Juneau Nature Excursions

Our previous blog on Juneau downtown, mentioned two out-of-town trips: a day trip down the incredibly beautiful Tracy Arm fjord and a shorter trip to the city’s primary nature destination, the Mendenhall Glacier. This blog discusses our trips to each.

Tracy Arm Cruise

We took a ten-hour Tracy Arm cruise with Adventure Bound Alaska. What can we say about a magnificent, 30-mile fjord. It is surrounded on both sides by 4,000-foot glacially-scoured cliffs that plunge into water that averages 900 feet in depth. As if this isn’t enough, the fjord is studded with hundreds of waterfalls and thousands of icebergs that emanate from two primary tidewater glaciers—the North and South Sawyer, whose faces are up to 400 feet high (roughly half above and half below the water’s surface).

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The waters are home to porpoises that race along with the bow of the boats. The icebergs serve as resting spots to hundreds of harbor seals seeking refuge from Orca whales. The shores house the occasional black bear and the sky is specked with a wide range of sea birds.

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The glaciers put on their own shows. Their continual creaks and cracks have you watching for the occasional calving of icebergs from their faces. And even more powerfully, the breaking of huge chunks of ice from underneath the glacier can shoot up through the water to create the biggest and bluest icebergs.

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Mendenhall Glacier

Although we have read, seen, walked on, and tasted many glaciers in our lives, no trip to Juneau would be complete without a trip to the 13-mile-long Mendenhall Glacier. It is particularly fascinating, after seeing and reading about so many glaciers in Alaska, to realize that 90% of all glacial ice is located in Antarctica, 9% us in Greenland, and that all of Alaska accounts for less than ½ of 1%. Boggles the mind.

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The Mendenhall, like many glaciers, is permeated with ice caves. We planned to hike the 7-mile West Glacier Trail and visit one of these ice caves. But the rain was hard enough and the trail muddy enough that we decided it best to wait till we return with hiking boots and the proper clothes. We could, however, see the remnants of one of these ice caves with a short walk from the visitor center—the powerful Nugget Waterfall which originally formed within one of these caves, before the ice around it melted. We also saw more of the temperate rainforests through which we hiked at Glacier Bay.

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But no fear. We had a contingency plan. If we couldn’t hike, we would take a tour of a salmon smokehouse and cannery that is located between the glacier and the city. (see our Juneau Salmon Experience blog).

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