Cascading waterfall with Mendenhall Glacier in the background
  • Cascading waterfall with Mendenhall Glacier in the background
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It had been a long, rainy week aboard our Celebrity cruise ship when we pulled into the port of Juneau on the morning of September 24, 2011. The weather was a brisk 48 degrees and it was raining heavily, just as it had during our previous four stops.

My wife and I’s first activity of the day was to take the tram ride up to the top of Mt. Roberts via the tramway station directly in front of the cruise ship dock. Tickets were $29 roundtrip for adults and included admission into the Chilkat Theater where a short film about the native Tlingit people was shown every 30 minutes.

There was also a bald eagle viewing display where we had the chance to get up close and personal with a bald eagle – they are tremendous birds with huge talons. Outside of the gift shop are several hiking trails that head through the forest and farther up the mountain. We heard there were black bears in the area but we didn’t see any in the morning.

Our second activity of the day was to catch a shuttle from the cruise ship terminal to the Mendenhall Glacier, about 20 minutes from the pier. The glacier empties into Mendenhall Lake, which has a visitor center where photographs can be taken from a distance away.

If you’re feeling adventurous like we were that day, you can take a mile-long hike to the glacier and find a magnificent waterfall waiting for you on your approach. There were about 20 other people who had braved the cold, wet conditions and made the hike out there as well. It was a surreal experience to be that close to a glacier in such an unspoiled patch of land. I’d heard from our tour guide that this is a popular hiking place for locals, and we saw several on the paths.

When we returned to the visitor center, we heard that some bears were spotted on one of the other trails to the south. We had not seen any bears yet on this trip – and this being our last stop in Alaska, we were determined to find one. We walked along a path with our eyes peeled, only to get to a point where a gate had been closed to prevent people from coming in contact with the bears.

We were disappointed, but when we got back to town the sun had come out and we decided to ride the tram back up the mountain and take another look. Sure enough, a bear was spotted feeding along the main trail and we were able to take several good photographs of it before it ran away.

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