Glacial flooding prompts closures at popular Southeast Alaska tourism spot

Mendenhall Glacier photo from U.S. Forest Service.
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One of Alaska’s most popular tourist spots is largely shut down due to rising flood waters coming off a glacier.

The Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every summer. Due to a massive release of water from beneath the glacier, the U.S. Forest Service has closed the Mendenhall Lake campground, Nugget Falls hiking trail, and Skater’s Cabin Road, an access point for commercial river rafting and kayaking companies.

Mendenhall Lake, which sits the glacier’s foreground, is more than twice its normal level and the nearby Mendenhall River is raging.

“The fingers of the lake are reaching out into the brush and trees are starting to go underwater,” said John Neary, director of the Forest Service’s Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

Neary said he expects to close the Photo Point trail due to flooding.

Mendenhall River rose to 10 feet as of 12:30 a.m. on Friday, and water levels are rising at three inches per hour, according to the National Weather Service. It is expected to crest around 12 feet between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., which would break the previous 2014 record of 11.85 feet.

Most cruise ship passengers who stop in Juneau visit the Mendenall Glacier and its nearby trails, lake and river.

"They're still coming. There's just not a lot for them to do," Neary said.

The flooding is promoted by a jokulhlaup, or a glacial outburst, said Neary.

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