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Roadtrippin’ 2022: Driving Juneau’s Glacier Highway — hikes, history, and great views over the Chilkat Mountains

Roadtrippin’ 2022: Driving Juneau’s Glacier Highway
Updated: Jun. 14, 2022 at 1:33 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Juneau isn’t well known for its roads. Alaska’s capital city is the only one in the United States not connected to the rest of its state by road.

But, the city does have one highway worth visiting: the Glacier Highway. The road stretches through the Mendenhall Valley and out roughly 25 miles past Auke Bay, Juneau’s ferry terminal.

There are sights to see galore along the highway. The Mendenhall Glacier is a great first stop to see the glacier that gave the highway its name. The U.S. Forest Service’s visitor’s center offers great, informative exhibits about the glacier and how it has receded in recent decades due to climate change.

There are gentle and more strenuous hikes around the glacier and to see the thundering Nugget Falls. A hike on the west side of the Mendenhall Glacier should be attempted with caution, it’s easy to lose the trail, but it does offer fantastic views over miles of towering ice.

Further down the highway, past Auke Bay, is the Jensen-Olson Arboretum. The tree and plant museum has excellent views over the Chilkat Mountains on a clear day. Ginger Hudson, the chief horticulturist at the arboretum, is proud of its nationally accredited collection of primroses.

“Juneau is considered a primrose city, they grow really well here, and we are happy to show off over 150 varieties,” she said.

There are plenty of hikes along the highway; some that hug the coast, giving visitors a chance to see and hear humpback whales, and see bald eagles, and killer whales. There are also hikes heading out into the Tongass National Forest.

The 3-mile Windfall Lake Trail is relatively flat and well-developed. It winds through the temperate rainforest and ends at a picturesque lake and public use cabin. There are many of those on offer near Juneau, but they’re popular and book out fast, particularly in summer.

Close to Amalga Harbor is the Ernest Gruening House. Gruening, a central figure in Alaska’s push for statehood and one of the state’s first U.S. senators, is remembered by informative placards and a beachside home maintained by the state.

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