Trail of Time in Juneau Alaska

Hiking is an activity that benefits the health, but which also really puts you in direct touch with your surroundings. Walking also allows you to enjoy the scenery at a human pace; it is an activity which allows you to experience a true sense of your surroundings, rather than just whizzing by palces as you would when travelling in a car.

Alaska has some great walks, and near the capital Juneau there is an easy walk which will not only impress, but which offers excellent evidence of how the Earth is changing.

Called the Trail of Time at Mendenhall Glacier, the walk is only possible because the glacier has receded so much. Seventy years ago, there was ice which extended beyond the site of the modern parking lot, and this is part of the evidence which partly points to global warming, but which also affirms that the area suffered from a mini ice age which began about 3,000 years ago and lasted up until the 1700s.

The walk is called the Trail of Time precisely because you can see the changes that have taken place over many millennia. Glaciers mark the land, and there is much evidence of this at Mendenhall Glacier.

As you look at the glacier, notice the vegetation on the hillside to each side of the lake. As the glacier advanced, it stripped the valley walls of all vegetation much as a giant bulldozer might prepare a yard for landscaping. This trimline, where light and dark green vegetation meet, indicates the highest point reached by glacial ice. The new growth, indicated by the lighter green vegetation, colonized the exposed rock surface as the glacier receded.

To help you understand the changes that have taken place, interpretive signs have been erected along the trail so that walkers can learn about the area and identify areas and artefacts that have been affected by the changes. Helpfully, these signs include historic photos which help you compare how the glacier looked up to 70 years ago with how it appears today.

Mendenhall Glacier is located just 13 miles from downtown Juneau and the glacier is part of the Tongass National Forest. There is an excellent visitor’s centre there and some lookouts which allow you great views of the glacier.

The trail is easy to negotiate, although it does have a gentle slope, and you should allow from 30 minutes to an hour for the return walk. Tongass National Forest is classified as a rainforest and, this being Alaska, rain and snow is a frequent occurrence. It is open all year round, except for Federal holidays, and admission is free.

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