing cold currents blasting me in the face as I looked out to the sky. I scooted to the edge of the doorway at which time he told me to extend my legs outside the plane and bend them underneath the plane.

This was it.

With my legs dangling 14,000 feet up in the air, exposed in the blistering cold winds, the instructor tilted my head back and began the countdown.

Skydivers jumping out of plane




The next thing I knew we were cartwheeling out of this plane. Ocean, sky, and ocean came and left out of my field of vision as we flipped and tumbled in the sky.

Skydivers jumping out of plane

Wind battered my face as if I were sticking my head out of a car window going 90 mph on the freeway. We were flying.

Tandem skydiving over ocean

As the camera man whirled around us I didn’t even want to look anywhere else but down. This was the most amazing view I’d ever seen. I was looking down at one of the natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef,  while free falling from 14,000 feet out of the sky…. This was a view — an experience — that for thousands of years was not humanly possible, never mind the fact that I’d never thought in a million years I’d be jumping out of a plane. This was the stuff I saw in pamphlets that haunted my conscience with temptation to let go of my fears — not stuff that I experienced.  Yet, here I was.

Tandem skydiving Australia

The parachute cord was pulled and after a sharp jolt it felt like I was being sucked back up into the air.

Tandem skydiving deployed parachute over ocean

But soon, the tumultuous winds were gone and it was just a quiet soar from this point. I looked out at the turquoise waters  stretching out over the horizon under clear blue skies and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was actually floating in the sky above some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet.

Skydivers arial view of Mission Beach

After gliding over the ocean for a couple of minutes we descended toward the shore and the little dots of people and palm trees became larger and larger. Soon, we swooped down onto the sand for a perfect slide landing on our feet.

Skydiver landing on Mission Beach Australia
Skydiver landing on Mission Beach Australia

I’d just touched down back to earth. I’d fallen out of the sky, over the ocean, and now I was standing on a beach. I couldn’t wrap my head around those thoughts — it was simply unbelievable.

Skydivers standing on Mission Beach Australia

After I landed, my friends were all up in the air going through the same roller coaster of emotions, awaiting their momentous leaps while I was by myself on the beach, walking up and down the shore just trying to pass the time waiting for them to land.

Mission Beach Australia

Excitement was still running through me — my adrenaline was still kicking, my heart was still racing a bit but something felt oddly ordinary about the entire experience. It was almost like I realized that this was all “supposed to happen.” Sure, it was all extraordinary  but it was as if I’d just had an epiphany that these amazing experiences — which require taking risks, putting fear to the side, and just gunning for something — weren’t so far out of my reach as I’d thought. And even more than that, they were made for me.

Suddenly, almost everything seemed obtainable and I couldn’t help but wander what else might be out there for me to experience.

I thought to myself, “I guess it’s time to check out another pamphlet.”