Mendenhall Glacier, just a short distance from Juneau, Alaska, is one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. If you’re not yet an expert outdoor adventurer but you still want to experience one of the most remote, rugged landscapes in the world, this is the place to go. Hidden within this frozen world are the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves – wondrous caverns that reflect ombre hues of blue.
Although there are many easy hiking trails that will get you an up close view of this glacier, the safest way to experience the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves is with a more experienced tour guide. The caves form when water flows through the glacier, creating passageways through the ice – sometimes large and easy to walk through but sometimes narrow and more claustrophobic. Because glaciers are moving and changing shape constantly, some caves might be on the verge of melting or collapsing and trained guides can identify those with the stability.
There are many ways to approach the Mendenhall Glacier. For expert hikers, there are 10 mile hikes that explore the entire glacier, including the ice caves. There are also tours that take visitors on kayaking trips around Mendenhall Lake, followed by a hike to the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves.
Once you get to the glacier itself, you’ll want to look out for a stream trickling out of the glacier – remember that the caves form when water cuts a passage through the ice. Once you find an opening, you can head inside. At this point, you’ll technically be under the glacier, and it might be an unnerving feeling. The groaning sounds of the glacier moving, melting, and shape shifting will surround you. But once you take a look around you, you might be so astonished by the view that all your nervousness quickly disappears.
One travel blogger compared the experience of the Mendenhall Glacier ice caves to being inside a sapphire. The sun reflects off the ice, creating refracting patterns of color and light. The shades of blue range from turquoise, to royal blue, to cobalt in almost ombre pattern, and change depending on where you’re standing or looking within the ice cave. If you’re able to find one of the stable Mendenhall Glacier ice caves, the experience will be worthwhile and magical.