Glacier Gardening

A Juneau ‘ice garden’ provides a surprising treat

By: Christopher Batin

I confess. I have sinned along with the countless cruise passengers stopping over for a day tour in Juneau. Like them, I looked at the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure tour as advertising hype. How can you have an adventure in an ice garden and for $19.95?

However, while in Juneau, I had a free afternoon, and my friend and Juneau resident, John Beiler, smiled as we planned the day.

“We’re going to Glacier Gardens,” he said, thinking I’d be overjoyed.

“It’s sunny out, John, which is rare for Juneau,” I replied. “Let’s see the whales, go fishing or hiking.”

He kept driving, pretending not to hear me. I kept an open mind, until I walked up to the garden entrance. From that point on, I was in awe. This was neither an ordinary garden, nor was it iced over.

Upturned spruce trees stood like Roman columns, each supporting a mini-amphitheater of flowers. Their wide, flat, sprawling roots flared in irregular circles that hovered 15 to 20 feet in the air. Each root tangle was filled with soil from which an abundance of plants emerged. While a wide trail snakes along the base of the trees, tourists bumped into each other regularly most looking up at the floral spectacles.

“It is one of the most popular attractions in the Juneau area,” said Beiler, “and a popular choice for weddings and other events.”

Steve Bowhay married Cindy in 1988, and the couple expanded his gardening and greenhouse business into Glacier Gardens.

The flower garden is a small part of a larger tract of 50 acres of dense Southeast Alaska rainforest, accessible by a meandering forest trail. While it’s possible to hike the trail to the top of 520-foot Thunder Mountain, most people opt for a leisurely ride in one of the golf carts.

On the ride up, we leaned back and admired the thick rainforest beauty. Foxes, mink, otters, bears and eagles are often seen on the forest portion of the tour, as well as spectacular views of Chilkat Mountains, Gastineau Channel and the Mendenhall Valley. We stopped often to view flower-decorated ponds and waterfalls.

After I made the roundtrip, I wanted to make the journey again, only this time on foot, and perhaps even volunteer to plant a few flowers.



Glacier Gardens is wheelchair accessible great for cruise passengers who can’t handle traditional Alaska day tours. Buses leave downtown Juneau every 30 minutes and stop at Glacier Gardens.

Season: May 1-Sept. 30. Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

Cost is $19.95 for adults. Agent commission is 20 percent.