Mark Page watches the high water of the Mendenhall River from the bridge on Back Loop Road on Thursday,

Mark Page watches the high water of the Mendenhall River from the bridge on Back Loop Road on Thursday,

Update: Flooding forecasted for start of July Fourth weekend


The U.S. Forest Service on Friday announced that the Mendenhall Lake sites are closed due to flooding from the jökulhlaup.

Mendenhall Lake Campground, Nugget Falls Trail and Skater’s Cabin Road are closed, according to a news release from the agency.

Recreationists should be aware of potential flooding and that conditions are changing.

For up-to-date campground information, call 321-2361, and for the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, call 789-0097.


Several groups of rafters bobbed happily down the Mendenhall River Thursday afternoon, their laughs and hollers audible from the houses along river. The rafters certainly seemed to enjoy the fact the river was more lively and white-capped than usual due to an ongoing jökulhlaup, or glacier outburst flood.

But for many people in Juneau — especially those who live and camp near the river — this first jökulhlaup of the 2016 season is no cause for celebration; it’s cause for concern.

Marc Ramonda, a recreation manager with the Juneau Ranger District, had to evacuate the Mendenhall Lake Campground Thursday afternoon due to the rising water levels, a move he said will likely impact upward of 100 people by the time July Fourth weekend is in full swing.

He hopes to have the campground reopened at some point Saturday, but it’s too early to tell whether that will happen.

“This is a big weekend,” Ramonda said. “Usually if the weather is reasonable, we hit 90 percent occupancy on these big holiday weekends.”

That likely won’t be possible for at least the first half of this weekend, and the flood has already displaced about 65 campers, “and it will impact a lot more (Friday) because it’s the beginning of the weekend,” he said.

[Jökulhlaup begins, predicted to top last year’s floods]

On Thursday morning, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning for people near the Mendenhall Lake and River. For the first time since 2014, the weather service is predicting a major glacier outburst flood.

Suicide Basin, a depression above the Mendenhall Lake filled with rain and melted glacier, began draining into the Mendenhall Lake Thursday morning. Weather forecasters don’t expect the lake’s water level to peak until Saturday morning, at which point they think it will be more than 11.5 feet.

If this prediction comes to fruition, this will be the second largest glacier outburst flood on record, following a July flood in 2014 when the lake crested at 11.85 feet.

[Jökulhlaup erupts from glacier]

The Mendenhall Lake campers aren’t the only people who will be impacted by this most recent jökulhlaup. The Mendenhall River was already beginning to creep closer to homes along View Drive in the Mendenhall Valley on Thursday afternoon, and the water level of the lake was only at about 6.5 feet. (Flood stage is 9 feet, and View Drive starts to flood at 9.4 feet.)

Unlike the campers, who are being moved to a temporary campsite set up near Floyd Dryden Middle School, the residents of View Drive can’t move as easily. One resident, even had to raise his house onto stilts to avoid the flooding that has become commonplace since the jökulhlaups began in 2011.

Mike Laudert, a general foreman for the Alaska Electric Light and Power Company, was out on View Drive Thursday afternoon to inspect the water level and check one of the street’s transformers, which has been impacted by flooding in the past.

During the big flood of 2014, the city had to evacuate View Drive residents because the water level rose above the transformer, causing AEL&P to shut off power to the whole street until the water receded. The power company spent about $5,000, Laudert estimates, to raise the transformer a few feet off the ground last year to avoid a repeat.

“We basically put a lift kit on it — a transformer lift kit just like a truck,” Laudert said with a laugh. “This is the only one like it in town.”

[Jökulhlaup: Juneau’s newest tradition]

The Nugget Falls trail at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center will likely be closed all day today, according to the visitor center’s director John Neary.

“If the predictions are true the Photo Point Trail will likely be closed as well Saturday morning,” Neary said, adding that, “The Nugget Falls Trail will likely be closed the whole weekend if it reaches that peak.”

Even the happy rafters might not be able to enjoy the river much longer. According to Ramonda and Mike Dilger, recreation resources planner with the Juneau Ranger District, Skaters Cabin Road will likely have to be closed at some point Friday.

“And that impacts all the commercial tour operations that take off from there,” Dilgen said.

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or

More jökulhlaup coverage:

At glacier last year, a casual jökulhlaup season

New jökulhlaup flood danger old hat for vulnerable Valley neighborhood

Joku-what? Learn about Juneau’s newest glacial phenomenon

Related stories:

Forest Service announces changes to Tongass plan

‘Pray. Vote. Engage’: Franklin Graham prayer rally comes to Juneau Friday

Gov. Walker limits oil checks to $1,000

Juneau man gets six months of soliciting sex online from 13-year-old girl

Tourists aboard an Alaska Travel Adventures canoe row in front of the Mendenhall Glacier on Thursday. The first jökulhlaup of the season has begun according to the National Weather Service. This year's glacial outburst flood may be bigger than any from 2015.

Tourists aboard an Alaska Travel Adventures canoe row in front of the Mendenhall Glacier on Thursday. The first jökulhlaup of the season has begun according to the National Weather Service. This year’s glacial outburst flood may be bigger than any from 2015.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

The entrance road to Bartlett Regional Hospital. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Bartlett Regional Hospital looking at eliminating or trimming six ‘non-core’ programs to stabilize finances

Rainforest Recovery Center, autism therapy, crisis stabilization, hospice among programs targeted.

A king salmon. (Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Biden administration advances bid to list Gulf of Alaska king salmon as endangered or threatened

Experts say request could restrict activity affecting river habitats such as road, home construction

Mayor Beth Weldon (left), Deputy Mayor Michelle Bonnet Hale and Juneau Assembly member Paul Kelly discussion proposals for next year’s mill rate during an Assembly Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Assembly members support lower 10.04 mill rate ahead of final vote on next year’s CBJ budget

Initial proposal called for raising current rate of 10.16 mills to 10.32 mills.

Dave Scanlan, general manager of Eaglecrest Ski Area, speaks to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee on April 13, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Dave Scanlan forced out as Eaglecrest’s general manager, says decision ‘came as a complete shock to me’

Resort’s leader for past 7 years says board seeking a “more office-process, paper-oriented” manager.

The entrance to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.’s Anchorage office is seen on Aug. 11, 2023. The state-owned AGDC is pushing for a massive project that would ship natural gas south from the North Slope, liquefy it and send it on tankers from Cook Inlet to Asian markets. The AGDC proposal is among many that have been raised since the 1970s to try commercialize the North Slope’s stranded natural gas. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Eight young Alaskans sue to block proposed trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline

Plaintiffs cite climate change that harms their access to fish, wildlife and natural resources.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, May 21, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

A Shell station in Anchorage. (Nathaniel Herz/Northern Journal)
Shell abandons North Slope oil leases, raising questions about the industry’s future in Alaska

Experts say some of the state’s hard-to-tap oil prospects are becoming less attractive.

Most Read