Mendenhall Glacier and Gold Creek Salmon Bake in Juneau, Alaska
Looking for a great excursion in Juneau for your family? It can take me forever to find the perfect activity at each cruise port. There are many "must haves" for each person in our family. Here are a few things I look for:
Just to name a few. Oh, and cost! Cost was a big factor when we explored potential activities for our Alaska cruise. Prices can be extremely high for Alaskan adventure excursions.
It's a big debate whether to do a ship sponsored excursion or arrange one on your own. I'm of the belief that I'd rather pay a few more dollars for the peace of mind that IF there is a delay returning from an excursion (think flat tire or traffic) then the ship will wait for you.
I had always dreamed of seeing the Mendenhall Glacier. Plus, I've heard from many people that the salmon in Alaska is out of this world. We enjoy salmon okay, although fish is not a regular staple on our dinner table. However, I was determined to sample this local specialty when in Alaska. So when I found both of these destinations included in one excursion in Juneau, saw it lasted 3 1/2 hours, included facilities at both sites, and we could head back from the salmon bake at our leisure in shuttles that ran frequently back to the pier, count me IN!
This same excursion in Juneau is available on a variety of cruise lines. On the Celebrity Solstice, a Celebrity Cruises ship, it is offered in the Juneau section of the Excursion Guide as JU33 Mendenhall Glacier and Salmon Bake. For our day in Juneau, the ship didn't arrive at the pier until 1:30 PM since we were scenic cruising through Endicott Arm to the Dawes Glacier in the morning (which was absolutely phenomenal, by the way) and so our tour started at 3:30 PM.
Only about 12 miles away from downtown Juneau where the cruise ships dock, the Mendenhall Glacier is one of Alaska's most spectacular and famous glaciers. It's over 13 1/2 miles of a glorious Juneau icefield that spills into Mendenhall Lake in the Tongass National Forest.
For this excursion, you walk only a short distance from the ship to meet up with your guide in the bus loop. The guides in Alaska are extremely knowledgeable, enthusiastic and friendly. You'll find on any mode of transportation in Alaska, you'll be given history and fun facts as you travel along to your destination. Many of the excursion guides are college graduates or students who work in Alaska during the touristy summer months. And yes, they are both van and bus worthy as they have their commercial driver's licenses and have learned the routes well.
Once you arrive at Mendenhall Glacier, you'll be dropped at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor's Center. Head inside to learn more about the magnificent glacier you are about to see. Or get started right away. Pass by the visitor's center and take the marked trail to Mendenhall Glacier on a very clear walking path. It's a bit of a hike but it's worth it. You'll reach your final destination where the road meets the lake, and the vision directly in front of you is stunning.
It was new to me...do you know what gives glaciers their blue color? The blue hue is produced by the glacier's crystal structure as it absorbs and reflects light. This process gives the ice its unique tint. It's best to visit a glacier on a cloudy day which makes the depth of the color even more brilliant.
Veer off the path to Nugget Falls for a longer walk of about 30 to 45 minutes or more, depending on your desired activity level. Once you arrive, catch a close up view of this incredible waterfall. Even if you don't choose the hike, you can still see the waterfall from the viewing area on the main walkway.
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife as you stroll through the Tongass National Forest. You are bound to see one of approximately 30,000 bald eagles who make their home in Alaska.
Your guide will let you know where and when to meet for the next part of this excursion. Be conscious of the time so you can leisurely explore the walking paths, stop at the visitor's center to learn more about the area, browse the gift shop, or use the restrooms before boarding the bus for dinner.
Gold Creek Salmon Bake
"Mom, this is the BEST salmon I've EVER had!" announced my teenage son when we sat down. I breathed a sign of relief and knew I had picked our excursion well.
The Gold Creek Salmon Bake picnic area is beautifully nestled within large spruce trees and features cute decorated tables. Along with buffet-style side dishes and salads, you can savor the wild caught salmon baked over alderwood and stop by the "Gold Strike Saloon" to purchase beer and wine. Don't miss the roasted marshmallows for dessert while you listen to live music. And try everything...the Gold Creek Salmon Bake is all you can eat!
Immediately upon arriving, you'll take in the delicious smoky aromas and festivities. Even with all of the food and guests, there is still plenty of seating and not a long wait for food at all. I was pleasantly surprised since I was prepared for it to be overly crowded. In fact, it was a relaxing atmosphere to enjoy the fresh Alaskan salmon and locally prepared food, especially after the hikes we had just accomplished at the Mendenhall Glacier.
At the self-serve buffet station, my favorite was the incredibly fresh cornbread, It literally melts in your mouth. They also offer delicious salads, coleslaw, chowder, potatoes, macaroni and cheese, rice pilaf, baked beans, and blueberry cake. I love the traditional Alaskan flavors!
The fresh wild-caught salmon is truly the star of the show. Highlighted in a separate covered area, the pit is carefully tended to be at the optimum temperature for the delicate fish and it was cooked perfectly,
The salmon's sweet taste is enhanced by this delicious brown sugar sauce they drizzle over top. It's sweet and smoky and admittedly, slightly addicting. After drooling over this specialty, we were thrilled to hear they sold the sauce in the gift shop. It contains the dry ingredients and instructions how to easily prepare at home. Of course we purchased a few packages to take back with us.
After a stroll around the beautiful grounds (hint: take the walking trail to see the waterfall), browsing the authentic Alaska mementos, and eating every last bite of the Gold Creek Salmon you can possibly muster, they have shuttles to take you back to the ship running every 20 minutes or so. If you haven't explored downtown Juneau at this point, ask the driver to drop you in the downtown area as they drive through. It can be a little bit of a hike back to the ship depending on which pier your ship is docked but the authentic Juneau shopping is not to be missed.
Virtual Hint: Even if you don't book the Gold Creek Salmon Bake through a ship sponsored excursion, you can sign up directly through their website. Included in the per person price is round-trip transportation from your dock.
I couldn't have asked for a better excursion in Juneau. From the views of the Mendenhall Glacier to the Gold Creek Salmon Bake that lived up to my highest expectations, the entire family enjoyed this combination. If you get to the Gold Creek Salmon Bake, have a bite of salmon for me!
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Thanks for cruising by! Along with creating this website and blog, I work in an office full-time and as a mom to two energetic teenage boys. With our family's busy work and school schedule, we look forward to traveling during holidays. Although it seems that our family can never agree on anything, we do when it comes to vacations. We typically travel on cruises or stay at luxury hotels. We enjoy upscale dining, beautiful decor, excellent service, and spacious accommodations. However, with a family including two teenage boys, we still need family friendly and comfortable.
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