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
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.