The Mendenhall is a pleasant river to canoe that is easily accessible from Skater's Cabin off Montana Creek Road where you begin the journey paddling past icebergs on Mendenhall Lake with the glacial cut mountains as the backdrop.
The river weaves through the Mendenhall Valley, floating through a maze that highlights the natural splendors of the Tongass National Forest speckled by the occasional footprint of urbanization. The obvious highlights include the floral and fauna, but it's hard not to be somehow touched by the set of rusted-out car frames long ago silted into the river's edge. There are several places around the airport to take out and you might get lucky and see a seal swimming around the mouth of the river or bald eagles or other birds flying out above the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge.
Auke Lake is a comfortable place to canoe, particularly on spring evenings when the traffic on Glacier Highway mellows and the days run long.
An average-speed paddle for a loop around the lake takes roughly half an hour. Out on the water the lake appears to be much larger than it does from the nearby roads. Later in the summer you can watch the occasional salmon jump out of the water and every so often the lucky eye will catch an otter, beaver or another one of Southeast Alaska's treasured wildlife playing in the water or along the shore.
Jet skis are not uncommon but with the ever-increasing gas prices kayaks seem to be the most frequent boaters these days on Auke Lake.
Herbert River offers a relaxing and carefree float that is accessible off Herbert River Road located near 25 mile on Veterans Memorial Highway.
But just like any river you must remain mindful of its flow and be cautious of potential snags and debris because some people have found themselves in trouble on the Herbert before. And obviously always wear a lifejacket.
The Herbert River allows you to imagine how the wilderness may have looked long ago, and you're not likely to see much related to civilization on the brief float with the exception of when you pass under the highway. There are also a number of nice sandbars to explore for a quick snack or respite.
The terminus of the river is probably the most challenging part of the float depending on the tide, as well as the most rewarding, where the glacier runoff collides with the water of Lynn Canal with the Chilkat Mountains seen towering in the background when the weather is cooperative.
Juneau Empire ©2013. All Rights Reserved.