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Can You Get to the Mendenhall Glacier Without a Tour?


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Yes, you can visit Mendenhall Glacier without a tour. You can drive to the glacier from southeast Alaska and enjoy the visitor center and extensive hiking trails.

Mendenhall Glacier is an iconic glacier in Juneau, Alaska. It’s a must-see when visiting the area – either by cruise or other means. It’s certainly worth a visit, regardless of whether you choose a guided tour or a self-led tour. 

Located just 12 miles from downtown Juneau, which translates to a 20-30-minute drive. Learn your options for visiting this incredible landmark during your Juneau travels.

Ways to Reach Mendenhall Glacier

There are two main ways to reach Mendenhall Glacier when staying in Juneau. The first is to book a tour, which could involve hiking, kayaking or cruising your way to the glacier. Or you can take a shuttle to the area and enjoy self-exploration. Each has its pros and cons. Here’s how you can evaluate what’s best for you.

Mendenhall Glacier Tour Pros and Cons

One of the most popular ways to reach Mendenhall Glacier is to book a tour through an excursion company. You’ll know more about what to expect and can easily plan for how much time you’ll need to devote to the experience. Plus, you’ll be guaranteed a spot on the bus that transports you to the area.

You can book your tour in advance or wait until you reach the docks. One pro to waiting is that you’ll be able to negotiate the price of your tour as the company is looking to fill its same-day tour spots at that point. But there’s also the risk that you won’t be able to get on a tour at that point because they are all booked up.

These tours generally cost $50-$80, though many cost far more based on the total experience. The prices do include entry into the park as well as roundtrip transportation.

One way to see more and do more while visiting Juneau even just for a few hours as part of a cruise is to book a diverse Mendenhall Glacier experience, such as whale watching. 


Schedule a Visit

Summary of Mendenhall Glacier Tour Pros

  • Insurance that you’ll get a spot on the transportation bus
  • Opportunity to see more of Juneau while learning from a tour guide
  • Guided tours include all necessary expenses
  • Guaranteed timelines so you can plan your time in Juneau

Summary of Mendenhall Glacier Tour Cons

  • More expensive compared to visiting in other ways
  • Provides more of a tourist’s view of the glacier than a real outdoor view
  • Doesn’t allow for free exploration time
  • There might not be enough time to fully enjoy the Visitors Center or shop at the unique gift shop

Mendenhall Glacier Shuttle Pros and Cons

Alternatively, you can ride the Mendenhall Glacier Shuttle. The largest setback to this option is that you might have to wait in line for your turn to ride the shuttle. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes, which means you could have to wait a good deal of time for your turn. During the really busy season, you might find that the shuttle runs every 20 minutes instead to help cut down on wait times. It all depends on the cruise dock schedule.

Mendenhall Glacier Without a Tour

The shuttle costs $45 per person and includes the entry fee into the park to see the glacier. So while you’ll save some money, it won’t be tons of money and you aren’t guaranteed a spot on the bus like you are with tours.

Before boarding the shuttle, be sure you know the last scheduled pickup time from Mendenhall Glacier to avoid missing your time to reboard your cruise ship if that’s what you’re in town for. 

Summary of Mendenhall Glacier Shuttle Pros

  • Less expensive than a tour
  • Doesn’t require pre-planning or booking
  • More flexibility to see the area how and when you want to
  • Price includes entry to Mendenhall Glacier
  • More shuttles run during busier cruise ship times

Summary of Mendenhall Glacier Shuttle Cons

  • Doesn’t offer immense cost savings compared to a tour
  • Can require that you wait in line for some time to get on the shuttle
  • Shuttle schedule varies based on cruise dock schedules

Does the City Bus Provide Transportation to Mendenhall Glacier?

You can reach Mendenhall Glacier via the Juneau city bus. But that comes with a caveat. Guests can spend up to two hours on the city bus just to reach Mendenhall Glacier due to the bus route stops. Plus, you’ll only get close to the glacier and still be required to walk about a half mile, which means you’ll need to be ready to walk a mile total if you take the city bus.

The largest benefit of using the city bus to reach Mendenhall Glacier is that it only costs $2. Just come ready with cash for all your travelers because that’s the only tender the bus accepts. 

Reaching the Glacier by Rideshare

Rideshares in Juneau have long wait times and limited availability. There are few drivers since there are few local residents in Juneau compared to the incredible volume of tourists who visit the area during the summer months. 

There are taxi services and those tend to be a bit more reliable and faster to catch than a rideshare. But you’ll still have decent wait times for a taxi and will need to walk to the Mendenhall Visitor Center. It’s not as far of a trek as it is from the bus, but the taxis don’t drop you at the door like the shuttle or tour buses do. 

You might save a little money if there are many people in your party, but also remember that this is a 20-30-minute drive from downtown Juneau, which means that the roundtrip taxi or rideshare expense will likely be high.

Reaching the Glacier by Kayak

Another popular mode of transportation to Mendenhall Glacier is by kayak. But you won’t be able to do this on your own. You’ll need to book a tour to ensure you know what you’re doing and have the right equipment. It’s certainly an incredible way to experience the glacier and one way of getting super close. 

The water surrounding the glacier is calm and ideal for kayakers of all experience levels. You won’t be in the ocean so you don’t have to worry about a challenging paddling experience.

What you’ll need to be aware of with kayaking to the glacier is that it’s quite pricey. Most tours are several hours and average about $300 per person. You’ll want this to be one of your bucket list experiences while in Juneau if considering it.

Visiting Mendenhall Glacier with a Rental Car

Some travelers choose to rent a car while in Juneau. If that’s the case, getting to the park is easy. And all you’ll need to spend is the normal cost of gas and the $5 per person fee to enter the park. 

It’s an easy and scenic drive. Once you’re there, you’ll want to spend no less than 2 hours exploring. Make sure you allow plenty of time before dark to make your way back to your rental car to avoid getting lost and tainting the whole experience.

Where to Stay when Visiting Mendenhall Glacier

Staying at a downtown hotel in Juneau will get you close to tour companies and the cruise docks where the shuttles pick up and drop off. Juneau Hotel is a premier option that has only suites that include a full kitchen and washer and dryer in every unit. Experience Juneau with a homelike feel by booking your stay now.

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