US Forest Service Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center Provides Incredible Tourist Experience

Tourism spending in the Juneau, Alaska area is expected to reach $160 million this summer season with many of those visitors flocking to the newly upgraded U.S. Forest Service Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

Located on the Tongass National Forest, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center attracts more than 400,000 visitors annually, many arriving via cruise lines that offer breathtaking views of the famed “Inside Passage” and Alaskan scenery. Because of the draw of the center, tourism spending in the Juneau area sustains hundreds of jobs at area shops, restaurants, hotels and recreation outfitter guide companies.

“Imagine having a front row seat to a spectacular, enormous ice field flowing down a valley into the glacier, and that’s what you experience when you are at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “This is a must-see venue that showcases Alaska’s natural treasures. The facility has been recently enhanced with Recovery Act funding and has become a state-of-the-art visitor experience bringing much needed tourism dollars into Southeast Alaska.”

Nature and culture-based tourism is a significant contributor to the private sector economy during the summer months in the area, with the Mendenhall Glacier acting as the premiere attraction. The glacier is one of the few in the world with road accessibility and offers textbook lessons on glacial dynamics.

The site provides tremendous commercial opportunities for local outfitter guides and tour companies which enhance the visitor experience. Helicopter flight-seeing, river rafting, dog sledding, guided hiking and biking excursions are all provided by privately run entities and contribute to sustaining local jobs in Southeast Alaska.

Other tourism activities at the visitor center include the ever-popular bear viewing opportunities. Visitors can safely view black bears from elevated walkways and well marked trails from May to October, corresponding to the spawning season of salmon in nearby streams.

The Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau expects approximately 450 cruise ship ports of call into Juneau, as well as nearly 100,000 tourists arriving by ferry or air. International cruise ship clientele arrive from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Turkey, Latin America, China, Russia, Japan, Korea and other countries.

The Recovery Act funding provided $2 million for upgrades at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center including new interpretive and exhibit materials and repairs to trails that help visitors enjoy the unique natural and cultural wonders of the Alaskan experience. Opened in 1962, this is the first visitor center constructed for the Forest Service and includes a 110-person theater and a combined retail/book store onsite.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

About the author

Ryan Alford