Glacier Bay National Park
Located: Alaska - Established: December 2, 1980
The Park: Glacier Bay National Park consists largely of water! Two hundred years ago, Glacier Bay was a huge ice field – a glacier 4000 feet thick and 20 miles wide. Things warmed up a bit over the past couple of centuries and the receding icepack left behind a gorgeous bay.
Glacier Bay is the highlight of Alaska’s southeastern Inland Passage featuring 3.3 million acres of massive glaciers, jagged mountains, craggy coastlines, temperate rainforest, sheltered fjords and an abundance of wildlife.
Seven of the park’s glaciers are “tidewater glaciers” - glaciers that flow down from the mountains and into the Bay. These glaciers often put on a spectacular show called “calving.” Calving is when a large block of ice (some up to 200 feet high) breaks loose from a glacier and come crashing down into the water. The “calves” from the Johns Hopkins Glacier can create such a violent disturbance in the bay that boats must keep their distance
Getting there: Unless you are experiencing Glacier Bay on one of the many cruise ships or tour boats that visit the area, accessing this park means taking a small airplane from Juneau, AK into the tiny Gustavus airfield which sits at the mouth of the Bay. The only road on this small island leads from the airfield to Glacier Bay Lodge.
When to go: The park is open year round; however, visitor services are limited during the winter months. The main visitor season is from mid-May through early September with the peak being in July. Summer temperatures range from 50°to 60°and rain is common during this season. Although a bit cool, we found September to be very pleasant. No rain. Great wildlife viewing!
Where to stay: Bartlett Cove Campground is the only campground at Glacier Bay. It is a “walk-in campground”...meaning you must carry all your camp gear to the campsites. The other option is to book a room at the Glacier Bay Lodge, situated right on Bartlett Cove. We chose this option and did not regret it one bit! Other lodging opportunities exist at local B&B’s in the tiny town of Gustavus.
What to do: If your visit includes a stay at the Glacier Bay Lodge (which we would highly recommend), you must take the all-day Glacier Bay Boat Tour! The Tour makes a spectacular seven-hour, 130-mile loop around Glacier Bay giving you an up close look at what remains of the ice age.
Most likely, you will witness a glacier calving, whales breaching, puffins proudly presenting their colorful beaks, otters rafting, seals lazily lounging, and goats and bears foraging along the coastline.
Once back at the Lodge, rent a kayak and explore the Bay on your own terms. A curious harbor seal will most likely pop up to see where you’re headed. Overnight kayaking adventures are another way to experience this stimulating Park!
Hiking: Two good hikes at this park include the 8-mile round trip day hike to Bartlett Lake and the 3.4 mile round trip Bartlett River Trail.
Wildlife: Wildlife abounds here at Glacier Bay! During our visit, we were treated to our first porcupine sighting, a black bear encounter, humpback whales breaching, a couple of moose meandering, mountain goats grazing on the hillsides, a colony of lazy sea lions, harbor seals spying on us as we kayaked about Bartlett Bay, three “rafts” of otters and dozens of colorful puffins.
Memorable moment: Upon returning to Bartlett Bay from our Glacier Bay Boat Tour, we experienced a strange "thump" as if the boat had run over a speed bump. We were to discover, the boat actually hit a whale that was barely submerged beneath the waterline! Fortunately, the boat did no damage to the whale...and the whale did no damage to the boat!
The Rangers mentioned that this particular whale seemed to be attracted to the Tour Boats!
Trivia: Tufted Puffins lose their colorful beak plates and breeding plumage every winter and regrow them every spring.
Banner: Bartlett Bay.
Experience these Check List:
- Stop by the Visitor Center at Glacier Bay Lodge
- Take the all day Glacier Bay Boat Tour
- Kayak Bartlett Bay
- Hike the trails near the Lodge