Cruise ActivitiesExcursions

Juneau Says To Book Mendenhall Glacier Ahead of Time or Miss Out

Mendenhall Glacier is one of the most visited attractions in Alaska. This 13.6-mile glacier sits in the Mendenhall Valley, a short distance from downtown Juneau. The attraction is a must-see for over 1.5 million cruise passengers who visit Juneau each year. However, its popularity has led to some problems, and the local non-profit Travel Juneau is now telling visitors to book an excursion ahead of time or miss out on the glacier this year. 

Book Mendenhall Glacier ahead of time 

In the past, guests have been able to walk to a number of companies located right off the cruise terminal and purchase tickets to Mendenhall Glacier. Because of limits on how many guests are allowed in the area at once, this will likely not be the case for 2024. Travel Juneau advises that 80% of this summer’s excursions and activities are already booked, and day-of purchases will likely not be available. 

The Forest Service restricts the number of guests tour providers are allowed to bring to the site each season. Last year, the cap was 517,650, and by early August, they were already hitting that quota. A similar problem is expected for this year. 

In December, the US Forest Service finalized a plan to add capacity and new facilities to Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, but that will take time, unfortunately. 

In the meantime, guests should book through a cruise line, or a third-party provider like Viator (see available excursions here).

Avoid using local transit to Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is located 13 miles from the cruise ship docks, so it’s not an attraction you’ll be able to walk right up to. Taxis, Uber, and Lyft are extremely limited in Juneau, so you’ll need some form of public transit to arrive there. 

If you do any research about getting to Mendenhall Glacier online or on social media, you’re bound to come across the advice to take the local bus. Travel Juneau specifically asks visitors NOT to use that system. 

The local bus service, Capital Transit, is not designed for tourism; it’s meant to provide service to locals living there. According to Travel Juneau, “the nearest bus stop is approximately 1.5 miles one way from the MGVC and very limited opportunities for return taxi services from the area back downtown. Visitors using Capital Transit may experience long wait times between runs and should be aware that there are no services between the bus stop and the visitor center. They may encounter bears along the walking path, especially early in the morning or late evening.” 

Things to do at Mendenhall Glacier

nugget falls in juneau
Nugget Falls is a short 2-mile round trip hike from the entrance.

Mendenhall Glacier Park offers several activities, including a viewing platform, visitor center, and hiking trails. The most popular activity is the short 2-mile round-trip hike to the foot of Nugget Falls. Guests can also observe the glacier, which has been rapidly retreating due to climate change. A trip there usually averages between 45 minutes and a couple of hours, depending on whether you want to hike all the trails. It’s definitely not a full-day activity, and most excursions and tours will pair it with other activities like whale watching, a salmon bake, or a nature tour. 

Mendenhall glacier trails

Are you traveling to Juneau in 2024?

We visited while sailing aboard the Ovation of the Seas back in May 2022 and loved it. Follow along on what we did in our cruise blog.

nugget falls mendenhall glacier

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Randy Young

Randy Young is the founder and editor-in-chief at Cruise Spotlight. He has been in marketing for 20 years and has been cruising for just as long. Over the years, he's worked with products like TVs, copiers, light bulbs, and EV chargers, but cruising has always been his passion. There's nothing Randy likes more than the first couple of hours on a ship, exploring every nook and cranny and seeing how it's different from everything else out there. He's known for providing detailed and analytical coverage of cruising to help cruisers get a comprehensive picture of a ship's offerings.