The Juneau Icefield – Helicopter Glacier Flightseeing Excursion

It had started raining while we were enjoying the Salmon Bake, but not heavily. We traveled by tour van from the heart of downtown Juneau to the Era Helicopter Headquarters. After being weighed, divided into groups of four and geared up, we were ready for our helicopter/glacier excursion. Again, a very well organized business, very friendly people and we felt very secure with the adventure we were about to take.

Era Flightseeing Helicopters Landing

Era Flightseeing Helicopters Landing

Taku Glacier

Flying over the Taku Glacier


See four of Alaska’s most spectacular glaciers as your pilot flies over the ice spires and pinnacles of the “cascading” Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier, the “advancing” Taku Glacier, the “retreating” Norris Glacier and either the mysterious “floating” Dead Branch Glacier or the “river-like” East Twin Glacier.

Land on a remote glacier to step out and explore the ancient landscape with your pilot as your guide. Peer down into a crevasse and look for a glacial stream. On the return trip, watch for bears, mountain goats and moose.

Each glacier we saw during the excursion is part of the Juneau Icefield. The whole trip lasted a little over an hour. We started with flying over the Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier, flew through the Taku Glacier and came to land on the Norris Glacier. It was a completely different world.

Foggy Treeline Gives Way to Blue Glacier

Foggy Treeline Gives Way to Blue Glacier

Glacier Surface Blue Ice

Glacier Surface Blue Ice

Once we departed the helicopter, we found ourselves walking on rocky, uneven ice. Albeit uneven, the pattern in the ice was consistent. It almost looked like it had been purposefully carved with ripples. Several crevices in the surface gave us view to that brilliant blue color of the ice once again, water running over the blue ice like a miniature waterfall or a sculpture.

Norris Glacier Panorama - Juneau AK

Norris Glacier Panorama - Juneau AK

Tug pulling barge from Juneau Port as seen from helicopter

Tug pulling barge from Juneau Port as seen from helicopter

Era Flightseeing also sponsors Dog Sled Excursions on Norris Glacier, we’d love to try this the next time we make the trip. The glacier walks and dog sled lessons are only accessible via air travel.

We sadly returned to our helicopter and began our way back to Era after viewing the last two glaciers on the itinerary. After returning to Juneau, we completed our day in the city just traveling the streets. We poked our heads in the historic Red Dog Saloon and ultimately decided to check out some of the jewelry shops along the main street. Ryan bought me an incredible sapphire and diamond ring, and then we found a great Jade shop next door where we were able to buy some gifts for family members back home.

All in all, a great day in Juneau.

Aerial view of Juneau, Alaska and Cruise Ships at Port

Aerial view of Juneau, Alaska and Cruise Ships at Port

Era Helicopter Flightseeing Brochure 2010

A Morning in Juneau: Mendenhall Glacier and Salmon Bake

Juneau, AK

Juneau, AK

Our next port of call was Juneau, the state capital. Oddly enough, Juneau is only accessible by boat or plane, there are no roadways coming in our out of it due to its location. The Borough of Juneau itself is the size of Delaware and Rhode Island put together, but is surrounded primarily by ice fields and mountains. Residents of Alaska have petitioned multiple times to have the capital moved, but as a new location could never be agreed upon, the government remains there.

Our travel agent arranged for one excursion compliments of her agency while we were on our cruise. The “Mendenhall Glacier & Alaskan Salmon Bake” was not an excursion we would have booked for ourselves as it sounded pretty tame, but we were both so grateful to get to experience both.

Mendenhall Glacier Panorama

Mendenhall Glacier Panorama, click for full size.

“Travel through Juneau’s picturesque downtown to the mighty Mendenhall Glacier, a moving river of ice with rugged crevasses. Stroll the many walkways or enjoy some time at the Visitor Center, then you’ll board your motor coach for your tour to the traditional Alaskan salmon bake at Salmon Creek. An Alaskan feast, this salmon bake features Alaskan-caught wild salmon grilled over an open alder wood fire. Also enjoy Cheechako baked chicken, Bonanza barbecued ribs; Chilkoot baked beans, wild-rice pilaf, a variety of fresh salads, corn bread and lemonade, coffee or tea. (Beer and wine are available for an additional charge.) Dine beside Salmon Creek in Southeast Alaska’s rain forest and listen to a local musician–a translucent roof protects you rain or shine. After dining, toast marshmallows over a crackling campfire and walk to view the beautiful Salmon Creek waterfall. Remnants of the historic Wagner Mine are evident here. Return to the ship by shuttle bus.”

Kayakers approaching Mendenhall Glacier

Kayakers approaching Mendenhall Glacier

The bus trip through town to Mendenhall Valley was about fifteen minutes and again our route was narrated by the driver. We arrived at the glacier and were immediately in awe. From the bus itself we could already see the vivid blue color of the ice. Glacial ice appears blue because it absorbs all colors of the visible light spectrum except blue, which it transmits. You have to see it to truly grasp the crisp clarity and beauty of the ice.

We did quite a bit of quick hiking around Mendenhall. Detoured by a sign warning us of bears in the area, the ground littered with half eaten salmon, we never quite made it to Nugget Falls. We did witness the salmon frantically swimming up stream in the river surrounding the Visitors Center however, so bizarre. We were also able to video some calving of the glacier while we were there.

Wood Grilled Glazed Salmon

Wood Grilled Glazed Salmon

Salmon Creek Abandoned Mine

Salmon Creek Abandoned Mine

We left Mendenhall in the same tour bus and soon found ourselves at the Salmon Bake. Wow… mmmm… The description of the menu above does do it justice and we couldn’t get enough to eat. We may have been joined by 100 other tourists, but really there was plenty to eat, the folk band was very entertaining and the hiking trails were beautiful.

We found ourselves alone by the abandoned mine and were able to forget that we were with a large tour group. After being awarded the ceremonial Salmon Bake baseball hat and herded back on the bus, we were on our way back to downtown Juneau for the part of the trip Ryan was most looking forward to; a glacier landing via helicopter.