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Mendenhall Glacier



Mendenhall Glacier is about 13-and-a-half miles long located in Mendenhall Valley, about 12 miles northwest of downtown Juneau in the southeast area of the U.S. state of Alaska. The glacier and surrounding landscape is protected as the 5,815-acre Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, a federally designated unit of the Tongass National Forest. Originally known as Sitaantaagu ("the Glacier Behind the Town") or Aak'wtaaksit ("the Glacier Behind the Little Lake") by the Tlingits, the glacier was named Auke (Auk) Glacier by naturalist John Muir for the Tlingit Auk Kwaan (or Aak'w Kwaan) band in 1888. In 1891 it was renamed in honor of Thomas Corwin Mendenhall. It extends from the Juneau Icefield, its source, to Mendenhall Lake and ultimately the Mendenhall River. Between 1951-1958, the terminus of the glacier which flows into suburban Juneau, retreated 1,900 feet. The glacier has also receded 1.75 miles since 1958, when Mendenhall Lake was created, and over 2.5 miles since 1500.

Mendenhall Glacier
Photo © Elizabeth Lewis

Nugget Falls

Nugget Falls, also known as Nugget Creek Falls or Mendenhall Glacier Falls, is a waterfall downstream of the Nugget Glacier, in the U.S. state of Alaska. Formed by the creek from the Nugget Glacier, the waterfall drops 377 feet in two tiers of 99 feet and 278 feet onto a sandbar in Mendenhall Lake, which is the freshwater pool at the face of the Mendenhall glacier. The lake then drains via Mendenhall River into the Inside Passage. The waterfall is fed by Nugget Creek, which is in turn fed by the Nugget Glacier, a tributary glacier on the mountainside east of Auke Bay. The creek cascades down towards Mendenhall Lake, forming a hanging valley, then plunges over the falls to the lake. Prior to the recession of Mendenhall Glacier, it was said that the falls would drop "directly on the glacier", or that the "glacier covered the waterfall".


Mendenhall Glacier
Photo © Elizabeth Lewis

United States Forest Service

The United States Forest Service operates the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center as part of the Tongass National Forest, offering interpretive programs throughout the year for children and adults. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and surrounding area offers stunning views of a lake-terminating, calving glacier. The center is open year-round and receives close to 500,000 visitors each year, many coming by cruise ship in summer. There are two accessible entrances – an upper entrance with a ramp and a lower entrance with elevators.


Of Note

Although there are many negative affects of the recession of the Mendenhall glacier and glaciers in general, there are also a few positive outcomes from it as well. With the recession of the Mendenhall glacier, the Mendenhall Lake has formed. The lake is a result of the run-off from the glacier and is increasing in size as recession continues. The lake began formation in 1931 and has continued to grow since then. The lake has its own unique ecosystem and is a popular location for sport fishing; fishers can find salmon and trout in the lake.

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