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Winter hiking on the Mendenhall Glacier

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Insider tips on the best winter hiking in Juneau

For outdoor enthusiasts, avid hikers and free spirits, Juneau, AK presents unmatched opportunities for adventure. Only two and a half hours from Seattle by plane, this city boasts thirty-odd trailheads within minutes of downtown.

Several trailheads are a short walk from popular hotels, which means you don’t need to rent a car to lose yourself in Alaska’s natural beauty. Other trailheads are a quick drive or shuttle ride away.

There are over 250 miles of trails – some are paved and wheelchair-accessible, others cut strenuous uphill paths through challenging terrain. Some meander through dense temperate rainforests, others venture beyond the tree line or pass by historic sites.

Wildlife and landscape photographers will find plenty to fill the frame no matter where they wander. It’s not uncommon to see mountain goats in the hilly meadows and eagles soaring through the sky. Depending on the season, you could spot whales sailing by the downtown area, or a faraway bear on your hike. On especially clear nights, you can sometimes see the Northern Lights.

Intrigued but not sure where to start? Here are a handful of the hikes most beloved by Juneau locals.

Downtown Juneau Trails

Perseverance Trail
(3 miles round-trip, 2-4 hrs., easy to moderate)

With a well-marked trailhead at the end of Basin Road, this is the most popular and easily accessible trail system in Juneau. At scenic Silverbow Basin is the now-abandoned Perseverance Mine, which operated from 1885 to 1921. Be very careful if you explore the ruins.

Perseverance Trail branches off to the more challenging Granite Creek Trail, (7 miles round-trip, 3-4 hrs., moderate to strenuous) and the even steeper Mount Juneau Trail (12 miles round-trip, 10 hrs., very strenuous), which summits 3,576-foot Mount Juneau then continues along the ridge, eventually looping back to the valley floor. Views are stupendous, but the ridge loop is an expedition — plan and dress accordingly.

Mount Roberts Trail
(2 miles, 1 hr. to the Mountain House; 4.5 miles, 4 hrs. to the summit; moderate)

Another popular hike from a different trailhead on Basin Road, Mount Roberts Trail features a series of switchbacks up through the boreal forest and increasingly good views and wildlife spotting.

At 1,760 feet, hikers reach the tree line and the Mountain House, upper station for the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway which is open during the summer season.

Mendenhall Visitor Center

East Glacier Loop Trail
(3.5-mile loop; 2-3 hr; moderate)

This trail will take you up above the east side of Mendenhall Lake while offering good glacier views and the potential for black bear sightings.

For a “bird’s eye” perspective on the glacier and a slightly more difficult hike, West Glacier Trail (7 miles round-trip; 4-6 hrs., strenuous) skirts the northwest side of Mendenhall Lake then climbs through forest to the bare rock along the glacier’s west side. It also provides access to ice caves, which, while spectacularly beautiful, are also spectacularly dangerous — if you choose to visit them, go with a professional guide.

Shorter jaunts from the visitor center

Pick from several easy planked and/or paved trails, all between .25 and 1-mile. In addition to stunning views of the glacier’s face, these wheelchair- and stroller-accessible trails also feature spawning salmon streams and, during peak salmon runs, some of the best — and safest — bear viewing opportunities in Southeast Alaska.

Nugget Falls Trail
(.8 miles long, 30 minutes, easy)

For the slightly more adventurous, Nugget Falls Trail is a flat, well-developed path that leads to the foot of Nugget Falls. Look for mountain goats on surrounding cliffs and icebergs in the lake, which often resembles a floating frozen sculpture garden.

Douglas Island Trails

Dan Moller Trail
(6.5 miles round trip; 3-5 hrs., moderate)

This trail gradually climbs high into an alpine cirque with excellent views and striking wildflowers. The parking lot and trailhead is on Pioneer Street in the neighborhood right across the bridge from downtown. The Dan Moller Trail intersects with the Treadwell Ditch Trail (16.5 miles end-to-end, easy), which transverses Douglas Island. Big trees, good footing, wild blueberries (in season) and recent upgrades make this a great, relatively flat walk through the woods along the old Treadwell Ditch, once the source of water and hydroelectricity for mines and miners on the island.

Rainforest Trail
(.8 mile one-way; 30-45 minutes, easy)

Near the end of the North Douglas Highway, this wheelchair- and stroller-accessible trail cuts through lush rainforest and opens onto a small beach with great views of Admiralty Island, Lynn Canal, and the Chilkat Mountains, plus the occasional sea lion and humpback whale.

The routes described above are just a few of the many trails near Juneau, which is also a popular destination for skiing, kayaking and whale watching. Even if your whole crew isn’t into the great outdoors, the downtown area is full of unique museums, shops and restaurants that history buffs, bargain-hunters and foodies will love to explore on adventures of their own!

Ready for your Alaska adventure? Strap on your warmest hiking boots and head to traveljuneau.com/things-to-do/hiking-trails to start planning your trip.

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