Mendenhall Rafting Adventure

A whitewater trip down the river provides unique sights of the glacier

By: Christopher Batin

Mendenhall Glacier
Visitors to Mendenhall Glacier
can raft the river.
One of the best day floats for either cruise or land-tour visitors to Juneau is the Mendenhall River whitewater rafting tour. It’s a trip for all ages, doesn’t require any physical conditioning and is only a few hours long and loads of fun.

Mendenhall is one of the most scenic glaciers in southeast Alaska, spanning 1½-miles wide. While public access to its terminus is free (and highly recommended because of the great interpretive site there operated by the U.S. Forest Service), a float trip down the river offers sights the public trail to the glacier can’t provide.

At Mendenhall Lake, the float crew arrived with their truck filled with protective clothing, personal flotation devices and rubber boots. After donning the waterproof clothing, our guide soon rowed 10 of us out onto the lake, which offered a superb view of the glacier. Soon, we were siphoned down into the outlet stream, twirling around curves and avoiding large rocks. Chunks of ice bobbed menacingly beside us, with the smaller baseball-sized ice chunks making for an interesting catch. The guides were knowledgeable about the area and offered a good overview of the natural history and glaciology of the region, as well as offering up some regional entertainment of songs and humor, which put smiles on passengers’ faces.

After navigating through some exciting yet mild whitewater, the guide offered each of us a hand at paddling the boat around some curves and through some remaining whitewater chutes. Toward the end of the float, the riverbanks become a showcase of Juneau homes, with their distinctly Alaskan decor. Snacks and cider awaited us at trip’s end, and photos of the float were purchased by many of the rafters before the buses returned them to their cruise ships or downtown hotels. The tour prep and travel to and from the drop-off point takes about two hours, with the rafting experience itself lasting about 1½ hours.

Departures are twice daily. An adult ticket is $109. Commissionable.