The Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure encompasses 50 acres in southeast Alaska. Located in the Tongass National Forest, the botanical gardens include unique flower towers, lush landscapes and panoramic views of Juneau and the surrounding area. The Upside Down Flower Towers were voted “America’s most interesting landmark” in a 2012 Reader’s Digest poll. Large Hemlock and Spruce trees are buried in the earth upside down, with their root systems pointing upward.
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The tree roots are then covered with netting and soil, and planted with a wide variety of flowers, which cascade downwards from the root ball of the tree. Each tree holds 75-100 plants, creating a spectacularly colorful landscape against the background of the temperate rainforest. The surrounding 50 acres of Glacier Garden Rainforest are landscaped solely by nature and offer a contrast to the colorful Flower Towers and botanical gardens. The Tongass National Forest is the largest temporal rainforest in the world, spanning over 17 million acres in total. The forest is primarily a mix of old growth and new growth Hemlock and Spruce trees. Low shrubs, ferns, moss and lichen densely cover the forest floor. Tours pause at a viewpoint on the side of Thunder Mountain that offers a 200-degree view of the Mendenhall wetlands and valley, Douglas Island, the Gastineau Channel, and in the distance, the Chilkat Mountains. In 2004, a mated pair of Alaskan Bald Eagles made their home in Glacier Gardens. The pair returns each year to raise their young. Guests can get an up close look at the pair and their offspring through an Eagle Cam installed nearby the nest.
History: Glacier Gardens is privately owned by Steve and Cindy Bowhay. The Bowhays have owned a thriving nursery in Juneau for over 30 years. Yard Doctor Landscape, Steve’s nursery, began in 1984. In 1994, they purchased the surrounding 6.5 acres of property, which had been badly damaged in a 1984 storm. The storm had caused a massive landslide from the Hienzelman Ridge on Thunder Mountain, several trees were down and without growth to prevent erosion, there was high risk of further mudslide damage. To mitigate future damage and to protect their nursery, the Bowhays set out to control the nearby stream by creating several ponds and waterfalls for the safe runoff of water from future storms. In the process of clearing the damaged trees, Steve stumbled upon the idea for the flower towers when a large tree accidentally fell off his excavator and landed upside down. To this day, Steve Bowhay annually plants the Flower Towers himself. The Bowhays have since acquired an additional 44 acres of rainforest property, and it is through this acreage that the Glacier Adventures tour through a two-mile pathway offering beautiful views and a trip past the waterfalls and through the Upside Down Flower Towers. Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventures opened in 1998 and today employs up to 60 people during the peak summer season. Today, the tours consistently receive accolades and positive reviews from guests, and the Rainforest Adventure is known for their informative guides and unique gardens.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Visitors tour the rainforest and botanical gardens in a covered vehicle on a guided adventure. Tours begin at the Visitors Center and then enter the botanical gardens where guides educate guests on the history of the nursery, the Bowhays and the Glacier Gardens. Guests stroll past waterfalls, streams and botanical displays while learning about the challenges of gardening in Alaska. The tour then continues in a covered tram that follows a path from the lower gardens into the Tongass National Forest. The tram climbs uphill towards a lookout point where visitors pause to enjoy the view. Although tours last approximately two hours, guests may spend all day in the botanical gardens, and enjoy the café and gift shop as well. Glacier Gardens partners with all major Alaskan cruise lines for guests looking for an onshore adventure as part of their cruise. The Visitor’s Atrium is an event space suitable for weddings, meeting and lectures. The atrium is colorfully decorated with dense hanging gardens of Begonia, Petunia, and Fuchsia.
What’s Nearby: Tongass Adventure Tours is a partner of Glacier Gardens and offers their own shuttle which tours visitors through the gardens from a departure point in downtown Juneau. The two-hour tour combines the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure with a history tour of Alaska’s capital city and the surrounding area.