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Alaskan Cruise Part 3: Mendenhall Glacier and Mount Roberts

Alaskan Cruise Part 3: Mendenhall Glacier and Mount Roberts
Alaskan Cruise Part 3: Mendenhall Glacier and Mount Roberts

In case you missed it, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our Alaskan cruise adventures.

In May 2016, my family and I embarked on a cruise from Vancouver through the inside passage of Alaska. Days 1-3 were spent at sea and in the port of Sitka. On Day 4, we spent the morning and early afternoon cruising through the spectacular Glacier Bay National Park.

On Day 5, we arrived at our second port of the cruise, Alaska’s capital city Juneau. This was the only port where we signed up for an actual excursion through the cruise line, Princess Cruises. We were also supposed to go kayaking in Sitka, but my sister and I were the only ones that signed up for the excursion, so it was cancelled!

After boarding a bus with 50 other passengers, we made our way to the first stop of our excursion: Mendenhall Glacier. Along, the way we saw countless bald eagles and learned about Juneau. The city is named after the gold prospector, Joe Juneau and there are no roads connecting the city to the rest of Alaska or North America. Downtown Juneau “is a maze of narrow streets running past a mix of new structures, old storefronts and quaint houses featuring early 19th century architecture left over from the town’s early gold mining days.”

Mendenhall Glacier

The Mendenhall Glacier sits within the Tongass National Forest – the largest national forest in the United States – and it is one of the 38 major glaciers that extend from the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield. A short walk from the parking lot, you are treated to spectacular views of the glacier.

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After taking several hundred pictures, we walked 20 minutes on a paved path to Nugget Falls. We couldn’t help but laugh: the falls were significantly larger than the waterfalls we saw during our 20 km hike in Sitka. I loved how close you can get to the falls!

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Juneau Rainforest Gardens

The next stop on our excursion was Juneau Rainforest Gardens. The gardens were lovely and the couple who ran it was very enthusiastic about plants, but I wouldn’t recommend making this an integral part of your itinerary (go on a hike instead). Although, the homemade oatmeal cookies and cinnamon spiced tea they served us were delicious!

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Mount Roberts Tramway and Hike

Our final stop of the organized excursion was the Mount Roberts Tramway: 1800 ft up, with views of Juneau, cruise ships, and the Gatineau Channel below. Once we reached the top, my sister and I embarked on one of my favourite hikes of the trip, and by far the most adventurous! First, we made the steady 30 minute climb up to the large cross on Mount Roberts.

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We continued along the trail, after being encouraged by a guy (in dress shoes nonetheless) to hike to the summit. There is little to no signage on the trail and the maps available at the info centre are neither free, nor overly helpful. Needless to say, we weren’t entirely sure where we were going, other than up!

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As we climbed in elevation, it unsurprisingly got much colder and we began to hit quite a bit of snow. I was so impressed with my sister: she is not a regular hiker and we hit some difficult, steep, and slippery terrain, as the wind blew and bald eagles circled overhead. She took it like a champ! And only once or twice thought we might die on the mountain.

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The views along the trail were fantastic and I am very glad we continued hiking beyond the tramway! However, after an hour or so of steady climbing, it was unclear how far we were from the summit. We were hitting more snow, and it was very slippery. We made the cautious decision to turn around, not wanting to fall off the mountain!

After taking the tramway back down, we spent our last few hours eating and exploring downtown Juneau. We picked up kombucha and snacks at the local health food store Rainbow Foods. I can proudly say we found somewhere to buy kombucha in every port! For lunch, we enjoyed salad, french fries, and mason jar drinks at the totally hipster restaurant Rockwell. And of course, I could not leave without trying some coffee! The cold brew at family-owned and operated COPPA was delicious. If you’re in the mood for dessert, they also serve homemade ice cream.

Have you gone on a hike before, with no clear idea of where you’re going or how long it’s going to take?

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