Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area

We recently attended a presentation by John Neary, director of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, detailing proposed changes to Juneau’s most-visited attraction. A long-time resident of Juneau, Neary is clearly passionate about preserving our backyard glacier and the wilderness surrounding it. His talk inspired us to learn a little more about the Mendenhall, so here are a few facts that you might not know about this natural wonder just down the road from downtown Juneau.

Mendenhall Glacier in 2010

Mendenhall Glacier in 2010 (source)

The Mendenhall Glacier is about 12 miles long. It originates at the Juneau Icefield, a mass of ice covering an area the size of Rhode Island and nearly a mile deep in places.

Visitor center in the 1960's

Visitor center in the 1960’s (source)

Built in 1962, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center was the first US Forest Service visitor center in the country. The building once featured a restaurant serving pie and coffee, but that service was discontinued to keep the local bears from becoming habituated.

Mendenhall Glacier was originally named Auke Glacier after the Auk Kwaan clan of Tlingit Indians who were the area’s original inhabitants. The Tlingit called the glacier Aak’wtaaksit or “the Glacier Behind the Little Lake”. The glacier was later renamed in honor of Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, a noted scientist who was instrumental in defining the boundary between the United States and Canada.

The Mendenhall Glacier was featured in the documentary Chasing Ice, which sought to capture the effects of climate change through long term time-lapse photography of retreating glaciers. While locals lament the glacier’s retreat, this constant change makes the Mendenhall an ideal place to examine the effects of glaciers on the local environment. Looking down the valley from the glacier’s terminus, visitors can follow the timeline of plant succession as bare rock is colonized by alder and cottonwood trees. These plants in turn provide nitrogen and more organic matter to the soil, eventually allowing towering spruce and hemlock trees to take root and transform the once-barren land into an old-growth forest. If this sounds complicated, just come visit the Mendenhall Glacier yourself and you can see this process in action!

Mendenhall Valley is home to a wide range of wildlife including songbirds, eagles, salmon, beavers, coyotes, squirrels, porcupines, and of course, black bears. The Visitor Center and its nearby trails are designed to provide ample opportunity to encounter these animals with minimal interference with their daily routines.

Mendenhall Glacier in the 1940's

Mendenhall Glacier in the 1940’s (source)

While most people visit the Mendenhall Glacier in the summer, it is an equally amazing attraction in the winter. With enough cold weather in the winter months, the lake in front of the glacier freezes over and becomes a playground for Juneau locals. When the lake is frozen solid and has no snow on it, it turns into a giant natural ice rink for ice skaters to enjoy. Once enough snow falls to cover the lake, cross country skiers can ski a loop all the way around the lake. Another popular winter pastime is to walk a mile across the frozen lake to (cautiously) peer into one of the many deep ice caves at the glacier’s face.


Mendenhall Glacier from Skater's Cabin

Mendenhall Glacier from Skater’s Cabin

We hope you get the chance to come and experience this majestic sight in person!

Throwing Axes with AZA

Here at Alaska Zipline Adventures, we get a lot of curious looks when we tell our guests that axe throwing is included in their zipline tour. Some guests are immediately excited at the prospect of throwing axes at targets in the rainforest while others don’t see the appeal until they’ve got the axe in their hands, aimed right at the bullseye. We include axe throwing in our tour because we think its fun to add a little splash of lumberjack culture into our tour. This is Alaska, after all!

Axe throwing is a popular part of competitive lumberjack events–like sawing wood, climbing poles, and rolling logs. Contestants stand 20 feet away from a thirty-six inch target. The target has five, four-inch-wide rings and each ring has a point value. The outer-most ring is worth one point, and the bullseye is worth five points. Players get five throws for a possible high score of 25 points.

We enjoy having competition style axe throwing as an addition to the zipline experience. It is fun for both guests and guides alike!

Here are some photos of our happy and talented guests throwing axes in the rainforest!

Girl Axe ThrowDSCF1664Ax throw beautiful backdrop

AZA Goes Kayaking!!!

In today’s fast-paced world, some of the most difficult tasks can seem like the simplest: remembering to put our phones away, turning off Netflix, or powering down our computers and Playstations. But when we step outside our sphere of information and technology–even just for the evening–it is a beautiful thing. We can allow ourselves to focus on the smell of the air, the calm of the water, or the salmon leaping two feet from front of our faces, and everything becomes a bit more clear. Two weekends ago, AZA carved some time out of our busy tour schedule, and we all went kayaking!

The crew had tons of fun on the water, followed by a delicious feast of hot dogs and s’mores at Auke Bay! Not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening!


Christian and Emily coming ashore.


Caden going solo!


Oliver and Carolyn are killin’ it!


David and Amanda K having fun


The crew on the tiny island we paddled to.


Group shot! Left to right: Amanda L, Carolyn, Amanda K, Gin, Caden, David, Alicia, Joel, Christian, Oliver, McKenzie, Emily, and Davy as The Captain

We all had a blast. Hats off to Gin and Davy for setting it all up (and to Above and Beyond Alaska for the kayak rental!!)!


In light of our recent adventure, here are a few cool facts about Kayaks!

1. Kayaks have been used in battle.

Military use of kayaks dates back to WWII when the British military used the stealthy boats for special raiding missions. Even today, the US, British, and Canadian governments still make use of kayaks when they want to approach by sea, undetected–like in 1992 when US forces snuck into Somolia unnanounced and set up a full-force siege!

2. The best way to whale watch is from a kayak.

No surprise here. Kayaks are quiet, which makes it more likely for whales to swim closer to the boats. And generally, “killer whales” don’t see it necessary to bump or flip a kayak.

3. One woman paddled over 200 miles in 24 hours!

I know, right? From

“Robyn Benincasea from the US of A currently holds the Guinness World Record for the farthest distance a woman has ever paddled in 24 hours when she paddled down the Yukon River in Yukon, Canada back in June 2011. Over a 24 hour period, she covered a distance of 371.92km (231.1 miles). Yes, she had the current helping to push her along but I’m 100% confident she went farther than you ever could.”


Blueberry Season at Eaglecrest!

August is here, 

berries too.

And by the end of today,

my mouth and fingers, dyed blue.

Growing up in Southeast Alaska, I’ve always noticed an air of friendly competition that arises around the time the blueberries begin to ripen in early-to-mid August. Although there are plenty of blueberries to go around–the trails and roadsides are lined with bushes–the most accessible blueberry bushes are picked clean within the blink of an eye! And deeper in the forest, bears and deer nourish themselves by grazing for hours on the ripe morsels. Before anyone can say “man, that pie was tasty,” the ripe berries are picked clean and human and non-human Juneau residents are left waiting until next season to enjoy a belly full of berries. Now is the time to go berry picking! And one of the absolute best places in town to snag a bucket full of berries is our very own Eaglecrest!

There’s a reason why we serve blueberry tea on our zipline–because we operate our tour in blueberry paradise! The lush vegetation on Eaglecrest road and all the way up the mountain is ideal for the berries to grow and provides miles of prime picking territory!

Once picked, its important to soak the blueberries in water overnight to remove worms! From there, they can be frozen or used in a delicious fresh recipe. I’m a pie lover myself, but I know many people who save up their berries for pancakes or jam. Yum!

Here’s the haul some family members picked at Eaglecrest yesterday.

berries berries2




What we’ve been up to in 2014!

During the busy tourism season here in Alaska, a month can feel like it passes in the blink of an eye. We can’t believe it’s already mid-June here at AK Zip! The 2014 season is off and running, and it sure is a good one! All of our guides are getting fantastic feedback for their positive attitudes, adherence to safety, and adventurous personalities! And each day brings a new group of exhilarated, satisfied zipline guests.

Here are some guest and crew photos from the season so far:

Amanda K, Davy, Christian, and a happy group of guests!

Christian clipping in a zipliner!


These adorable kids are from Kuspuk, AK

Smiling David on a platform.

Alicia David kids

David, Alicia, and some of the kids from Kuspuk.

In the trees.


Taylor zipping backwards!


Our awesome aerial suspension bridge

A local family zipping with us on Juneau Appreciation Day


Katie and David!

Up the Stairs

Up the stairs, to the zipline!

Caden Leamer group

Caden and Amanda L with a group before their tour.


Hiker’s Paradise

We all have a favorite, sometimes two or three. One for sunny summer days, one for rainy summer days, one for winter snowshoeing, one for winter cross-country skiing. I’m talking about hiking trails in Juneau. They’re everywhere. I’d estimate there are about 30 marked and manicured trails right here in Juneau, but I could be off–could be more. Maybe 50! Even 60 hiking trails! Regardless of an exact number, there’s a little something for everyone. Some trails, like the Treadwell Trail at Sandy Beach, are as easy as a stroll in the park, while others, like Mt. Juneau, are better suited for advanced hikers with a serious set of leg muscles.



View from Mt. Juneau, courtesy of Alaska Zipline Adventures co-owner Gin Anderson.

For avid hikers coming off cruise ships or staying at hotels in the downtown area, there are a few pretty darn good options within walking distance of the city:

Perseverance Trail

I’m starting with Perseverance because it is hands-down my favorite trail of all time. Aside from about 20 minutes of moderate-level hiking at the very beginning, Perseverance is easy and suitable for most hikers. Its a historic trail that was once a mining road to the Silverbow Basin. Nestled in the gap between Mt. Roberts and Mt. Juneau, the basin gets loads of sunlight and is, in my opinion, the best place to hike on a sunny day because it gets so warm and the sky seems so high–its like being transplanted to the mountains in Hawaii. Beautiful.

On the Way to Cape Horn on the Perseverance Trail.

This photo shows the start of the trail at a point in the season when the snow has not yet fully melted. (source)

Mt. Robert’s Trail

The Mt. Robert’s Tram is the easy way to get halfway up the mountain, but not the only way. The Mt. Robert’s Trail, which starts at Basin road, is a steep moderate-to-advanced level hike that takes hikers to the tram visitor’s center and beyond! When I feel like working up a sweat, this is my go-to hike. The hike from the base to the tram is steep and wooded, with incredible views of the city of Juneau through a thin layer of trees. Above the tram, things open up and become truly breathtaking. The entire hike, from the base to the peak, takes about 7 hours, but many hikers prefer to hike up and take the tram down from there–a shorter option that only takes about 2 hours.Mt Roberts


Mt. Robert’s, courtesy of Gin.

Me, exhausted at the same spot on the peak of Mt. Robert’s last summer.


The view of Juneau and the Gastineau Channel, photo courtesy of me, taken a few days ago, about 15 minutes up from the tram at Father Brown’s Cross.

Nugget Creek Falls

I know I promised to write about trails accessible from downtown Juneau, but because so many visitors of Juneau visit the Mendenhall Glacier, I feel that I must mention this gem of a stroll from the visitor’s center to the most amazing waterfall near the foot of the glacier. The Nugget Falls trail is extremely easy, and it only takes about 20 minutes to reach this picturesque waterfall–in fact, folks who book a Zip & Glacier tour have time to hike to the falls, spend about 10-15 minutes taking photos, and hike back (just sayin’!). I love this trail because it’s accessible for visitor’s who only have a short time at the glacier, and it covers an area where bears and porcupine sightings aren’t all that uncommon.

Nugget Falls and Mendenhall Glacier

Nugget Falls and the Mendenhall Glacier. (source)

It’s a start, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of what this town has to offer hikers. For more information on these trails, directions to the trail-heads, and much, much more, check out this awesome Juneau trail guide.

Here are a few more photos of hikes around Juneau:


Gin on Mt. Jumbo!



Eagle Glacier


The backside of Eaglecrest Ski AreaEaglecrest



-McKenzie Dornbirer


Eat This, Don’t Touch That! – Plants of Southeast Alaska

I was driving down Egan highway (the only highway in Juneau) the other day with a friend from Southern California. “You know,” he said, pointing to the lush greenery on the mountains and between the houses, “if we were in California, none of those trees would be there. That land would’ve been developed a long time ago for track housing and strip malls.” My friend is right. Juneau is relatively underdeveloped, especially considering it is the capital city of the geographically largest state in the United States. A result of this underdevelopment is a flourishing culture of sustainability and subsistence. Plants really mean something to the people here. We eat them. We rub them on cuts. We drink them in tea. We pick them, we know them, we use them. The human/plant relationship in Alaska is a unique partnership that relies on respect and understanding. Don’t touch the Devil’s Club with bare hands, you’ll be picking out thorns for a week! But harvest its flowers respectfully, wearing leather gloves, only picking what you need, and you’ve got yourself a yummy plant that can be made into tea, put in salads, fried, boiled, stuffed in fish, or even made into an effective lotion for bruises and rashes.


Devil’s Club (photo credit)

Plants in Southeast Alaska are as unique as the people. If you visit Juneau in July, its likely you’ll see a field of fireweed, a fiddlehead in a garden, or highbush cranberry along a hiking trail. To me, these three plants (along with devil’s club) contribute to the unique natural environment in Juneau. They have a variety of uses.

Fireweed is a lovely pink flower which grows in big open spaces. Many visitors to the community remark at the serene, nearly breath-taking beauty of our fireweed fields. But this plant is so much more than just a pretty face. Alaska Natives use fireweed tea as a cure for stomachaches, and claim that it is even stronger than chamomile tea as a cure for restlessness. Topically, a paste of fireweed and grease can be mixed together and used to stave off infection from cuts and insect bites. The plant originated in Siberia, where to this day the Eskimos eat the root raw. Here in Alaska, we prefer to add the flowers to salads or stir fry. Aren’t they beautiful?


Fireweed (photo credit)

I have fond memories of eating fiddleheads from my mother’s garden. They taste bitter, and I never quite liked them until I grew up and realized that I didn’t need to be eating them raw. Fiddleheads are the rounded heads of the Sheild Fern, which is a plant that grows in moist, wooded areas all over Alaska. Natives boil the plant for a potent tea that cures stomachaches or, when cooled, acts as an effective eye wash. Personally, I pick the heads and sautee them in butter and garlic. Yum!


Shield Fern/Fiddlehead (photo credit)

Highbush cranberry are the medicinal king of the forest. They might not taste great (super sour!), but they sure do look pretty, and when stewed into a tea, they aren’t so bad. Many people use highbush cranberry bark tea as a cure for muscle aches and even menstrual cramps. The berries are also said to be great for colds, sore throats, and laryngitis. I might pick some on my next hike to freeze for the next time I have a cold!


Highbush Cranberry (photo credit)

I could go on. There are hundreds of plants in Alaska’s Wilderness Medicines: Healthful Plants of the Far North that I had no idea were edible or medicinal. With the right knowledge, this place is truly a mecca for the subsistence farmer.

-McKenzie Dornbirer

Tis the season…for a good salmon recipe!

It’s no secret that the best salmon in the world comes from Alaskan waters. Fishing is a core industry for most of coastal Alaska, and during the summer months our waters can yield up to 5 billion pounds of fresh fish and shellfish! Wild Alaskan salmon is jam packed with omegas and B vitamins (but make sure it’s wild–never farmed!), and if cooked properly its some of the tastiest food around. Smoked salmon is as popular as it is delicious, and a fresh fillet can take grilling to the next level, but I personally have yet to master the art of grilling, and salmon is an easy meat to overcook. Dry salmon is a huge disappointment, so I bake it with maple syrup! It’s simple, sweet, savory, and juicy. Yum!

Here’s my go-to salmon recipe:

Baked Maple Salmon

2 wild Alaskan salmon fillets

1 clove minced garlic

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons soy sauce

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400f. Mix the maple syrup, garlic, soy sauce, and a few dashes of salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk with a fork. Grease a shallow baking dish and add the salmon. Pour maple syrup mixture over the salmon and let marinade in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour, flipping once. Bake the salmon uncovered for 20-25 minutes and enjoy!


-McKenzie Dornbirer

Zipping is for the Family!

Did you know that you don’t need to be in incredible shape to enjoy a zipline? Zipping also isn’t just for kids (although kiddos sure do enjoy the thrill of zipping backwards).

Here are some photos of happy guests of all ages enjoying a day in the forest with us!









-McKenzie Dornbirer



The Life of a Local: What’s it really like to live in Juneau, Alaska?

I snagged my first fish at the age of five. When I was six I submerged a bare foot into a steaming pile of black bear you-know-what in my backyard. At fourteen, I hiked the famous 33-mile Chilkoot trail with my best friend and our fathers; and at eighteen, I spread my wings and moved into the college dorms at the University of Alaska Southeast…a whopping 12 miles away from my parent’s house! I can’t seem to get away from this place. I was a Juneau kid, and now I’m a Juneau woman. And I like it that way.

Like many born-and-bred Juneau kids, I got an early start in the tourism industry working summers at the gift shops on the pier. I eventually moved on to working in various capacities at local tour operators, but this summer I’ve snagged the best job yet as the Tour Sales Coordinator at Alaska Zipline Adventures! In the ten years I’ve been in the industry, I’ve spoken to thousands of people who have asked thousands of questions about this unique and majestic place. The most common question has always remained “so what’s it really like to live in Juneau?” Well, I’ll tell you!

Sunny Sometimes

If you visit Juneau during the summer months (and I really think you should), there’s a chance the sun will be shining. If that’s the case, take a look at the locals. We might be squinting (what  IS that big orange orb in the sky?) and we’ll probably all be smiling big, toothy, grateful grins. That’s because living in a rainforest in Southeast Alaska takes its toll on morale during the winter months. October-March is a journey from a dark, wet, cold autumn through a dark, snowy, frozen winter. So when the seasons change and we begin seeing longer hours of daylight, we locals don’t take a moment of it for granted. We are like children and nature is our candy shop. Time to dust off the kayaks, start biking to work, and of course go hiking anytime we have more than an hour to spare!


I’m won’t lie to you. Compared to the majority of adults in Juneau, I’m not that active. I have a gym membership to make up for all the cheesy pasta I eat during the winter, and in the summer I’ll hike a mountain or do some trail biking on my days off, but it’s not a daily thing and I generally prefer short nature walks to gigantic mountain adventures. That said, Juneauites are an active bunch! In addition to snowshoeing and cross country skiing, our tax dollars fund Eaglecrest Ski Area, which is well used by the community from the moment it opens in December until the day it closes in April (bonus fact: Alaska Zipline Adventures operates at Eaglecrest!). It’s a family friendly environment, and although I don’t ski myself, my younger brother is on the Juneau Ski Team. I’m always amazed when I go up to watch his races–the ages of the skiers at Eaglecrest range from three to ninety three (not even kidding)! But the culture in Juneau isn’t just active when it comes to snow sports. Warm summers make for the perfect environment to fish, kayak, hike, bike, canoe, run, walk, para-glide, swim, etc. You name it, the locals are probably doing it. Most of them are allergic to the sedentary lifestyle.

Nice & Laid Back

If you don’t like it when strangers smile and wave at you, you might get annoyed here in Juneau. With roughly 33,000 people, Alaska’s capital city is still small enough to have a down home mentality and culture of hospitality. Here, everyone is welcome and we tend to treat strangers like friends and neighbors. Locals are very accustomed to giving directions and advice to visitors, and most of us don’t mind taking time out of our day to help out a curious traveler. Probably because we are so darn proud of this place!


OK, now that I’ve told you all about how fantastic Juneau is, I will confess that even though it really IS fantastic, it can also be pretty average. That’s the thing people never expect to hear when they ask that loaded question, “what’s it really like to live in Juneau?” People have 9-5 jobs. They get sick, they get well. Sometimes people are rude, and most of the time they are friendly. We go to plays and spend entire weekends watching Netflix marathons in our pajamas (oh, is that just me?). The cops give out a whole lot of speeding tickets at the end of each month, and everyone knows where the speed traps are. As far as communities go, ours is pretty decent. We are no better or worse than any other place, just different. What makes us unique is our closeness to nature, and we know we’re lucky in that way. Every day after work, I walk for ten minutes up the hill near my house, and just like that I’m in the middle of the forest where I can sit and read a book in complete, pristine silence. If I want to go to the beach, I drive for 20 minutes. It’s that easy.

What’s it really like to live in Juneau? It’s nice, it’s accessible, and it’s drop dead gorgeous.




-McKenzie Dornbirer