OverviewWest Glacier Trail’s spectacularly stunning views never disappoint. The moderate trail runs along the west side of Mendenhall Lake and Glacier to a high vantage above the glacier's initial headwall. Sharp seracs like shark fins, shoot out out of the glacier revealing amazing blue ice, snow capped peaks, and the Mendenhall valley below in the distance. The trail also allows access to the glacier for trekkers and other specialists, as well as a difficult and lesser maintained trail to the summit of Mt. McGuiness at 4,228 feet. Wet conditions make the West Glacier trail a bit more hazardous, too.
Bear spray is recommended as several bears have been seen on this trail.
Trail DescriptionThe first section of the trail is flat and several bridges cross small streams that are used by spawning salmon in fall. A mile or so up the trail, there's a sheltered bench. Many bikers ditch their rides near the first section of cable handrails in order to head down an unimproved side trail toward the lake and up on to the big rocky peninsula that sticks out from the western shoreline. This is the quickest way to access the glacier for cramponed foot travelers and underworld ice explorers.
The trail then begins ascending gradually through forest that is mostly composed of early stage glacial recession vegetation, like alder and willow. This forest emerged from the disappearing ice in the 1930s and 1940s and naturalists say you can see a distinctive line between the deciduous and coniferous forests from the Mendenhall Visitor Center across the lake.
The main trail continues to ascend to an overall elevation of 1300 feet. Rocky terrain and switchbacks are prominent with numerous short sections of ridable trail. Several sweet vantage points exist along the way with really cool views of the Mendenhall Glacier. These lookouts are above granite staircases, bouldery outcrops, and other obstacles in the trail that leave me huffing for my next breath. Beyond the numerous sections that required carrying the bike, there is one fairly prominent stream, some 50 feet wide. Its usually not that deep either, but it must be crossed in order to navigate the final scramble to the top of the main bulge of rock that the trail tops out on.
While recently riding the West Glacier Trail, I bumped into a couple who expressed their surprise in seeing a mtn biker out that far on the trail. My response was that I don't normally ride the trail and because of that fact, I had forgotten how hard this trail was for mtn bikers. I also told them that I probably would not be back out this far on my bike again any time soon. That may be true, but honestly, there is just a little bit of the riding season left to this year and several other trails yet to ride. One thing I will say, though, this was a great trail to enjoy during the fall colors.
Getting ThereTog get to this trail, drive 9 miles north of Downtown Juneau on Egan and turn right on Mendenhall Loop Road. After a couple miles turn left on to Back Loop Road and follow it for 1.7 miles to Montana Creed Road. Follow the signs beyond the campground and Skater's Cabin picnic area and park at the end of the road.
ICE CAVES: Long Gone But Worthy Memories ResideTons of amazing pictures come out this area, but some of the best came from the old ice caves on the northern side of the peninsula where a small stream under the ice made a huge impact on people's psyches.
LINK TO STORY: INTO JUNEAU'S AZURE ICE CAVES