Visiting Mendenhall Glacier on layover at Juneau Airport

On a recent business trip to Alaska I found myself with a short layover in Juneau while traveling from Seattle to Skagway. The Juneau International Airport is quite small, so after claiming my luggage and checking in for my Wings of Alaska flight, I found there was still extra time to kill. I walked outside to take some mountain pictures, then browsed at the airport gift shop and at some Native American displays. By chance I returned to the Wings of Alaska counter and asked what, if anything, I could do during my layover time. The first suggestion was to take a taxi to downtown and grab lunch at a local restaurant. That didn’t especially appeal to me, so the counter person suggested taking a taxi to Mendenhall Glacier instead. I had been to Mendenhall before, so this seemed a great idea, but was there time, I wondered?

As it turns out, yes, there is definitely time to get to Mendenhall and back, even on a relatively short layover. My Alaska Airlines flight arrived into Juneau around 12:40 pm. By around 12:55 pm I had determined that I wanted to try to get to Mendenhall Glacier if possible. I grabbed the first taxi that drove up, Juneau Taxi & Tours; 15 minutes later I was at Mendenhall. By this time, it was around 1:10 pm. I was told to arrange for a 2:00 pm pickup in order to ensure that I get back to the airport in time for my 2:30 pm flight. This left with me almost an hour for me to explore Mendenhall before traveling back to the airport.

If you’ve been to Mendenhall, you know you can see quite a bit in an hour’s time. The Photo Point Trail is only 0.3 miles roundtrip and offers breathtaking views of the glacier. If I had hurried, I might even have had enough time to hike the 2 miles roundtrip to Nugget Falls. During the same amount of time one could also browse in the Visitor Center or explore some of the other walking trails, such as the Trail of Time which is only 0.5 miles and features spawning salmon and the potential for other wildlife.

I called Juneau Taxi & Tours at around 1:45 pm; they picked me up at around 2:05 pm. I arrived back at the airport at 2:15 pm, which left plenty of time to catch my 2:30 pm Wings of Alaska flight. Keep in mind, I was already checked in and ready to go. Wings of Alaska is also a very small airline and may have different rules than larger airlines.

Juneau is one of the only places I’ve been where the airport is so close to a natural phenomenon that it’s possible to see in such a limited amount of time. The taxi ride seemed to be about $15 each way, plus a small fee for visiting Mendenhall (maybe $1), plus gratuity. For just a small amount of time and money, you can take home a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

IMPORTANT: Always be sure to arrange your return taxi back to the airport. Taxis come and go to Mendenhall, but you need to get one scheduled to ensure you arrive in time. While waiting to return to the airport there were several other taxis milling around, but I am not sure if they would have been able to take me or not.

The following pictures were all taken in under an hour.

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

Nugget Falls at Mendenhall Glacier

Nugget Falls at Mendenhall Glacier.

Glacial water at Mendenhall

Glacial water at Mendenhall.

Rock formation along Photo Point Trail, Mendenhall

Rock formation along Photo Point Trail, Mendenhall.

Beware of bears at Mendenhall

Beware of bears at Mendenhall.

Map of Nugget Falls Trail, Mendenhall

Map of Nugget Falls Trail, Mendenhall.

Glacial ice in Mendenhall Lake

Glacial ice in Mendenhall Lake.

Mendenhall Glacier from the shore of Mendenhall Lake

Mendenhall Glacier from the shore of Mendenhall Lake.

Mendenhall Glacier from Visitor Center

Mendenhall Glacier from Visitor Center.

Mendenhall Glacier from Photo Point Trail

Mendenhall Glacier from Photo Point Trail.

Mendenhall Glacier from Photo Point Trail with trees

Mendenhall Glacier from Photo Point Trail with trees.

Mendenhall Glacier and Lake with Nugget Falls on the far right

Mendenhall Glacier and Lake with Nugget Falls on the far right.

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