Alaska Adventure – Taking the Public Transit Bus to Mendenhall Glacier

There’s an easy way to do things and a hard way. When it comes to visiting Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier on an Alaska cruise, the easiest option is to take the shore excursion offered by the ship. But where’s the fun in that? For those of us who like to explore on our own and save money, there are other options worth considering. On a recent visit to Juneau, my husband and I decided to go with the least costly option – taking the public bus to Mendenhall Glacier. It turned out to be a great adventure.

There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, Wander Woman Travel Magazine may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

An image of Mendenhall Glacier and Mendenhall Lake near Juneau, Alaska
The Mendenhall is 12 miles from downtown Juneau. It’s one of the top attractions in the area. Photo by Greg Olsen

About the Mendenhall Glacier

The Mendenhall Glacier is the top natural attraction in Juneau, Alaska. The 13-mile-long glacier is part of the Juneau Icefield and is located inside Tongass National Forest. The Mendenhall Glacier is an incredible site to see. It ends at Mendenhall Lake and you can watch it calve into the lake and see mini-icebergs floating in the water. A number of trails and viewpoints can be found around the glacier including one that takes you close to the toe of the glacier and the base of Nugget Falls. There’s also the possibly to see wildlife along the way – mountain goats, beavers, bears and salmon – depending on the season. The Juneau icefield measures 1,500 square miles and is an incredible remnant of the last ice age.

An image of the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska
To see the glacier up close and watch it crack and break apart is an experience of a lifetime. This shot was taken from the Photo Point trail. Photo by Greg Olsen

Related: Check out our post about things to do in Ketchikan, Alaska

Getting to the Mendenhall Glacier

The Mendenhall Glacier is 12 miles outside of Juneau and there are several options for getting there if you are traveling by cruise ship. A taxi will cost about $35 one-way or if you plan ahead, you could rent a car for a single day. The Mendenhall Glacier Shuttle bus to Mendenhall Glacier is a convenient option near the cruise port that costs $45 per adult return. The least expensive option is to take the public bus to Mendenhall Glacier.

An image of the Tongass National Forest sign just outside Juneau, Alaska.
The Mendenhall Glacier is in Tongass National Forest just outside Juneau, Alaska.

Related: Read all about the White Pass Railroad Train Adventure, one of the most popular shore excursions in Alaska.

How to Take the Public Bus to Mendenhall Glacier

The public transit bus costs $2 per person, but you will have to do some walking. The bus leaves from the downtown transit center, which was about a half-mile from where our ship docked. The dropoff/pickup point for the Mendenhall Glacier is at the “corner” of Mendenhall Loop Road and Glacier Spur Road, which is about 1.2 miles from the glacier visitor center. There is a nice paved path that runs alongside the road from the bus stop to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. Make sure you have plenty of $1 bills, because you need exact change to take the bus to Mendenhall Glacier. Check the transit schedule here.   

An image of a Sasquatch sign near Juneau, Alaska
Amusing and a nice way for locals to tell visitors to please stay off their lawns and stick to the trail. Photo by Greg Olsen

Recommended Things to Bring for the Bus to Mendenhall Glacier

If you plan to hike some of the trails around Mendenhall Glacier and especially if you are taking the public bus to Mendenhall Glacier, you’re going to need some things. You’ll be doing some walking. Make sure you bring a lightweight day pack to hold water, snacks, a rain jacket and sunglasses. We like the one below, because it weighs almost nothing, is inexpensive and it can be folded into a tiny square to go in a suitcase for traveling.

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center

Entrance to the visitor center will cost $5 per person. There’s a nice view of the glacier’s face and the lake, a large aerial map of the glacier, an informational video and spotting scopes that let you get close up views of the glacier.

an image of the view on the walk to the Mendenhall Glacier visitor center near Juneau, Alaska - taking the bus to Mendenhall Glacier
When you take the public transit bus to Mendenhall Glacier, you have to walk 1.2 miles to the visitor center. On the upside, the view is pretty good. Photo by Greg Olsen

Trails to Get Closer to the Glacier

There are 5 trails to explore near Mendenhall Glacier. Here’s a link to the official brochure with detailed information on the site and each of the trails. We did the short hike to Photo Point (15 minutes return) and then continued on to do the Nugget Falls hike (1 hour return) and we highly recommend both hikes. There were great photo ops on both trails and it was wonderful to stand at the base of Nugget Falls and get close up to the toe of the Mendenhall Glacier. We also did the 30-minute Trail of Time hike. The trails were all in excellent shape and we loved the time we spent exploring the area around Mendenhall Glacier.

an image of the view from the photo point trail at Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska
The photo point is well named. The view is fantastic. Photo by Greg Olsen
An image of canoes and people in front of Nugget Falls near Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska
The Nugget Falls trail leads you very near the toe of the Mendenhall Glacier to the base of Nugget Falls. Photo by Greg Olsen
An image of Nugget Falls by the Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Alaska
Standing at the base of Nugget Falls is an incredible experience. Photo by Greg Olsen

The Return Trip

To be honest, after all the hiking to get to the Mendenhall Glacier and then walking on the trails around the site, we didn’t feel much like hiking 1.2 miles back to the bus stop and another half mile from the central transit station back to the cruise ship. We could have called for a taxi at that point, but we would have been waiting around for the cab to come. We decided the extra walking would be good for us and started walking back to the bus stop. Tip: The return bus picks up at the bus stop across the street from where you are dropped off.

An image of a mother bear crossing the road with her two cubs near the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska - taking the bus to Mendenhall Glacier
See the guy standing really close to the bears? That’s a bad idea. Always keep your distance. Especially from a mother bear with cubs. Seeing these bears was pretty exciting. Photo by Greg Olsen

What We Saw on the Way Back to the Bus Stop!

As we walked along, a mother bear and her two cubs crossed the path and roadway not far in front of us. On the one hand, we were a little nervous to be on foot with a bear nearby. On the other hand, the bear paid absolutely no attention to us and was eager to get on her way. It was amazing to see a bear in Alaska. Tip: It’s a good idea to make lots of noise while you’re walking along the trails near Mendenhall Glacier. That way bears will hear you and take a wide berth. You don’t want to surprise a bear.  

An image of the NCL Jewel cruise ship in Juneau Alaska at night.
The Norwegian Jewel cruise ship was sparkling when we got back from a long day of hiking. Photo by Greg Olsen

Summary – Taking the Public Bus to Mendenhall Glacier

The weather was fantastic on the day we stopped in Juneau and we enjoyed all the walking we did both to get to the glacier and to hike the trails at the site. All that exercise helped us manage our weight (there’s a lot of wonderful food to enjoy on a cruise). For active travelers, we recommend taking the public bus to the Mendenhall Glacier. If the weather is poor or you don’t want to walk quite as much as we did, we’d recommend taking the shuttle bus to the Mendenhall Glacier. It’s a short walk from the dock and takes you directly to the Visitor Center. Either way, you won’t regret seeing the Mendenhall Glacier. It is absolutely amazing.

More Alaska Adventures: Read our suggestions for Things to do in Seward, Alaska.

5 thoughts on “Alaska Adventure – Taking the Public Transit Bus to Mendenhall Glacier

  1. Sarah Burchat Reply

    Love the information thank you. We will be arriving in Juno in two weeks and plan to use the public bus system as well.”The dropoff/pickup point for the Mendenhall Glacier is at the “corner” of Mendenhall Loop Road and Glacier Spur Road, which is about 1.2 miles from the glacier visitor center.”
    I went to the attached link and was wondering what exact bus line you took. The bus also takes 30 minutes right? I am having some difficulty figuring it out 🙂

    1. wanderwoman Reply

      I’m glad you found the information helpful, Sarah. I’m not sure which bus number it was that we caught. If you head over to the bus terminal, someone will be able to tell you which bus to catch. We stopped at the visitor info center and asked them about catching public transit to the glacier and they directed us to the city bus terminal. (If you stop at the info center, walk past all of the tour operators who are wanting to sell tours to the area where they just have visitor info and they can direct you. You’ll see it right after you get off the ship.) Then when we got to the the bus, I reconfirmed with the driver that we had the right bus and what the schedule was, so we’d know what time to be back at the bus stop to return to the ship. It is a long walk from the bus stop to the glacier and back. You’ll also want to walk some of the trails. I loved walking to the water fall. We’re reasonably fit though and we figured the exercise might be good for us after all the food we had been eating on the cruise. One last tip: I always plan to be back to the ship 2 hours before it is scheduled to depart. That way if something goes wrong you have time to make alternate plans (in this case – call a cab). Have a fun time in Alaska. Please comment again to let us know how it went!

    2. wanderwoman Reply

      Hi Sarah, I forgot to say that from the downtown transit center to Mendenhall Loop Road will take about an hour. And it takes an hour to return. That’s because the bus makes many stops along the way. You also need to factor in the time it will take you to hike to and from the bus stop and then the time hiking the trails at the site. Also, make sure you have cash to pay for the bus each way. Exact change is best. It will cost $2 per person per direction. Have a nice trip!

    1. wanderwoman Reply

      Great Question, Shannon. I’m going to update the article to include these details. Transportation each way will take about an hour and 40 minutes – depending on how fast you walk. The walk from the cruise terminal to the downtown transit terminal takes about 10 minutes. Then the bus ride to the drop point for the Mendenhall Glacier takes about an hour (it’s not a direct bus, so it makes stops along the way). Then it’s a 1.2 mile walk from the drop point to the visitor center. That will take 20-30 minutes depending on your walking speed. Budget 3 hours and 20 minutes getting there and back to the ship. There’s also the possibility you might have to wait a few minutes for the bus in either direction. Then include the amount of time you spend at the glacier, stopping in the visitor center and hiking the trails. In our case, it took us about 6 hours from start to finish. We hiked many of the trails at the Mendenhall site. It’s a lot of walking and we felt like we had earned our dinner that evening. One last tip: Whenever I’m doing my own shore excursion, I always plan to be back at the ship at least 2 hours prior to the final departure time. That way if anything goes wrong, I won’t get left behind. Hope that information is helpful. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *