Mendenhall Lake, Alaska, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Alaska - Inside Passage -

Also known as:  McCush Lake (historic)

One of the must-visit destinations of the century is Mendenhall Lake in Alaska’s Inside Passage Region. It may be important to visit the lake this century as it likely won’t exist forever. The glacier-fed lake formed sometime after 1930 when nearby Mendenhall Glacier receded, exposing a deeply-scoured valley in its wake. Melt water from the glacier filled the valley to depths approaching 220 feet. The young lake now supports a variety of cold-water fish and a growing number of visitors to its scenic shores. The Mendenhall Glacier towers above the lake between peaks reaching 7,000 feet. Although there are no official figures for the lake’s size, it covers a few hundred acres, and excess water flows out to form the Mendenhall River.

Entirely within the 5,815-acre Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, which is a part of the nearly 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest, Mendenhall Lake is easy to reach as it is only about 12 miles from the City of Juneau. The lake is a favored stop for cruise ships sailing the Inside Passage, and a visitor’s center greets the many tourists who arrive each year. Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center serves a large portion of the Tongass National Forest, showcasing the wildlife and unique ecology of the region. Interpretive programs, outstanding views of the Mendenhall Glacier, and information on the wildlife inhabiting the region are provided. Here, the entire spectrum of natural and geological features located within the National Forest are shown in exhibits, including the rain forests, mountains, waterways, glaciers, muskegs and thousands of islands located within the protected area. The forest contains over 400 species of birds, animals, fish and shellfish, each inhabiting their own niche within the environment. Both the bald eagle and the brown bear, although endangered elsewhere, thrive in the Tongass National Forest.

Fishing is permitted in Mendenhall Lake with the proper licenses. The lake supports coho salmon, pink salmon, chum salmon, cutthroat trout and rainbow trout. Several of the outfitters who arrange tours and fishing trips into the national forest have information on fishing Mendenhall Lake. Some of these same outfitters and tour guides also provide boat trips and helicopter tours of the glacier, along with fishing the many freshwater streams in the area. A full-service campground suitable for tents, trailers and RVs is located near the Visitors Center, but is small and extremely popular. Reservations are necessary as this makes a great base from which to hike the many trails in the area. As with nearly everywhere in Alaska, precautions with food must be taken to avoid problems with bears. Other camping opportunities and even cabin accommodations are available elsewhere in the Tongass National Forest. Information on locations may be obtained from the nearest Ranger Station or the Forest Service website.

From the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center parking lot, several hiking trails reach out into the surrounding forest. Steep Creek Trail and Photo Point Trail are both accessible and easy to traverse, with raised boardwalks over creeks and opportunities to observe salmon and bears. East Glacier Loop Trail takes visitors to within half a mile of the glacier. The newly-renovated Trail of Time, which connects to the East Glacier Loop, is now handicapped accessible and has new historical signs. Recently completed, the new .8-mile Nugget Falls Trail allows hikers to view spectacular Nugget Falls-also known as Mendenhall Falls. The new trail is located above the high-water line year round. West Glacier Trail offers the added attraction of being able to view ice caves under the glacier itself.

Nugget Falls features melt water cascading over two drops, a stunning 377 feet to the lake below. Several other streams fed by melt water also enter the lake. Mendenhall Glacier is a young glacier, and has been melting since the end of the Little Ice Age about 1700 AD. Most ice that has been tested is less than 150 years old. The glacier gains about two feet of ice most years, but is receding about 25 feet at the same time. Change is a fact of nature with Mendenhall Glacier, and sometimes its natural processes can play havoc on the area surrounding the lake. Because several small lakes atop the glacier contain liquid water during the summer months, it is possible for one of them to grow large enough to break free of its surrounding ice dam and cascade into Mendenhall Lake. A recent flooding event created this way in 2011 caused major flooding of the area surrounding the lake and along the Mendenhall River. Observers continually watch for any such danger to become a threat, and park rangers will advise visitors when it is not safe to go into certain areas.

Most visitors who come to Mendenhall Lake arrive at Juneau by boat. Juneau, the capital of Alaska, is a tourism destination that can keep visitors entertained for several days just exploring the history and culture of this historic fishing and gold mining city. Those arriving via boat will no doubt see at the docks the statue of Patsy Ann, the deaf bull terrier that greeted every ship arriving at the wharf from 1929 to 1942. Although deaf from birth, Patsy Ann always knew when a ship was to arrive and would make her way to the docks to greet the crew. So famous and beloved a fixture of Juneau, locals claimed she’d had her picture taken more times than RinTinTin. Such are the local ‘characters’ for which Juneau quickly became known soon after its formation during the Alaskan Gold Rush. A city built on gold mining, Juneau now thrives as a tourism hub. Whale watching cruises, salmon fishing excursions, island-hopping trips, tours by air of the surrounding mountains, and trips into the nearby national forest all originate here.

A thoroughly modern city, Juneau offers a wealth of lodgings to suit every visitor. Many hotels, guest cabins, bed & breakfasts, motels and resort lodges can be found here. The city itself has lots of nightlife and several museums to highlight Alaskan and Juneau history. The Alaska State Museum is closed until 2016 as it is in the process of being moved to new quarters. But the Juneau-Douglas City Museum is only a short walk from the waterfront and offers exhibits of Alaska’s mining industry and its history, the lives of pioneer settlers along the Gastineau Channel, and relief maps of the surrounding area. The Last Chance Mining Museum a few minutes away is a hands-on history of one of the last gold mining operations in the area. When the mine closed in 1944, it was the world’s most advanced gold mining operation and contains the machinery, tools and structures of the original mine. Displays of antiques, minerals and a huge depiction of the mine’s infrastructure and shafts expose the above-ground guest to what lies beneath their feet.

Falling in love with the area around Mendenhall Lake is easy. Finding a place to call your own in the immediate area may be a bit harder. Real estate is sometimes available in the city and its suburbs, but much of the area outside of the city is protected as national forest lands. There is no housing other than the campground at Mendenhall Lake. However, the lake is close to Juneau, so city dweller have easy access to the wilderness. So, plan your trip now: pour over the tour brochures and select favored activities and must-see sights. This is one bucket-list item that must not be missed.

*Few statistics are available for Mendenhall Lake.

Things to do at Mendenhall Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Forest
  • Museum
  • Antiquing

Fish species found at Mendenhall Lake

  • Coho Salmon
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Pink Salmon
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Trout

Mendenhall Lake Photo Gallery

Mendenhall Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

divider

Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 52 feet

Maximum Depth: 220 feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

Spread the word! Share our Mendenhall Lake article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!

Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.